Allahabad High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Allahabad High Court: Dinesh Kumar Singh, J. rejected the bail application of former UP MLA Mukhtar Ansari who was arrested under Sections 419, 420, 467, 468, 471, 120-B, 177 and 506 Penal Code, 1860 and Section 7 of Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1932. Bail application of the accused-applicant was rejected by the Special Judge (MP/MLA)/Additional District Judge earlier on 13-12-2021.

FIR against accused-applicant revealed that an ambulance was registered in the Road Transport Office, Barabanki on 21-12-2013 in the name of Dr. Alka Rai in lieu of forged documents. During the course of investigation name of the accused-applicant figured, and it was found that the real beneficiary and user of the said vehicle was the present accused-applicant and he got the said vehicle purchased in the name of Dr. Alka Rai by pressurizing her and the payment was allegedly made by him.

State submitted that the accused-applicant is a known Mafia, Don and Gangster. He has been elected five times for the Legislative Assembly of the Uttar Pradesh from Mau Constituency and three times while he was in jail. Criminal history of the accused-applicant was also submitted in detail. It was alleged that the aforesaid vehicle was recovered from Mohali, Punjab, which was being used by the accused-applicant and his henchmen for going to the court from jail. His henchmen would travel in the said ambulance armed with sophisticated weapons to escort him.

The Court remarked that ‘It is irony and tragedy of the Indian republic and biggest scar on Indian democracy that criminals like the present accused-applicant are the law-makers.

It was noted that Dr. Alka Rai, later in her statement admitted that under pressure and fear of the present accused-applicant, she had signed on some papers brought by his men and her signatures were taken on the blank letter pad of the hospital along with seal etc. Statements of other co-accused corroborated the abovementioned allegations.

The Court reiterated the Supreme Court ruling in Harjit Singh v. Inderpreet Singh, 2021 SCC Online SC 633 wherein the Court had cancelled the bail granted to the accused by the High Court considering the criminal antecedents of the accused. Further the Court relied on Brijmani Devi v. Pappu Kumar, (2022) 4 SCC 497 where the Supreme Court held that while considering a bail application by the Court, the due consideration, inter alia, to be given to the criminal antecedents of the accused.

The Court rejected the bail application keeping in mind the long criminal history of the accused-applicant of most heinous offences and facts of the case. The Court did not find any ground to enlarge the accused-applicant on bail.

“The accused-applicant commands un-parallel fear in the minds and hearts of the people that no one dares to challenge him and his men and his politics. If the accused-applicant is enlarged on bail, the apprehension of the prosecution that he would tamper with the evidence and influence the witnesses, cannot be ruled out.”

[Mukhtar Ansari v. State of U.P., 2022 SCC OnLine All 491, decided on 19-07-2022]


Advocates who appeared in this case :

Sri Arun Sinha, counsel for the applicant and Sri V.K. Shahi, Additional Advocate General assisted by Sri Anurag Varma, A.G.A.


*Suchita Shukla, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

Supreme Court of The United States
Case BriefsForeign Courts

Supreme Court of The United States: While deliberating upon the instant matter, wherein the petitioner lost his job as a high school football coach in the Bremerton School District, after he knelt at midfield after games to offer a quiet personal prayer; the Court held that, the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment protects an individual engaging in a personal religious observance from government reprisal. The Constitution neither mandates nor permits the government to suppress such religious expression. The petitioner’s observances fall within the perimeters of the First Amendment, and therefore protected.

Background of the case: Joseph Kennedy [petitioner] began working as a football coach at Bremerton High School in 2008 and had established a personal tradition to offer a prayer of thanks at the conclusion of each game. Initially, Kennedy prayed on his own, but later some of the players started to join him. Eventually, Kennedy began incorporating short motivational speeches with religious references.

In 2015, Bremerton School District’s superintendent identified “two problematic practices” in which Kennedy had engaged- firstly, Kennedy had provided “inspirational talks” that included “overtly religious references” likely constituting “prayer” with the students “at midfield following the completion of games”; and secondly, he had led “students and coaching staff in a prayer” in the locker-room tradition that “predated his involvement with the program”. Kennedy was directed to keep his practice as “non-demonstrative” as possible, which led to Kennedy ending his locker-room prayer with the players and his practice of incorporating religious references into his post-game motivational talks. Kennedy further felt pressured to abandon his practice of saying his own quiet, on-field post-game prayer; however, feeling upset that he had “broken his commitment to God” by not offering his own prayer, he turned his car around and returned to the field and walked to the 50-yard line and knelt to say a brief prayer of thanks.

It was stated that Kennedy offered his prayers during a period when school employees were free to attend to their personal matters – like checking mail or booking reservations at a restaurant etc. The school authorities disciplined him because it thought that Kennedy’s retention could lead a reasonable observer to conclude (mistakenly) that the school endorsed Kennedy’s religious beliefs.

Legal Trajectory: Kennedy sued in federal court, alleging that the Bremerton School District’s [hereinafter the District] actions violated the First Amendment’s Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses. He also moved for a preliminary injunction requiring Bremerton to reinstate him. The District Court denied that motion, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed.

After the parties engaged in discovery, they filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The District Court found that the sole reason for the District’s decision to suspend Kennedy was its perceived “risk of constitutional liability” under the Establishment Clause for his religious conduct after three games in October 2015. The District Court granted summary judgment to the District and the Ninth Circuit affirmed. The Ninth Circuit denied a petition to rehear the case en banc over the dissents of 11 judges.

Contentions: Joseph Kennedy contended that the District’s conduct violated both the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment. As per his submissions, The First Amendment Clauses work in tandem- where the Free Exercise Clause protects religious exercises (communicative or not), the Free Speech Clause provides overlapping protection for expressive religious activities.

Per contra, the District argued that Kennedy’s suspension was essential to avoid a violation of the Establishment Clause. Kennedy’s prayers might have been protected by the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses. But his rights were in “direct tension” with the competing demands of the Establishment Clause. To resolve that clash, the District reasoned that Kennedy’s rights had to yield.

Observations: The opinion of the Court was delivered by Justice Neil Gorsuch in which John Roberts, CJ., Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, JJ., joined. The majority pointed out that SCOTUS precedents permit a plaintiff to demonstrate a free exercise violation in multiple ways, including by showing that a government entity has burdened his sincere religious practice pursuant to a policy that is not “neutral” or “generally applicable”. Failing either the neutrality or general applicability test is sufficient to trigger strict scrutiny, under which the government must demonstrate its course was justified by a compelling state interest and was narrowly tailored in pursuit of that interest.

  • It was observed that Bremerton disciplined Kennedy only for his decision to persist in praying quietly without his students after three games in October 2015. In forbidding Kennedy’s brief prayer, Bremerton’s challenged policies were neither neutral nor generally applicable. By its own admission, the Bremerton sought to restrict Kennedy’s actions in part because of their religious character. Prohibiting religious practice was thus Bremerton School District’s unquestioned “object”. The majority also pointed out that Bremerton School District conceded that its policies were neither neutral nor generally applicable.

  • Noting the complexity associated with the interplay between free speech rights and government employment, the Court observed that when an employee ‘speaks as a citizen addressing a matter of public concern’, the First Amendment may be implicated and courts should proceed to a second step. At this step, courts should engage in ‘a delicate balancing of the competing interests surrounding the speech and its consequences’. “Did Mr. Kennedy offer his prayers in his capacity as a private citizen, or did they amount to government speech attributable to the District?”. The Court noted that when Kennedy engaged in his prayers, he was not engaged in speech “ordinarily within the scope” of his duties as a coach. “Mr. Kennedy’s prayers did not owe their existence to Mr. Kennedy’s responsibilities as a public employee”.

  • The majority pointed out that a natural reading of the First Amendment suggests that the Clauses have “complementary” purposes and not warring ones where one Clause is always sure to prevail over the others. It was also observed that the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment, must be interpreted by ‘reference to historical practices and understandings”.

