“With human lives pausing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, viral photos show that nature is fighting back. With the flora returning and fauna thriving, it is evident that the pitiable state of global ecology is not a state of our geographical inheritance.”
– Justice Surya Kant
Justice Surya Kant was born on February 10, 1962 in Hisar (Haryana). He earned his LLB degree in 1984 from Maharishi Dayanand University, Rohtak. He began practicing in the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 1985 and designated as Senior Advocate in March, 2001. 
Justice Kant held the office of Advocate General, Haryana till his elevation as a permanent Judge to the Punjab and Haryana High Court on 09-01-2004. He become Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh High Court on 03-10-2018 and then elevated as a Judge of the Supreme Court of India on 24-05-2019.
Notable Judgments at Supreme Court
Shah Faesal v. Union of India, (2020) 4 SCC 1
In a writ petition filled under Article 32 of the Constitution of India pertaining to two Constitution Orders issued by the President of India in exercise of his powers under Article 370 of the Constitution of India, a Full judge Constitution bench of NV Ramana, SK Kaul, R. Subhash Reddy, BR Gavai and Surya Kant, JJ, held that no cause was made out to refer the matter to a larger bench as there is no conflict between the judgments in the Prem Nath Kaul v. State of J & K, AIR 1959 SC 749 and the Sampat Prakash v. State of J & K, AIR 1970 SC 1118. The Court observed that
“Judgments cannot be interpreted in a vacuum, separate from their facts and context. Observations made in a judgment cannot be selectively picked in order to give them a particular meaning.”
Kantaru Rajeevaru (Right to Religion, In re-9 J.) v. Indian Young Lawyers Assn., (2020) 3 SCC 52
The 9-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and R Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan, L Nageswara Rao, M M Shantanagoudar, S A Nazeer, R Subhash Reddy, B R Gavai and Surya Kant, JJ, while framing seven issues in the Sabrimala reference, opined that the same can be refered to a larger bench in its Review jurisdiction.
“A civic society has a `fundamental’ and `human’ right to live free from any kind of psycho fear, threat, danger or insecurity at the hands of anti-social elements.”
A 3-judge bench comprising of R. F. Nariman, Surya Kant* and R. Subhash Reddy JJ., following the judgment in the case of California v. Ramos, 463 U.S. 992 where it was observed that “qualitative difference of death from all other punishments requires a correspondingly greater degree of scrutiny of the capital sentencing determination” and upheld (2:1) the death penalty awarded to an accused for rape and murder of a two- year old girl.
The Court observed that the Sentencing Policy needs to strike a balance between (a) deterrent effect and (b) complete reformation for integration of the offender.
“The Legislature has impliedly distanced itself from the propounders of “No-Death Sentence” in “No Circumstances” theory and has re-stated the will of the people that in the cases of brutal rape of minor children below the age of 12years without murder of the victim, `death penalty’ can also be imposed.”
The Court shedding the light on duty of the Court and expectation of the people of the country, observed that
“The society legitimately expects the Courts to apply doctrine of proportionality and impose suitable and deterent punishment that commensurate(s) with the gravity of offence.”
“If two reasonably probable and evenly balanced views of the evidence are possible, one must necessarily concede the existence of a reasonable doubt. But, fanciful and remote possibilities must be left out of account.”
A 3-judge bench comprising of NV Ramana, Surya Kant,* Hrishikesh Roy, JJ., analysing the issues (1) whether bias was caused by complainant also being the investigating officer, (2) whether alternate version has been established and what is the effect of lack of independent witnesses and (3) whether High Court erred in reversing acquittal in appeal, held that firstly, the mere fact that the investigating officer was also the complainant would not entitle an accused to acquittal and that it was necessary to demonstrate either actual bias or real likelihood of bias. Secondly, if alternate version has been established, the evidence given must only be so conclusive that all reasonable doubts are removed from the mind of an ordinary person and in the present case, the appellant failed to make out a case with alternate version. Moreover, it was held that non-examination of independent witnesses would not ipso facto entitle one to seek acquittal. Thirdly, the Court held that High Courts could reverse acquittals and award appropriate sentence, including where there are patent errors of law, grave miscarriage of justice, or perverse findings of fact.