“A government entity’s concerns about phantom constitutional violations do not justify actual violations of an individual’s First Amendment rights”. The majority observed that Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse Republic. However, in the instant case, the District sought to punish an individual for engaging in a personal religious observance, based on a mistaken view that it has a duty to suppress religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech. “The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination”.

The Dissent: The dissenting opinion was filed by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and she was joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer. The dissenting Judges noted that the Constitution does not authorize, let alone require, public schools to embrace conduct like the instance in the present case. “This Court consistently has recognized that school officials leading prayer is constitutionally impermissible. Official-led prayer strikes at the core of our constitutional protections for the religious liberty of students and their parents, as embodied in both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment”.

  • The Judges pointed out that the petitioner had a longstanding practice of conducting demonstrative prayers on the 50-yard line of the football field. The majority also ignored the severe disruption to school events caused by Kennedy’s conduct, viewing it as irrelevant because the District stated that it was suspending Kennedy to avoid it being viewed as endorsing religion.

  • “The Court rejects longstanding concerns surrounding government endorsement of religion and replaces the standard for reviewing such questions with a new ‘history and tradition’ test”. It was observed that while the majority reaffirms that the Establishment Clause prohibits the government from coercing participation in religious exercise; but they also fail to acknowledge the unique pressures faced by students when participating in school-sponsored activities.

  • The dissenting Judges also noted the District Court’s observations regarding Kennedy generating media coverage by publicizing his dispute with the School in his social media posting and in his media appearances. The Judges noted the instances of commotion during Kennedy’s post-game prayer circle when members of the public rushed the field to join him, jumping fences to access the field and knocking over student band members. The District received calls from Satanists who ‘intended to conduct ceremonies on the field after football games if others were allowed to.’ The Judges also perused the series of directions passed by the District to the petitioner which revealed that they were happy to accommodate Kennedy’s desire to pray on the job, but in a way that did not interfere with his duties or risk perceptions of endorsement.

  • The dissenting Judges noted that if the instant matter is properly understood then this case is not about the limits on an individual’s ability to engage in private prayer at work. This case is about whether a school district is required to allow one of its employees to incorporate a public, communicative display of the employee’s personal religious beliefs into a school event, where that display is recognizable as part of a longstanding practice of the employee ministering religion to students as the public watched.

  • It was pointed out that government neutrality toward religion is particularly important in the public-school context given the role public schools play in our society. “The public school is at once the symbol of our democracy and the most pervasive means for promoting our common destiny”. Accordingly, the Establishment Clause “proscribes public schools from ‘conveying or attempting to convey a message that religion or a particular religious belief is favored or preferred’” or otherwise endorsing religious beliefs.

  • Students look up to their teachers and coaches as role models and seek their approval”- The Judges noted that players recognize that gaining the coach’s approval may pay dividends small and large. In addition to these pressures to please their coaches, players face “immense social pressure” from their peers especially when it comes to American high school football. The Judges pointed out the evidence which revealed that some students reportedly joined Kennedy’s prayer because they felt social pressure to follow their coach and teammates.

  • It was noted that Kennedy’s free exercise claim must be considered in light of the fact that he is a school official and, as such, his participation in religious exercise can create Establishment Clause conflicts. His right to pray at any time and in any manner, he wishes while exercising his professional duties is not absolute.

  • In their final observation, the dissenting Judges stated that Free Exercise Clause and Establishment Clause are equally integral in protecting religious freedom in society. However, the majority’s decision elevates one individual’s interest in personal religious exercise, in the exact time and place of that individual’s choosing, over society’s interest in protecting the separation between church and state, eroding the protections for religious liberty for all.

Terming the majority decision to be “misguided”, the Judges stated that the decision creates a perilous path to force the States to entangle themselves with religion, with all the rights hanging in the balance. “As much as the Court protests otherwise, today’s decision is no victory for religious liberty

“This decision does a disservice to schools and the young citizens they serve, as well as to our Nation’s longstanding commitment to the separation of church and state”.

[Kennedy v. Bremerton 2022 SCC OnLine US SC 10, decided on 27-06-2022]


*Sucheta Sarkar, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief

Bombay High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: Stating that in the democratic setup, the will of the majority is the rule, the Division Bench of S.V. Gangapurwala and Shrikant D. Kulkarni, JJ., held that if the directly elected Sarpanch fails to call the meetings of the Panchayat or acts in a manner rendering the functioning of the Panchayat at a standstill, the member of the Panchayat would certainly get a right to move a motion of no confidence.

Factual Background


The petitioner was directly elected Sarpanch of the Gram Panchayat and a no-confidence motion was passed against him by the members of the Gram Panchayat.

By the present petition, the petitioner assailed the vires of Section 35(1A) of the Maharashtra Village Gram Panchayat Act, 1959 to the extent of giving authority to the members of the Gram Panchayat to move no-confidence motion against directly elected Sarpanch.

Analysis, Law and Decision


High Court observed that the statutory provisions can be challenged on two counts:

  1. The legislature lacks the authority and power to frame the provision
  2. The provision is arbitrary, irrational and does not have rational nexus with the object in view and thereby violative of the Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

In the instant case, the legislative powers of the State were not in question,

State possesses the legislative powers to enact the provisions. 

The only challenge was on the ground that the said provision was arbitrary and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.

The Village Panchayat Act casts additional duty/responsibilities upon the Sarpanch. If the Sarpanch fails to convene without sufficient cause the meetings of the Panchayat in any financial year according to rules prescribed in that behalf, he shall be disqualified from continuing as a Sarpanch for remainder period of the term as provided under Section 36 of the Village Panchayat Act.

Further, the panchayat would include the elected members so also Sarpanch and Up-Sarpanch though directly elected.  The decisions have to be arrived at by the Panchayat for the betterment of the villagers.

The Bench remarked that, if the sarpanch fails to perform his function and/or acts in a manner detrimental to the interest of the Panchayat and villagers or is guilty of such acts of omission or commission, so as to affect the functioning of the panchayat, then the members certainly would be justified in bringing about no-confidence motion against him.

The Village Panchayat Act does not make distinction in the nature of duties, powers, functions and responsibility of Sarpanch on the basis of he being elected by the villagers or by the members of the Panchayat.

High Court noted that for a directly elected Sarpanch further protection is provided that motion of No-Confidence is to be passed by 2/3rd members and further the said no-confidence motion is to be ratified before the Gram Sabha by the secret ballot. 

In Court’s opinion, if the villagers in the Gram Sabha do not ratify the no confidence motion passed by the members of the Panchayat the no-confidence motion would fail. The executive power vests with the Gram Sabha viz villagers.

While concluding the matter, Bench stated that the Village Panchayat Act has provided proper check and balance for passing a no-confidence motion against a directly elected Sarpanch and the said provision is rational, reasonable and does not suffer from vice of arbitrariness ergo not violative of the Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

In view of the above, petition was dismissed. [Ashruba Namdeo Kharmate v. State of Maharashtra, 2022 SCC OnLine Bom 840, decided on 11-3-2022]


Advocates before the Court:

Advocate for Petitioner: Mr S.S. Thombre Incharge G.P.

For Respondents. 1 to 4 : Mr D.R. Kale

Legal RoundUpSupreme Court Roundups

“Merit is not solely of one‘s own making. The rhetoric surrounding merit obscures the way in which family, schooling, fortune and a gift of talents that the society currently values aids in one‘s advancement.”

Neil Aurelio Nunes v. Union of India, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 75


STORY OF THE MONTH


“Reservation is not at odds with merit”; Here’s why SC upheld OBC reservation in NEET PG and UG Admissions in AIQ quota

In a detailed judgment, the bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud and AS Bopanna, JJ has upheld the Constitutional validity of the reservation for OBC candidates in the AIQ seats for PG and UG  medical and dental courses and noticed that while an open competitive exam may ensure formal equality where everyone has an equal opportunity to participate, however, widespread inequalities in the availability of and access to educational facilities will result in the deprivation of certain classes of people who would be unable to effectively compete in such a system.