“The Supreme Court in exercise of its powers under Article 136 ordinarily examines only whether the High Court has failed to correctly apply principles governing appeals against acquittal.”
A 3-judge bench comprising of NV Ramana, Surya Kant,* Hrishikesh Roy, JJ., relying on the judgment in the case of Hira Singh v. Union of India: 2020 SCC OnLine SC 382, held that for the purpose of sentencing and determining whether the threshold of ‘commercial quantity’ was met, the total quantity of the mixture, including the neutral substance is relevant.
The Court clarifying the moot point whether High Court can set aside a finding of acquittal, held that there was no bar on a High Court set aside a finding of acquittal by a lower court.
“There is no difference of power, scope, jurisdiction or limitation under the CrPC between appeals against judgments of conviction or of acquittal. An appellate court is free to reconsider questions of law as well as fact, and re appreciate the entirety of evidence on record. There is, nonetheless, a self-restraint on the exercise of such power, considering the interests of justice and the fundamental principle of presumption of innocence. In practice, appellate courts are reluctant to interfere with orders of acquittal, especially when two reasonable conclusions are possible on the same material.”
The Court also opined that courts should be cautious while relying on any evidence which the witness had not been confronted with despite an opportunity to do so.
Kirti v. Oriental Insurance Company Ltd., 2021 SCC OnLine SC 3
“…the conception that housemakers do not “work” or that they do not add economic value to the household is a problematic idea that has persisted for many years and must be overcome.”
While deciding a motor vehicle claim and taking account into gendered nature of housework, a 3-judge bench of NV Ramana,* SA Nazeer and Surya Kant,* JJ., has increased the total motor accident compensation of Rs 22 lakhs awarded by the Delhi High Court to Rs 33.20 lakhs and held that “any compensation awarded by a Court ought to be just, reasonable and consequently must undoubtedly be guided by principles of fairness, equity, and good conscience.”
[Conception that housemakers do not add economic value to the household is “a problematic idea”; Future prospect must be granted in case of motor accident of a non-earning victim: SC] Read More…
[Can Subsequent Death Of A Dependent Be A Reason For Reduction Of Motor Accident Compensation? Supreme Court Answers] Read More…
While acquitting, the appellant who was convicted under Section 498-A read with 34 IPC for the death of his brother’s wife, a division bench of NV Ramana* and Surya Kant, JJ., held that apart from the vague allegations there is no substantial proof to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the appellant was genuinely liable.
“…on consideration of the oral testimonies of the witnesses, the ingredients of Section 498-A IPC have not been proved against the appellant-accused by the prosecution at the standard of beyond reasonable doubt.”
“The duty of the prosecution is to seek not just conviction but to ensure that justice is done. The prosecution must put forth the best evidence collected in the investigation.”
While deciding the criminal appeals, a 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, Surya Kant* and Aniruddha Bose, JJ., held that usually the ‘common intention’ is indirectly inferred from conduct of the individuals and rarely through direct evidence and that the appellants are individually guilty for the offence of attempted murder, without the aid of Section 149 IPC because
The Court also explained the difference between Sections 34 and 149 of the IPC and held that
“Although both Section 34 and 149 of the IPC are modes for apportioning vicarious liability on the individual members of a group, there exist a few important differences between these two provisions. Whereas Section 34 requires active participation and a prior meeting of minds, Section 149 IPC assigns liability merely by membership of the unlawful assembly. In reality, such ‘common intention’ is usually indirectly inferred from conduct of the individuals and only seldom it is done through direct evidence.”
“Judicial review is an evaluation of the decision making process and not the merits of the decision itself.”
While dismissing the appeal, a 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, SA Nazeer and Surya Kant,* JJ., held that the employer always retains the right to conduct an independent disciplinary proceeding, irrespective of the outcome of a criminal proceeding.
The Court while analysing the issue whether strict rules of evidence can be applied to disciplinary proceedings, held that strict rules of evidence and procedure of a criminal trial are inapplicable to disciplinary proceedings. The Court also observed that though strict rules of evidence are inapplicable to disciplinary proceedings, but sometimes under certain circumstances it becomes necessary and enquiry officers put questions to witnesses in such proceedings in order to discover the truth
Discussing the scope of Judicial Review in service matters, the Court opined that
“Constitutional Courts while exercising their powers of judicial review would not assume the role of an appellate authority. Their jurisdiction is circumscribed by limits of correcting errors of law, procedural errors leading to manifest injustice or violation of principles of natural justice.”
“Protection of such village-commons is essential to safeguard the fundamental right guaranteed by Article 21 of our Constitution.”
A Division Bench of Arun Mishra and Surya Kant,* JJ., while deciding an appeal for forcible possession of a common, local village-pond by the respondent industrialists, held that ponds are public utilities meant for common use and that schemes which extinguish local water bodies albeit with alternatives are violative of Constitutional mandate provided under Article 21 of the Constitution of India therefore are liable to be struck down.
“Waterbodies, specifically, are an important source of fishery and much needed potable water. Many areas of this country perennially face a water crisis and access to drinking water is woefully inadequate for most Indians. Allowing such invaluable community resources to be taken over by a few is hence grossly illegal.”
“A real and abiding concern for the dignity of human life postulates resistance to taking a life through law’s instrumentality. That ought to be done save in the rarest of rare case when the alternative option is unquestionably foreclosed.”
A 3-judge bench of of Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Surya Kant,* JJ., dismissed an appeal filed by the CBI challenging commutation of death penalty by the High Court in a murder case.
Relying on Swamy Shraddananda v. State of Karnataka: (2008) 13 SCC 767, the Court held that Section 57 IPC does not in any way limit the punishment of imprisonment for life to a term of 20 years. Therefore, he upheld the commutation of a death penalty to 25-years ‘actual imprisonment’.
In Re: Contagion of COVID-19 Virus in Prisons, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 344
“Having regard to the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution of India, it has become imperative to ensure that the spread of the Corona Virus within the prisons is controlled.”
A 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ and L. Nageswara Rao and Surya Kant, JJ., noticing the issue of overcrowding of prisons is a matter of serious concern particularly in the present context of the pandemic of Corona Virus (COVID – 19), directed that the States/Union Territories to constitute a High Powered Committee to determine which class of prisoners can be released on parole or an interim bail for such period as may be thought appropriate.
Bhagwan Singh v. State of Uttarakhand, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 336
“A gun licensed for self-protection or safety and security of crops and cattle cannot be fired in celebratory events, it being a potential cause of fatal accidents.”
Partly allowing the appeal, a 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ., BR Gavai and Surya Kant, JJ., opined that celebratory firing of guns licensed for self protection needs to stop.
The Court held that
“appellants cannot escape the consequences of carrying the gun with live cartridges with the knowledge that firing at a marriage ceremony with people present there was imminently dangerous and was likely to cause death.”
Closure of Mid-Day Meal Scheme, In re, (2020) 12 SCC 213
“While dealing with one crisis, the situation may not lead to creation of another crisis.”
Taking Sou Motu cognizance on non-availability of mid-day meals for children due to the closure of schools due to coronavirus spread, a 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ., BR Gavai and Surya Kant, JJ., directed that the States to come out with a uniform policy with the measures preventing spread of COVID-19 and also ensuring that the schemes for providing nutritional food to the children and nursing and lactating mothers are not affected.
Prahaladbhai Jagabhai Patel v. State of Gujarat, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 109
Relying on the judgment in the case of Babu Singh v. State of U.P: (1978) 1 SCC 579, a 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ., BR Gavai and Surya Kant, JJ., in the interests of justice to directed to release the appellants on bail.