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UNMISSABLE STORIES


COVID-19/Omicron surge yet again forces Supreme Court to extend period of limitation for filing of cases

After the Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association approached the Court in light of the spread of Omicron, the new variant of the COVID-19 and the drastic surge in the number of COVID cases across the country, the 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, CJ and L. Nageswara Rao and Surya Kant, JJ restored the order dated 23.03.2020 and directed that the period from 15.03.2020 till 28.02.2022 shall stand excluded for the purposes of limitation as may be prescribed under any general or special laws in respect of all judicial or quasi judicial proceedings.

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PM Modi Security Lapse: “War of words no solution”; SC appoints Committee headed by Justice Indu Malhotra to look into the matter

After a massive security lapse that left Prime Minister Narendra Modi stuck on a highway in Punjab for 20 minutes on January 5, 2022, the 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, CJ and Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, JJ has formed a committee to be chaired by Justice Indu Malhotra, former Supreme Court Judge.

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NEET 2021-22: Supreme Court allows Counselling with 27% Quota for OBCs and 10% Quota for EWS in All India Quota

 Considering the urgent need to commence the process of Counselling, the bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud* and AS Bopanna, JJ, has directed that counselling on the basis of NEET-PG 2021 and NEET- UG 2021 shall be conducted by giving effect to the reservation as provided by the notice dated 29 July 2021, including the 27 per cent reservation for the OBC category and 10 per cent reservation for EWS category in the All India Quota seats.

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Suspension of 12 Maharashtra BJP MLAs for one year “grossly illegal”; worse than expulsion, disqualification or resignation

In a big relief to the 12 BJP MLAs who were suspended by the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, by resolution dated 05.07.2021, for a period of 1 year due to “indisciplined and unbecoming behavior resulting in maligning the dignity of the House”, the 3-judge bench of AM Khanwilkar*, Dinesh Maheshwari and CT Ravikumar, JJ has held that the said resolution is unconstitutional, grossly illegal and irrational to the extent of period of suspension beyond the remainder of the concerned (ongoing) Session.

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“Can’t allow Devas and its shareholders to reap the benefits of their fraudulent action”; SC upholds NCLAT’s order to wind up Devas  

“If the seeds of the commercial relationship between Antrix and Devas were a product of fraud perpetrated by Devas, every part of the plant that grew out of those seeds, such as the Agreement, the disputes, arbitral awards etc., are all infected with the poison of fraud.”

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Arcelor Mittal Nippon Steel India Limited to pay the purchase tax of Rs. 480 Crores as SC sets aside Gujarat HC verdict

In a major blow to Essar Steel Limited, now Arcelor Mittal Nippon Steel India Limited), the bench of MR Shah* and Sanjiv Khanna, JJ has set aside the Gujarat High Court verdict wherein it was held that Essar was entitled to the exemption from payment of purchase tax as per the Notification dated 05.03.1992, which was issued under Section 49(2) of the Gujarat Sales Tax Act, 1969. As a result Essar will now have to pay the purchase tax of Rs.480.99 crores.

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Dowry Death| Woman meting out cruelty to another woman deserves no leniency. Mother-in-law must protect daughter-in-law, not harass her: SC

“Being a lady, the appellant, who was the mother-in-law, ought to have been more sensitive vis-à-vis her daughter-in-law.”

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Can Demand of Money for Construction of a House be Treated as a Dowry Demand? SC answers in a 2002 case where a 5-months pregnant woman set herself on fire

“A push in the right direction is required to accomplish the task of eradicating this evil which has become deeply entrenched in our society.”

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Pension is not a bounty; Lack of financial resources no excuse for taking away vested rights by way of retrospective amendments

The bench of Ajay Rastogi and Abhay S. Oka, JJ has held that an amendment having retrospective operation which has the effect of taking away the benefit already available to the employee under the existing rule indeed would divest the employee from his vested or accrued rights and that being so, it would be held to be violative of the rights guaranteed under Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution.

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Cal HC had no jurisdiction to quash CAT Principle Bench’s transfer order in Alapan Bandhopadhyay Case, holds SC, based on this Constitution Bench Law holding ground since 1997

The 2-judge bench of AM Khanwilkar and CT Ravikumar, JJ has reiterated the position laid down by the Constitution Bench in L. Chandra Kumar v. Union of India, (1997) 3 SCC 261, that any decision of such a Tribunal, including the one passed under Section 25 of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 could be subjected to scrutiny only before a Division Bench of a High Court within whose jurisdiction the Tribunal concerned falls.

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EXPLAINERS



MORE STORIES


“Not a case of lack of promotional opportunities”; No financial upgradation to employee refusing regular promotion for personal reasons

The bench of R. Subhash Reddy and Hrishikesh Roy*, JJ has held that if a regular promotion is offered but is refused by the employee before becoming entitled to a financial upgradation, she/he shall not be entitled to financial upgradation only because she/he has suffered stagnation.

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Life cannot be breathed into the stillborn charge memorandum; SC holds where prior approval is the rule the defect cannot be cured by post-facto approval

“What is non-existent in the eye of the law cannot be revived retrospectively.”

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Cheque gets deposited to the account of account holder with strikingly similar name. Bank blames customer. Read why SC was “surprised” at NCDRC’s ruling

In an interesting case where one SBI account holder was left with a balance of Rs. 59/- only in his account due to the existence of another bank account with strikingly similar name in the same branch, the bench of Sanjiv Khanna and Bela M. Trivedi*, JJ has set aside the “highly erroneous” impugned order passed by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission solely relying upon the suo-moto report called for from SBI during the pendency of the revision application.

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Reservation in promotion: The 6 issues settled by Supreme Court on collection of quantifiable data on inadequacy of representation

The 3-judge bench of L. Nageswara Rao*, Sanjiv Khanna and BR Gavai has answered 6 crucial questions in relation to quantifiable data showing inadequacy of representation in promotional posts.

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Delinquent employee doesn’t have an absolute right to be represented in departmental proceedings by the agent of his choice

In a case where the Rajasthan High Court had permitted the respondent employee who is facing disciplinary proceedings to represent through ex-employee of the Bank, the bench of MR Shah* and Sanjiv Khanna, JJ has interpreted Regulation 44 of the Rajasthan Marudhara Gramin Bank (Officers and Employees) Service Regulation, 2010 read with clause 8.2 of the Handbook Procedure to hold that the delinquent employee has no absolute right to avail the services by ex-employee of the Bank as his DR in the departmental proceedings.

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COVID-19| A Biological Weapon? Most misconceived! SC rules it is for the elected Government to take necessary action if any

While addressing a petition making bizarre claim that virgin Coconut Oil can dissolve Covid-19 virus, the Division Bench of Sanjay Kishan Kaul and M.M. Sundresh, JJ., held that it cannot let every person who believes that he has some solution to the virus, to come up in a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution.

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High Court’s Revisional jurisdiction under Section 401 Cr.P.C re power to reverse acquittal. SC answers important questions

“Though the High Court has revisional power to examine whether there is manifest error of law or procedure etc., however, after giving its own findings on the findings recorded by the court acquitting the accused and after setting aside the order of acquittal, the High Court has to remit the matter to the trial Court and/or the first appellate Court, as the case may be.”

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P&H HC directs State to provide sports quota of 3% in Government Medical/Dental Colleges instead of 1% provided in policy decision. Such mandamus impermissible, holds SC

Explaining the scope of writ jurisdiction, the bench of MR Shah* and BV Nagarathna, JJ has held that the State Government’s action taking a policy decision to prescribe a particular percentage of reservation/quota for a particular category of persons, cannot be interfered with by issuance of a writ of mandamus, directing the State Government to provide for a particular percentage of reservation for a particular category of persons other than what has been provided in the policy decision taken by the State Government.

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Person with 54% disability pinned to the ground, throttled by neck and consequently killed by strangulation; SC cancels HC order granting bail to the accused

Finding the order of the High Court cryptic and casual, de hors coherent reasoning, the Bench invoked the latin maxim “cessante ratione legis cessat ipsa lex” to hold that “reason is the soul of the law, and when the reason of any particular law ceases, so does the law itself”.