The Court observed that
“punitive harshness should be minimized and restorative devises to redeem the man, even through community service, meditative drill, etc. should be innovated.”
In re: Assessment of the Criminal Justice System in response to Sexual Offences, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1654
“The need for speedy trial of the cases relating to offence of rape has been emphasized again and again this Court.”
Taking Sou Motu cognizance on assessment of the criminal justice system in response to sexual offences, a 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, CJ., BR Gavai and Surya Kant, JJ., noted that while the Nirbhaya gang rape case of 2012 has shocked the conscience of the nation but “the Nirbhaya case is not an isolated case where it has taken so long to reach finality. In fact, it is said that it has been one of the cases where agencies have acted swiftly taking into account the public outrage.”
The Court has called for records and status reports from all the States on various aspects of the criminal justice system in cases of sexual offences and held that previous sexual experience and in effect habituation to sexual intercourse is now irrelevant for the purpose of medical examination.
“Per-Vaginum examination commonly referred to as ‘Two-finger test’ has been held to be of no consequence and violative of the dignity of woman.”
The Court further held that, Forensic examination and report play important role during investigation as well as trial for linking the culprit with crime. Similarly, Medical treatment and examination of victim also plays a very important role.
“The sampling for the purpose of DNA test as well other forensic tests like forensic odontology is essential in cases relating to rape.”
“Medical treatment and examination of the victim is a very important aspect not only for the immediate relief to the victim but also provides intrinsic evidences for the trial.”
“There can be no doubt that today’s judgment is in keeping with the legislature’s realisation that such crimes are on the rise and must be dealt with severely.”
Considering the serious nature of the crime involving rape and murder of 2 children, A 3-judge bench comprising of RF Nariman,* Surya Kant and Sanjiv Khanna,* JJ., with 2:1 verdict upheld the death sentence confirmed by the High Court.
Manoharan v. State, (2020) 5 SCC 782
Dismissing the review petition filed by Appellant to review it’s 2:1 verdict awarding death sentence, a 3-judge bench of RF Nariman, Surya Kant* and Sanjiv Khanna,* JJ., held that the dissent by one Judge is not a bar for upholding death penalty.
The Court held that in the present case the appellant misused societal trust and the crime was not a crime a passion but a well crafted crime. The Crime committed by the Appellant were grave and shock the conscience of this Court and society that we cannot commute the sentence and without any doubt it will fall under rarest of the rare category.
“It was not in the spur of the moment or a crime of passion; but craftily planned, meticulously executed and with multiple opportunities to cease and desist.”
Agreeing with the Justice Surya Kant on the dismissal of review petition and upholding of the conviction of the accused, Justice Khanna held that there is no good ground and reasons to review his observations and findings in the minority judgment.
Ishwari Lal Yadav v. State of Chhattisgarh, (2019) 10 SCC 437
“There cannot be any hard and fast rule for balancing the aggravating and mitigating circumstances. Each case has to be decided on its own merits.”
A 3-judge bench comprising of R. F. Nariman, Surya Kant and R. Subhash Reddy* JJ., placing reliance on the case of Sushil Murmu v. State of Jharkhand: (2004) 2 SCC 338, opined that this case fulfils the test of rarest of rare cases as it involved gruesome murder for human sacrifice of 2 yr old boy.
Justice Reddy observed that
“Having regard to age of the accused, they were not possessed of the basic humanness, they completely lacked the psyche or mindset which can be amenable for any reformation.”
The Court also placed emphasised on extra-judicial confession and opined that
“It is true that extrajudicial confession, is a weak piece of evidence but at the same time if the same is corroborated by other evidences on record, such confession can be taken into consideration to prove the guilt of the accused.”
Gurcharan Singh v. State of Punjab, (2020) 10 SCC 200
“As in all crimes, mens rea has to be established.”