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Civil Court has no jurisdiction in dispute relating to property governed by the Haryana (Control of Rent & Eviction) Act, 1973: SC

The Court was deciding the dispute relating to suit property situated within the municipal limits of Kaithal which is governed by the Haryana (Control of Rent & Eviction) Act, 1973.

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Traffic blockage due to agitation, failure to deliver consignment within validity period of e-way bill; SC imposes cost of Rs. 59000 on Sales Tax Officer for illegally imposing penalty

“When the undeniable facts, including the traffic blockage due to agitation, are taken into consideration, the State alone remains responsible for not providing smooth passage of traffic.”

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Whether adoption of parent Government Resolution by an undertaking leads to automatic adoption of subsequent modifying resolutions?

“There are limitations or qualifications to the applicability of the doctrine of ‘equal pay for equal work’.”

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State ‘exclusivity’ for disallowance of certain fee, charge, etc. is to be viewed from the nature, not the number of undertakings on which the levy is imposed

The Division Bench of R. Subhash Reddy* and Hrishikesh Roy, JJ., held that to determine State Monopoly for disallowance of certain fee, charge, etc. in the case of State Government Undertakings the aspect of ‘exclusivity’ has to be viewed from the nature of undertaking on which levy is imposed and not on the number of undertakings on which the levy is imposed.

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Failure to provide occupancy certificate a deficiency in service under the Consumer Protection Act and also a continuing wrong

The bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud* and AS Bopanna, JJ has held that failure on the part of the builder to provide occupancy certificate is a continuing breach under the Maharashtra Ownership Flats (Regulation of the Promotion of Construction, Sale, Management and Transfer) Act 1963 and amounts to a continuing wrong.

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Whether charitable education institutions exempted from levy of electricity duty under Maharashtra Electricity Act, 2016? Supreme Court interprets

The Division Bench comprising of M. R. Shah* and Sanjiv Khanna, JJ., reversed the impugned order of the High Court whereby the High Court had held that education institutions run by charitable societies are exempted from payment of electricity duty.

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Non-consideration for subsequent preference post after being declared ineligible for first post preference: Is it unjust? Supreme Court answers

While addressing the issue as to whether a candidate is entitled to claim appointment on a subsequent post in his preference list after having being considered for his first preference and being declared not suitable for the said post due to non-fulfilment of physical requirements, the Division Bench of Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and A.S. Bopanna*, JJ., replied in negative.

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“Democratic interests cannot be judicially aborted to preserve unfettered freedom to conduct business, of the few”; Govt. decision to ban MTTs in PPE products ensures adequate PPE in India: SC

“This Court must be circumspect that the rights and freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution do not become a weapon in the arsenal of private businesses to disable regulation enacted in the public interest.”

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Order de hors reasoning cannot result in grant of bail! SC holds informant has a right to assail bail orders bereft of reasons before a higher forum

“It would be only a non speaking order which is an instance of violation of principles of natural justice. In such a case the prosecution or the informant has a right to assail the order before a higher forum.”

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Scrap picker beaten to death; incident recorded in CCTV: State failed to protect victim’s rights by not challenging Guj HC’s order releasing accused on bail; SC cancels bail

In a case where a scrap picker was beaten to death and the Gujarat High Court had released one of the accused on bail despite the entire incident been recorded in the CCTV footages and the mobile phone, the bench of MR Shah and BV Nagarathna, JJ has cancelled the bail and has observed that by not filing the appeals by the State against the impugned judgments and orders releasing the accused on bail in such a serious matter, the State has failed to protect the rights of the victim.

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Gift deed by an old illiterate woman: SC approves not legalistic but holistic approach by lower courts to determine validity of deed. HC’s verdict set aside

In an issue relating to the alleged gift deed by an old illiterate woman, the bench of MR Shah and Sanjiv Khanna*, JJ has held that when a person obtains any benefit from another, the court would call upon the person who wishes to maintain the right to gift to discharge the burden of proving that he exerted no influence for the purpose of obtaining the document.

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No more uncertainty over fixation of percentage of reservation for OBC and SC/ST candidates; SC interprets Section 3 Second Proviso of CEI Act, 2006

The bench of L. Nageswara Rao and Hima Kohli, JJ has held that the formulae for fixing the percentage of reservation for the SC and ST candidates and for determining the percentage of seats to be reserved for OBC candidates under the second proviso of Section 3 of the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act, 2006, ought to be gathered from the same source and any other interpretation would lead to uncertainty.

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3-year old raped and strangulated to death; Read why Supreme Court commuted Death Sentence to life imprisonment

The Fast Track Court, Raigarh had convicted the appellant for the offences punishable under Sections 363, 366, 376(2)(i), 377, 201, 302 read with Section 376A of the Penal Code, 1860 and Section 6 of the POCSO Act, 2012 and vide the same judgment and order, the appellant was sentenced to death for the offence punishable under Section 302 of the IPC. Subsequently, vide the impugned judgment and order, the High Court had confirmed the death penalty.

Read more…

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Mere recommendation of the SP at the initial stage not sufficient to claim a right for promotion: SC explains Punjab Police Rules, 1934

In a case where a Constable’s name was recommended by the Superintendent of Police but the same was dropped down by the Inspector General of Police for promotion under the 10% quota of outstanding performance for inclusion in the B-I List for promotion to the post of Head Constable in the year 2004, the bench of KM Joseph and PS Narsimha, JJ has held that mere recommendation of the SP at the initial stage is not sufficient to claim a right for promotion.

Read more…

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No scaling down of sentence to 10 years as per NDPS Act for man sentenced to 26 years in prison by Mauritius SC for being in possession of over 150 gms of heroin

In a case where a man was arrested in Mauritius after being found to be in possession of 152.8 grams of heroin and was sentenced to 26 years in prison by the Supreme Court of Mauritius, the bench of L. Nageswara Rao and BR Gavai has upheld the Central Government’s decision rejecting the request for scaling down the sentence from 26 years to 10 years and has found it to be in accordance with the provisions of the Repatriation of Prisoners Act, 2003 and the agreement entered into between India and Mauritius.

Read more…

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No Pensionary Benefits To WALMI Employees; Employees Of Autonomous Bodies Can’t Claim Benefits On A Par With Government Employees As Matter Of Right

“… the employees of the autonomous bodies cannot claim, as a matter of right, the same service benefits on par with the Government employees.”

Read more…

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Whether the term “school children” includes university students while interpreting Government Memo exempting buses carrying school children from Passengers Tax? SC clarifies

While holding that the term “school children” will include college and university as well while interpreting government memo exempting passengers tax in respect of Stage Carriage (buses) owned by educational institution and used for the transportation of children to and from such institutions, the Division Bench of Dinesh Maheshwari and Vikram Nath, JJ., remarked,

“It gets perforce reiterated that the broad expression “children”, obviously, refers to the students taking instructions in educational institutions, irrespective of their class or standard or level.”

Read more…


CASES REPORTED IN SCC


2021 SCC Vol. 9 Part 1

Ranging from Arbitration, Service Law to Family Law, this Volume 9 Part 1 brings in some very carefully and expertly analysed Judgments

2021 SCC Vol. 9 Part 2

In this part read a very interesting decision expertly analysed by our editors. Supreme Court ruled that the trustees are required to

SCC Snippets

Are Clients Or Courts Bound By Lawyer’s Statements Or Admissions As To Matters Of Law Or Legal Conclusions?


Legal RoundUpSupreme Court Roundups

Year 2021! The year that started with the hope of the COVID-19 Pandemic nearing an end with countries starting vaccination, ended up becoming deadlier than the year gone by. A year of losses for many, 2021 was also the year when the Supreme Court judges lost one of their own. Justice MM Shantanagoudar, a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, breathed his last on April 24, 2021.

Read: The Judicial Legacy of Justice MM Shantanagoudar

As the Nation was crippled with hardship and adversity, the Supreme Court refused to bog down and went on to deliver 865 judgments, which is a lot more than the number of judgments delivered in the 2020.