Allowing a Criminal appeal, a 3-bench of NV Ramana, Surya Kant and Hrishikesh Roy,* JJ., overturned the conviction of the appellant under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code 1860.
The Court observed that to make out the case of abetment under Section 107 IPC, the accused should instigate a person either by act of omission or commission but in the present case there is no direct evidence to show that cruelty was committed by the husband or the in-laws or particular hope or expectation of the deceased was frustrated by the husband or there was wilful neglect of the appellant which led to the suicidal death.
The Court reiterated the necessary ingredients as set out in SS Chheena v. Vijay Kumar Mahajan (2010) 12 SCC 190 and relied on Mangat Ram v. State of Haryana (2014) 12 SCC 595 and observed that
“To prove the offence of abetment, as specified under Sec 107 of the IPC, the state of mind to commit a particular crime must be visible, to determine the culpability. In order to prove mens rea, there has to be something on record to establish or show that the appellant herein had a guilty mind and in furtherance of that state of mind, abetted the suicide of the deceased. The ingredient of mens rea cannot be assumed to be ostensibly present but has to be visible and conspicuous.”
The Court opined that there is no evidence of any overt act or omission on part of the appellant and the trial court and the High Court had erred in relying on conjecture and speculation in deciding the appellant’s guilt i.e. abetting the suicide of his wife.
“The testimony of the related witness, if found to be truthful, can be the basis of conviction”
Dismissing a appeal, a 3-bench of NV Ramana, Surya Kant and Hrishikesh Roy,* JJ., upheld the conviction of the appellants under Section 148, 302 r/w 149 IPC.
The Court relied on the judgement in the case of Dalip Singh v. State of Punjab: AIR 1953 SC 364, Khurshid Ahmed v. State of J & K: (2018) 7 SCC 429 and Sushil v. State of U.P.: 1995 Supp (1) SCC 363 and opined that
“…The testimony of the related witness, if found to be truthful, can be the basis of conviction (…) If the witnesses are otherwise trustworthy, past enmity by itself will not discredit any testimony. In fact the history of bad blood gives a clear motive for the crime. Therefore this aspect does not in our assessment, aid the defence in the present matter.”
The Court while discussing the about the witnesses not supported the prosecution case and turning hostile, stated that
“Some witness may not support the prosecution story for their own reasons and in such situation, it is necessary for the Court to determine whether the other available evidence comprehensively proves the charge.”
Notable Judgments at High Court
“The power to do complete justice is the very essence of every judicial justice dispensation system. It cannot be diluted by distorted perceptions and is not a slave to anything, except to the caution and circumspection, the standards of which the Court sets before it, in exercise of such plenary and unfettered power inherently vested in it while donning the cloak of compassion to achieve the ends of justice.”
Over-ruling the majority view in the case of Dharambir v. State of Haryana: 2005 SCC OnLine P&H 190 and approving the minority view expressed by V.K. Bali, J., a 5-judge bench comprising of Vijender Jain,* C.J., P. Sathasivam, Rajive Bhalla, Surya Kant and Mahesh Grover, JJ., while deciding the issue “Whether the High Court has the power under Section 482 of the Cr.P.C. to quash the criminal proceedings or allow the compounding of the offences in the event of the parties entering into a compromise in the cases which have been specified as non-compoundable offences and in particular, in view of the provisions of Section 320 of the Cr.P.C.?”, held that the compromise is an essential condition for harmony in the society, it is the soul of justice and if the power provided under Section 482 CrPC is used to enhance such a compromise to reduces friction then it truly is “finest hour of justice”.
“The power under Section 482 of the CrPC cannot be a hostage to one class or category of cases. That would be a complete misconstruction of the intent of the Legislature, who placed its utmost faith in the inherent power of the High Court to break free the shackle of other provisions of the Code, to give effect to any order under it or to prevent the abuse of the process of any Court or otherwise to secure the ends of justice. The wide amplitude of this provision of law cannot be diminished by any myopic interpretation and any straightjacket prescription.”