The year also witnessed the appointment of 9 judges, including 3 women judges and if all goes well, Justice BV Nagarathna, might take oath as the first woman Chief Justice of India in 2027!  Read more…

5 judges, including the former CJI Justice SA Bobde, retired. Justice NV Ramana took oath as the 48th Chief Justice of India. Read more…

Also read:

·        Chief Justice SA Bobde retires: A look at his legacy and justice in the time of COVID-19

·        A Winner All Along – Justice Indu Malhotra

·        Messiah of the sufferers: Bidding adieu to Justice Ashok Bhushan

·        A Multifaceted Expert — Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman

·        A Champion who applied technology to optimize human potential and capabilities – Justice Navin Sinha

Let’s go through the most important of the 865 judgments delivered by the Supreme Court in the year 2021. 

CONSTITUTION BENCH VERDICTS

Only 3 Constitution Bench judgments were delivered in the year 2021. Read all about them here.


THE MOST TALKED ABOUT CASES

Central Vista Project

The year began with the Supreme Court giving a go-ahead to the Central Vista Project in a 2:1 verdict. While the majority found itself compelled to wonder if it can dictate the government to desist from spending money on one project and instead use it for something else, Justice Khanna, in his dissenting opinion, observed that citizens have the right to know and participate in deliberation and decision making. [Rajiv Suri v. Delhi Development Authority,  2021 SCC OnLine SC 7]

Read: Supreme Court gives a go-ahead to Central Vista Project in a 2:1 verdict

Also read: Justice Khanna dissents in 2:1 verdict clearing the Central Vista Project

Farm Bill and Farmer Protest

While the repeal of the Farm laws came at the fag end of the year, the Supreme Court stayed the implementation of these Laws right in the beginning of the year after noticing that despite the peaceful protest, a few deaths had already taken place as Senior Citizens, youth and children were exposing themselves to not just the cold weather but also to COVID-19. [Rakesh Vaishanv v. Union of India,  (2021) 1 SCC 590]

Read: Supreme Court stays implementation of Farm Laws

Also read: Farmer Protests| Shashi Tharoor and 6 journalists not to be arrested for now over tweets on protester’s death during Republic Day Tractor Rally

Here’s a list of some more unmissable high-profile cases:


THE WAY FORWARD

The structures of our society have been created by males and for males. As a result, certain structures that may seem to be the “norm” and may appear to be harmless, are a reflection of the insidious patriarchal system.

Nitisha v. Union of India

2021 SCC OnLine SC 261

In 2021, the Supreme Court showed the way forward by giving many progressive orders/judgments. One of the top stories from the year 2021 was where the Court said that the administrative requirement imposed by the Indian Army authorities while considering the case of the Women Short Service Commissions Officers (WSSCO) for the grant of Permanent Commission (PC), of benchmarking these officers with the officers lowest in merit in the corresponding male batch was arbitrary and irrational.

In another important ruling, before taking the oath as the Chief Justice of India, Justice NV Ramana noticed that 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. He added that the issue of fixing notional income for a homemaker, therefore, served extremely important functions.

Here is the list of all the judgments that take us as a nation a step forward:


SEDITION AND FREE SPEECH

By way of a series of judgments and orders on free speech, the Supreme made clear that, a citizen has a right to criticize or comment upon the measures undertaken by the Government and its functionaries.

In a big move, the Supreme Court also agreed to decide the constitutionality of Section 124A IPC after it was submitted before the Court that the decision of the Court in Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar, 1962 Supp. (2) SCR 769 required reconsideration. [Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha v. Union of India, (2021) 6 SCC 177]

Read everything here:


IBC – THE IMPERFECT LAW?

While stating that “there is nothing like a perfect law and as with all human institutions, there are bound to be imperfections”, the Supreme Court, in a 465-pages long judgment, upheld the validity of several provisions of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Act, 2020, albeit with directions given in exercise of powers under Article 142 of the Constitution of India. [Manish Kumar v. Union of India,  (2021) 5 SCC 1]

Read: IBC (Amendment) Act, 2020 upheld, albeit with directions

This judgment was followed by a series of judgments and orders on IBC. Check out the list below to read more:


RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES

“In their blooming and blossoming, we all bloom and blossom.”

Vikash Kumar v. Union Public Service Commission,

(2021) 5 SCC 370

This year witnessed many Supreme Court Judgments and orders on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Check out this list to know more:


DEMOCRACY AND TRANSPERANCY

No-one is above law; this was the Supreme Court message as it stressed on importance of transparency by Political Parties and Government Institutions.

Read here:


THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO PROPERTY

In a case where State took possession of surplus land in absence of surplus land, this Supreme Court’s verdict served as a reminder that right to property is still a constitutional right under Article 300A of the Constitution of India though not a fundamental right. The deprivation of the right can only be in accordance with the procedure established by law. [Bajranga v. State of Madhya Pradesh,  2021 SCC OnLine SC 27]

Read: Right to property is still a constitutional right under Article 300A of the Constitution


WHEN A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT WAS STRUCK DOWN

In a rare move, the Supreme Court held that the Constitution (97th Amendment) Act, 2011 which inter alia inserted Part IX-B was ultra vires the Constitution insofar it is concerned with the subject of Cooperative Societies for want of the requisite ratification under Article 368(2) proviso. [Union of India v. Rajendra N. Shah2021 SCC OnLine SC 474]

Read: Part IX-B of Constitution relating to cooperative societies unconstitutional for want of ratification by half of the States; Provisions relating to multi-State cooperative societies severable and valid: SC


THE “EVEN MORE DESERVING PARTIES”

Section 89 of CPC and Section 69-A of Tamil Nadu Court Fees and Suit Valuation Act, 1955 contemplate the refund of court fees in all methods of out-of-court dispute settlement between parties that the Court subsequently finds to have been legally arrived at and not just to those cases where the Court itself refers the parties to any of the alternative dispute settlement mechanisms listed in Section 89 of the CPC.

The Court observed that the parties agreeing to out-of-court settlement are “even more deserving”. [High Court of Madras v. MC Subramaniam(2021) 3 SCC 560]

Read: Parties agreeing to out-of-court settlement without judicial intervention under Section 89 CPC can’t be denied benefit of refund of court fees


BANKS AND BANKING

While the Constitution bench looked down upon the “mechanical” conversion of complaints under Section 138 NI Act from summary to summons trial and directed that the magistrates “must” record reasons, many other important decisions were given in 2021.

Read here: 


CONSUMER PROTECTION

The Supreme Court took cognizance of Government’s lackadaisical attitude towards consumer empowerment and observed that the ground reality is quite different as there is little endeavour to translate this Legislative intent into an administrative infrastructure with requisite facilities, members and staff to facilitate the decision on the consumer complaint.

Here are the important rulings on Consumer Protection that you cannot miss:


FROM “DEATH” TO “LIFE”

In 3 cases, the Supreme Court commuted the death sentences of the convicts to Life Imprisonment and in one case, 3 death row convicts were acquitted of all charges.

Read here:


MOTOR ACCIDENTS CLAIMS

Read how a one-stop online platform for all parties involved and Motor Vehicle Appellant Tribunals will help in achieving a hassle free disposal of Motor Vehicle Accident claims:


ARBITRATION

No year goes by without the Supreme Court delivering some important ruling on Arbitration and the year 2021 was no different.

Read the updates here:


A GUIDE FOR THE BENCH!

“The Magistrates are the first lines of defence for both the integrity of the criminal justice system, and the harassed and distraught litigant.”

Krishna Lal Chawla v. State of U.P.,

2021 SCC OnLine SC 191

In 2021, the Court also delivered a number of judgments on the issues of pendency of cases, judicial vacancies and overall standard to be followed by the members of bench while dealing with case.

Read all about these judgments here:


COVID-19

As the second wave of COVID-19 brought the nation to its knees, the Supreme Court did everything in it’s power to ensure that the loss is minimized.

Read all the important judgments here:

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: The Division Bench of Dipankar Datta, CJ and G.S. Kulkarni, J., while addressing the petitions challenging the IT Rules, 2021 expressed that

Dissent in democracy is vital.

People would be starved of the liberty of thought and feel suffocated to exercise their right of freedom of speech and expression, if they are made to live in present times of content regulation on the internet with the Code of Ethics hanging over their head as the Sword of Damocles.

Challenge

Instant petitions challenged the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 on the ground that they were ultra vires the Information Technology Act, 2000 and the provisions of Articles 14, 19 (1)(a) and 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.

Background

First petition was filed by the petitioner 1 company known as “The Leaflet”.

The second Petition was a Public Interest Litigation filed by Nikhil Mangesh Wagle who was stated to be in the field of journalism since the year 1977.

Contention

Petitioners contended that the 2021 rules were ex-facie draconian, arbitrary and patently ultra vires the provisions of the IT Act and the provisions of Articles 14, 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(g) of the Constitution, which guarantees fundamental rights to the petitioners.

Petitioners in the first petition

Petitioners in the first petition were aggrieved by Rules 9, 14 and 16.

9. Observance and adherence to the Code.—

(1) A publisher referred to in rule 8 shall observe and adhere to the Code of Ethics laid down in the Appendix annexed to these rules.

(2) Notwithstanding anything contained in these rules, a publisher referred to in rule 8 who contravenes any law for the time being in force, shall also be liable for consequential action as provided in such law which has so been contravened.

(3) For ensuring observance and adherence to the Code of Ethics by publishers operating in the territory of India, and for addressing the grievances made in relation to publishers under this Part, there shall be a three-tier structure as under—

(a)  Level I – Self-regulation by the publishers;

(b)  Level II – Self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the publishers;

(c) Level III – Oversight mechanism by the Central Government.

……..

14. Inter-Departmental Committee.—

(1) The Ministry shall constitute an Inter- Departmental Committee, called the Committee, consisting of representatives from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Law and Justice, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Defence, and such other Ministries and Organisations, including domain experts, that it may decide to include in the Committee:

Provided that the Authorised Officer designated under sub-rule (2) of rule 13 shall be the Chairperson of such Committee.

(2) The Committee shall meet periodically and hear the following complaints regarding violation or  contravention of the Code of Ethics by the entities referred to in Rule 8 –

(a) arising out of the grievances in respect of the decisions taken at the Level I or II, including the cases where no such decision is taken within the time specified in the grievance redressal mechanism; or

(b) referred to it by the Ministry.

(3) Any complaint referred to the Committee, whether arising out of the grievances or referred to it by the Ministry, shall be in writing and may be sent either by mail or fax or by e-mail signed with electronic signature of the authorised representative of the entity referring the grievance, and the Committee shall ensure that such reference is assigned a number which is recorded along with the date and time of its receipt.

(4) The Ministry shall make all reasonable efforts to identify the entity referred to in Rule 8 which has created, published or hosted the content or part thereof, and where it is able to identify such entity, it shall issue a duly signed notice to such entity to appear and submit their reply and clarifications, if any, before the Committee.

(5) In the hearing, the Committee shall examine complaints or grievances, and may either accept or allow such complaint or grievance, and make the following recommendations to the Ministry, namely:—

(a) warning, censuring, admonishing or reprimanding such entity; or

(b)  requiring an apology by such entity; or

(c)  requiring such entity to include a warning  card or a disclaimer; or

(d) in case of online curated content, direct a publisher to—

(i) reclassify ratings of relevant content; or (ii) edit synopsis of relevant content; or
(iii) make appropriate modification in the  content descriptor, age classification and parental or access control;

(e) delete or modify content for preventing incitement to the commission of a cognisable offence relating to public order;

(f) in case of content where the Committee is satisfied that there is a need for taking action in relation to the reasons enumerated in sub-section (1) of section 69A of the Act, it may recommend such action.

(6) The Ministry may, after taking into consideration the recommendations of the Committee, issue appropriate orders and directions for compliance by the publisher:

Provided that no such order shall be issued without the approval of the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India (hereinafter referred to as the “Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting”).

16. Blocking of information in case of emergency.—

(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in rules 14 and 15, the Authorised Officer, in any case of emergency nature, for which no delay is acceptable, shall examine the relevant content and consider whether it is within the grounds referred to in sub-section (1) of section 69A of the Act and it is necessary or expedient and justifiable to block such information or part thereof and submit a specific recommendation in writing to the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

(2) In case of emergency nature, the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting may, if he is satisfied that it is necessary or expedient and justifiable for blocking for public access of any information or part thereof through any computer resource and after recording reasons in writing, as an interim measure issue such directions as he may consider necessary to such identified or identifiable persons, publishers or intermediary in control of such computer resource hosting such information or part thereof without giving him an opportunity of hearing.

(3) The Authorised Officer, at the earliest but not later than forty-eight hours of issue of direction under sub- rule (2), shall bring the request before the Committee for its consideration and recommendation.

(4) On receipt of recommendations of the Committee under sub-rule (3), the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, shall pass the final order as regard to approval of such request and in case the request for blocking is not approved by the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in his final order, the interim direction issued under sub-rule (2) shall be revoked and the person, publisher or intermediary in control of such information shall be accordingly, directed  to unblock the information for public access.”

Primary grievance of the petitioners for interim reliefs is qua the application of Rules 7, 9, 14 and 16 of the impugned rules.

Analysis, Law and Decision

High Court opined that as far as Rule 14 was concerned, there was no immediate urgency inasmuch as inter-departmental committee was yet to be constituted. It was required to be noted that, no material had been brought to Court’s notice that the authorized officer as contemplated under Rule 13(2) had been appointed.

Therefore, petitioners were at liberty to approach the Court as and when the inter-departmental committee was constituted.

Rule 16 provides for blocking of information in case of emergency

The stated Rule provided was pari materia to Rule 9 of the 2009 Rules which were still in operation. Also, it was not the petitioners case that they were at any time aggrieved by Rule 9 of the 2009 Rules. Hence, Court found no case to be made to stay Rule 16 of the 2021 Rules.

Blocking of information in case of emergency as provided by Rule 16 was on the grounds traceable in Section 69A (1) of the IT Act which was a provision failing in line with the restrictions as imposed by Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India, namely, when the authority finds that blocking of public access of any information is in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to commission of any cognizable offence in relation to such issues.

Therefore, prayer to stay Rule 16 was rejected.

Rule 9

Bench stated that that said Rule was severely criticized by the petitioners as noted by the Court to be an affront on the guarantee of right of freedom of free speech and expression conferred by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

What peculiar under Rule 9?

Publishers of news and current affairs content and publishers of online curate content are under a mandatory obligation to observe and adhere to the Code of Ethics laid down.

Petitioners submitted that the IT Act does not seek to censor the content on internet; secondly, it is impermissible for the Centre to have a subordinate legislation in the form of Rule 9 inasmuch as it provides for restrictions which travel beyond the provisions of Section 69A of the IT Act ; and thirdly, the rule making power itself, as exercised in framing the impugned rules, namely, the power under Section 87 sub-section (1) and clauses (z) and (zg) of sub- section (2) itself does not provide for imposition of such restrictions.

In the opinion of the Court, Rule 9 prima facie suffers from two illegalities:

  • It imposes an obligation on the publishers of news and current affairs content and publishers of online curated content, to observe the Code of Ethics under a completely different statutory regime alien to the IT Act.

One who violates the code does so at his own peril and would expose himself/itself to more rigorous action than what the PCI Act envisages.

If a writer/editor/publisher has to adhere to or observe the Programme Code in toto, he would necessarily be precluded from criticizing an individual in respect of his public life [see: Rule 6(1)(i)].

Bench expressed that it is the checks and balances that make a democracy work. There can be no two opinions that a healthy democracy is one which has developed on criticism and acceptance of contra views.

Opinion based on criticism reinforces its acceptance in a democratic society.

With the existence of 2021 Rules in place, one would have to think twice before criticizing any such personality, even if the writer/editor/publisher may have good reasons to do so without resorting to defamation and without inviting action under any other provision of law.

Allowing the operation of the 2021 Rules in its form and substance to operate would result in the writer/editor/publisher standing the risk of being punished and sanctioned, should the inter-departmental committee be not in favour of criticism of any public figure.

Adding to the above, Court stated that,

The indeterminate and wide terms of the Rules bring about a chilling effect qua the right of freedom of speech and expression of writers/editors/publishers because they can be hauled up for anything if such committee so wishes.