Justice Surya Kant* while deciding whether jail inmates have a right to have a conjugal life and procreation within the jail premises and whether such right comes under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, dismissed the petition on the ground that the present jail infrastructure does not permit conjugal visits in jail but the petitioner have sufficient condition to opt for parole.
Discussing the role of Court regarding protecting the rights of prison-inmates, the Court observed that
“the Judiciary as the principal executor and promoter of the rule of law has to have major stakes in respect of the conditions prevailing in the prisons. The duty of the Courts towards jail reforms has become heavier than before after the enforcement of our Constitution as Article 21 guarantees dignified life to one and all including the prison-inmates.”
The Court held that the right to procreation survives incarceration and the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution of India grants inmates the right to have conjugal visits or avail of artificial insemination.
“The right to conjugal visits or procreation or for that matter the right to secure artificial insemination as a supplement, are also, thus, subject to all those reasonable restrictions including public order, moral and ethical issues and budgetary constraints which ought to be read into the enjoyment of such like fundamental right within our Constitutional framework.”
In a PIL filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India regarding handing over the investigation of the “Burail Jail Break Case” to the CBI, a Division Bench of Binod Kumar Roy, C.J. and Surya Kant,* J., declined to accept a blanket ban on these facilities as it would deprive not only the majority of inmates who are mere “under-trials” from the amenity of viewing TV but also will cause adverse effects upon the reformatory methods required to be adopted in the model jails even in relation to the ‘convicts’.
“In our view, the “under-trials” as well as the “prisoners” lodged in the Model Jail Burail too have a right to information and the television can play a crucial role in that regard and to bring them in the mainstream of the civilized society, it will be too hard and anti-thesis of international conventions if a complete ban on viewing of TV is imposed.”
Examining the issue whether the petitioner, as an interim measure be allowed the basic amenities of water and electricity, a Division Bench of Surya Kant,* CJ. and Ajay Mohan Goel, J., reiterated that right to water and electricity supply is an integral part of right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
“Potable water or electricity are integral part of Right to Life within the meaning of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. These are basic necessities for human being and can well be termed as essentials of human rights.”
Considering the petitioner’s concern regarding disposal of waste of the slaughtered birds or to ensure that it does not cause any nuisance to the adjoining area, a Division Bench of Surya Kant,* CJ. and Ajay Mohan Goel, J., directed the respondent authorities to ensure that the prescribed rules and conditions for setting up a slaughterhouse are meticulously complied with.
In a PIL filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India regarding non-availability of legal aid to inmates of the jail, a Division Bench of Surya Kant,* CJ. and Ajay Mohan Goel, J., directed the respondent authorities to provide legal aid with immediate effect to jail inmates.
A 3-judge bench comprising of Vijender Jain, C.J., Rajive Bhalla and Surya Kant,* JJ., held that the refusal to accept the highest bid cannot foreclose the right of the highest bidder to put the action of the competent authority to judicial scrutiny, however, in those cases heavy onus will lie on the petitioner to establish his allegations as the State action shall always be presumed to be in accordance with law.
“The highest bidder who had a legitimate expectation to acquire ownership of the property, unless his bid was found to be suffering from any legal infirmity, has an indefeasible right to knock at the doors of an appropriate forum including a Constitutional Court and to question the legality of the decision of the competent authority on grounds like it being contrary to the Statute or the rules or the Constitution.”
The Court also held that the State Government cannot refuse to confirm the highest bid without assigning any valid reason and/or by giving erratic, irrational or irrelevant reasons.
†Editorial Assistant, EBC Publishing Pvt. Ltd.
* Judge who has penned the judgment.
 Webinar on Environment & the Economy: Re-Imagining Key Concepts and Precepts – https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/2020/08/02/supreme-court-justice-surya-kant-speaks-on-can-nlu-shimla-webinar-on-environment-the-economy/