The 2021 Rules are, thus, manifestly unreasonable and go beyond the IT Act, its aims and provisions.

A democracy would thrive only if the people of India regulate their conduct in accordance with the preambular promise that they took while giving to themselves the Constitution.

Liberty of thought is one of such promises. Exercising this liberty, expressions take shape.

Should at least a part of Rule 9 of the 2021 Rules be not interdicted even at the interim stage, it would generate a pernicious effect.

Further, it was stated that constant fear of being hauled up for contravention of the Code of Ethics is a distinct possibility now.

Prima facie, in Court’s opinion, Rule 9 appeared to be ultra vires the provisions of the IT Act being beyond the delegated power.

Elaborating more, Bench stated that Rule 9 prima facie appeared to be infringing the constitutional guarantee of Freedom of Speech and Expression as conferred by Article 19(1)(a) in subjecting the publishers of news and current affairs content and publishers of online curated content subject to action under the statutory regime of the PC Act and the CTVN Act, which provided for an independent mechanism for any violation of the provisions of such legislation.

Therefore, transgression of powers occupied by different legislation cannot be disrupted by a subordinate legislation.

Lastly, Court held that the present challenge would be required to be regarded as an exception to the general rule of presumption in favour of the constitutionality of Rule 9. Also, Rule 9 does not conform to the statute, namely, of the Information Technology Act as also it is an intrusion into the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of the publishers.

Court denied to propose to stay Rule 7 of the 2001 Rules in the absence of clear satisfaction that the petitioner in the second petition, who is himself a journalist and has sufficient personal interest in the subject matter of the dispute, has not been able to satisfy us that he is an ‘intermediary’ within the meaning of Section 2(w) of the IT Act.

Hence, the High Court directed stay f operation of sub-rules (1) and (3) of Rule 9 of the 2021 Rules.

Matter stood over to 27th September, 2021for final hearing. [Agij Promotion of Nineteenonea Media (P) Ltd. v. Union of India, WP (L) No. 14172 of 2021, decided on 14-08-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

Mr Darius Khambata, Senior Advocate with Mr Mihir Desai, Senior Advocate, Mr Karan Rukhana and Mr Ammar Faizullabhoy and Mr Varun Thomas Mathew, Advocates i/b. Ms Meenaz Kakalia, for the Petitioner in Writ Petition (L) no.14172 of 2021.

Mr Abhay Nevagi with Mr Amit Singh and Mr Vivek Patil, Advocates i/b. Abhay Nevagi & Associates for the Petitioner in PIL (L) no. 14204 of 2021.

Mr Anil C.Singh, ASG with Mr Aditya Thakkar, Mr D.P.Singh and Ms Smita Thakur, Advocates for the Respondents in both petitions.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: The Division Bench of Siddharth Mridul and Anup Jairam Bhambhani, JJ., granted regular bail to activist Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal in the Delhi-Riots case.

Appellant’s who were arrested for participating in protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 and in custody since 29-05-2020, preferred the appeal under Section 21(4) of National Investigation Agency Act, 2008 impugning order of Special Court rejecting her bail application registered under provisions of Penal Code following to the addition of provisions of Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984 and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.

Why was Devangana Kalita & Natasha Narwal in custody? | State against Devangana Kalita & Natasha Narwal. Why?

Larger Conspiracy

State essentially alleged that the appellant’s as a part of women’s rights group called Pinjra Tod and other activistic groups participated in a ‘larger conspiracy’ to commit certain offences which led to violence and rioting in the North-East Delhi between 22-02-2020 and 26-02-2020.

Findings and Analysis

  • Purported independent review of evidence by a purported independent authority; and the fact that the Central Government has, based thereupon, granted sanction of prosecution for offences under Chapters IV or VI of the UAPA, must never enter the consideration of the Court when deciding whether the ingredients of any offence under the UAPA are disclosed in the charge-sheet.
  • In Asif Iqbal Tanha v. State of NCT of Delhi in CRL. A. No. 39/2021, Court analysed the provisions engrafting ‘terrorist act’ and ‘conspiracy’ or ‘act preparatory’ to the commission of a terrorist act.
  • The phrase ‘terrorist act’ cannot be permitted to be applied in a cavalier manner to criminal acts or omissions that fall squarely within the definition of conventional offences.
  • Right to Protest: Contours of legitimate protest have been explained in the Supreme Court decision of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan v. Union of India, (2018) 17 SCC 324. In the said decision it was expressed that: “legitimate dissent is a distinguishable feature of any democracy and the question is not whether the issue raised by the protestors is right or wrong or whether it is justified or unjustified, since people have the right to express their views; and a particular cause, which in the first instance, may appear to be insignificant or irrelevant may gain momentum and acceptability when it is duly voiced and debated.”
  • In the charge-sheet, Court did not find any specific or particularised allegation that would show the possible commission of a ‘terrorist act’ within the meaning of Section 15 UAPA or an act of ‘raising funds’ to commit a terrorist act under Section 17 or an act of ‘conspiracy’ or an ‘act preparatory’ to commit, a terrorist act within the meaning of Section 18 UAPA.
  • Bail Principles: The said principles were in detail discussed in the decision of Asif Iqbal Tanha v. State of NCT of Delhi in CRL. A. No. 39 of 2021, a brief reiteration of the same was done in the present matter.

Devangana Kalita | Conclusion

  1. Right to Protest is not outlawed and cannot be termed as a ‘terrorist act’ within the meaning of UAPA, unless ingredients of offences under Sections 15,17 and 18 of the UAPA are discernible from factual allegations.
  2. Shorn off the superfluous verbiage, hyperbole and the stretched inferences drawn from them by the prosecuting agency, the factual allegations made against the appellant do not prima facie disclose the commission of any offence under Sections 15, 17 and/or 18 of the UAPA.
  3. It appeared that in its anxiety to suppress dissent and in the morbid fear that matters may get out of hand, the State has blurred the line between the constitutionally guaranteed ‘right to protest’ and ‘terrorist activity. If such blurring gains traction, democracy would be in peril.

Appellant in view of the above discussion was granted regular bail subject to conditions.[Devangana Kalita v. State, 2021 SCC OnLine Del 3255, decided on 15-06-2021]

Natasha Narwal | Conclusion

  1. No specific, particularised or definite act was attributed to the appellant, apart from the fact that she engaged herself in organising anti-CAA and anti-NRC protests when riots and violence broke out in certain parts of North-East Delhi.
  2. State cannot thwart grant bail merely by confusing issues.
  3. Opinion: Allegations relating to inflammatory speeches, organising of chakka jaam, instigating women to protest and to stock-pile various articles and other similar allegations, at worst were evidence that the appellant participated in organising protests, but no conclusion of a specific or particularised allegation that appellant incited violence, what to talk of committing a terrorist act or a conspiracy or act preparatory to the commission of a terrorist act as understood in the UAPA.

The Appellant was granted regular bail subject to conditions.

[Natasha Narwal v. State (NCT of Delhi), 2021 SCC OnLine Del 3254, decided on 15-06-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

For the Appellant: Mr. Adit S. Pujari, Ms. Tusharika Mattoo & Mr. Kunal Negi, Advocates.

For the Respondent: Mr. Amit Mahajan, Mr. Amit Prasad and Mr. Rajat Nair, SPPs for the State along with Mr. Dhruv Pande & Mr. Shantanu Sharma, Advocates.


Also Read:

Del HC | Crucial aspects of ‘Terrorist Act’ and Right to Protest | Everything about Asif Iqbal Bail Order

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madras High Court: The Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee, CJ and Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy, J., while addressing a riveting issue wherein a political party challenged Section 60 (c) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and the corresponding rules to facilitate postal ballots for absentee voters including senior citizens of above 80 years, persons with disabilities, COVID-19 affected/ suspected and persons employed in essential services, held that:

“…clause (c) is eminently compatible with the company that it keeps in Section 60 of the Act of 1951 without betraying any sign of incongruity.”

Amendment effected in 2003 to Representation of the People Act, 1951 || In Question

Propriety of an amendment effected in 2003 to the Representation of the People Act, 1951 had been called into question by one of the leading political parties in the State along with myriad other grievances in respect of guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India and classification of persons who may exercise their franchise otherwise than by presenting themselves at a polling booth in the forthcoming assembly elections.

Stance of Political Party

The introduction of 60 (c) of the Act, 1951 amounts to the excessive delegation as it is perceived to confer virtual legislative authority to the Election Commission.

Election Commission has the primacy in conducting assembly elections, Petitioner while agreeing the said suggested that matters as such as the classes of persons who may vote otherwise than by attending the election booth must be completely indicated in any rules that may be framed by the Central Government and Election Commission must not be left with any authority to pick and choose from such classes of persons.

The said provision does not permit Election Commission to indicate any classes of persons to permit them to vote otherwise than by attending the election booth.

Hence, in view of the above stated, the 2019 and 2020 amendments to Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 have been challenged along with the guidelines issued by the Election Commission on 17th September, 2020; 2nd February, 2021 and 27th February 2021.

Rules have been challenged and questioned on the ground of — Excessive Delegation.

Petitioner submitted that

  • Sanctity of the right to vote, which is the most fundamental right enjoyed by a citizen in a democracy, is desecrated by the mode and manner of voting as stipulated for a class of persons by the Election Commission.
  • Secrecy in casting a vote, which is the fulfilment of the right to choose by an ordinary citizen, is seriously compromised in the voting process designed by the Election Commission for absentee voters.
  • Election Commission has virtually cut off the role of political parties in the process.

Analysis, Law and Decision 

Bench in view of the facts and circumstances of the present case stated that the petitioning party must be seen to be aware of the voter, difficulties that the Election Commission may face in implementing the manner of voting through postal ballot, the endeavour of the party has to be respected as an attempt to ensure a free and fair election.

Court further expressed that the nature of the petitioner’s attack on the validity of Section 60(c) of the Act of 1951 falls way short of the exalted tests that a person questioning the propriety of a statutory provision must meet.

The discussion with respect to excessive delegation in the present matter pertains to high constitutional authority as the Election Commission and the venerable position conferred to such Commission by constitutional provisions in Part XV of the suprema lex.

There is no doubt that the Election Commission has to abide by the laws made by the Parliament, but the laws made by the Parliament can only be such as may facilitate the conduct of the elections by the Election Commission in the milieu of the expansive domain carved out for the Commission in the wide words of Article 324 of the Constitution.

 Further with regard to the choice of senior citizens aged 80 years, Petitioner contended that when the lower age limit of a senior citizen has been reduced from the erstwhile 80 years to 65 years by the Central Government amending the 1961 Rules, the Election Commission has no business to go by the class of senior citizens in the pre-amended provision and extend only to them the choice of voting by postal ballot.

Fallacy in the above argument

Section 60(c) of the Act of 1951 permits any person to be chosen by the Election Commission from a class of persons indicated in the Rules to be conferred the privilege of voting by postal ballot as long as the choice is preceded by a consultation with the Central Government and followed by a notification in such regard being published.

If the statute confers the right to indicate classes of persons to the executive and the executive allows the Election Commission to choose sub-classes in consultation with the executive, no case of excessive delegation is made out.

Further, the High court noted that the only matters of substance that the petitioner has been able to urge pertain to the word “notified” used in Section 60(c) of the Act of 1951 and the perceived failure of the Election Commission in such regard together with the use of the word “postal” implying that the postal ballots would necessarily have to be sent by post and received back by post and in no other manner.

Adding to the above, Bench expressed that,

Four classes of persons included as absentee voters and entitled to choose to exercise their franchise by postal ballot – senior citizens above 80 years, persons with disabilities, Covid-affected persons and personnel engaged in specific essential services – have been duly notified upon the notifications being completed by corresponding publications being made in the Official Gazette of the State.

With respect to choosing the smaller classes over larger in some cases was upon consultation with the Central Government.

Noting and observing the above discussion, Court further proceeded to state that:

“…all that the Election Commission has done here is to be inclusive and allow certain classes of persons who would have been excluded from exercising their franchise the right to use the postal ballot and participate in the celebration of the festival of democracy.”

Elaborating more on the said subject of excessive delegation, Court held that in the backdrop of the rule-making provision in Section 169 of the Act of 1951 mandating consultation with the Election Commission, the Rules of 1961, particularly the amendments brought about in 2019 and 2020, do not amount to the excessive delegation.

Right to participate in the democratic process

Court also found no arbitrariness in the classification of the persons permitted by the Rules of 1961 to cast their vote by postal ballot, which is based on who may not be able to physically attend the polling booth.

Supreme Court decision in A.C. Jose, recognised the authority of the Election Commission to pass any orders in respect of the conduct of elections when there is no parliamentary legislation or rule made under the said legislation.

Lastly, while concluding, High Court held that it did not find any merit in the challenge –whether to the validity of Section 60(c) of the Act of 1951 or to the impugned guidelines issued by the Election Commission or, generally, to how the Commission has gone about in its endeavour to conduct the ensuing assembly elections in this State.[Dravida Munnetara Kazhagam v. Union of India, 2021 SCC OnLine Mad 1100 , decided on 17-03-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

For the Petitioner: Mr P.Wilson, Senior Counsel for M/s. P. Wilson Associates

For the Respondents: Mr R.Sankaranarayanan Additional Solicitor-General assisted by Mr K.Srinivasamurthy Senior Panel Counsel for Central Government for 1st respondent

Case BriefsSupreme Court

[NOTE: This Report highlights the important observations made by Justice Sanjiv Khanna in his dissenting opinion in the Central Vista Project case. Justice AM Khanwilkar has written the majority opinion, for himself and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, in the 2:1 judgment that gave a go ahead to the Centra Vista Project.]

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of AM Khanwilkar*, Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna**, JJ has, by a 2:1 verdict, has given a go ahead to the Central Vista Project. As per the Government, the Project, which plans to build a New Parliament building, is necessary for the creation of a larger working space for efficient functioning of the Parliament and for integrated administrative block for Ministries/Departments presently spread out at different locations including on rental basis.

Sanjiv Khanna, J said that he had reservations with the opinion expressed by A.M. Khanwilkar, J. on the aspects of public participation on interpretation of the statutory provisions, failure to take prior approval of the Heritage Conservation Committee and the order passed by the Expert Appraisal Committee.

Here are the key takeaways from Justice Sanjiv Khanna’s dissenting opinion

  • To ignore their salutary mandate as to the manner and nature of consultation in the participatory exercise, would be defeat the benefic objective of exercise of deliberation. Public participation to be fruitful and constructive is not to be a mechanical exercise or formality, it must comply with the least and basic requirements.

“Thus, mere uploading of the gazette notification giving the present and the proposed land use with plot numbers was not sufficient compliance, but rather an exercise violating the express as well as implied stipulations, that is, necessity and requirement to make adequate and intelligible disclosure.”

  • Intelligible and adequate disclosure was critical given the nature of the proposals which would affect the iconic and historical Central Vista. The citizenry clearly had the right to know intelligible details explaining the proposal to participate and express themselves, give suggestions and submit objections. The proposed changes, unlike policy decisions, would be largely irreversible. Physical construction or demolition once done, cannot be undone or corrected for future by repeal, amendment or modification as in case of most policies or even enactments. They have far more permanent consequences.

“It was therefore necessary for the DDA to inform and put in public domain the redevelopment plan, layouts, etc. with justification and explanatory memorandum relating to the need and necessity, with studies and reports. Of particular importance is whether by the changes, the access of the common people to the green and other areas in the Central Vista would be curtailed/restricted and the visual and integrity impact, and proposed change in use of the iconic and heritage buildings.”

  • Right to make objections and suggestions in the true sense, would include right to intelligible and adequate information regarding the proposal. Formative and constructive participation forms the very fulcrum of the legislative scheme prescribed by the Development Act and the Development Rules. Every effort must be made to effectuate and actualise the participatory rights to the maximum extent, rather than read them down as mere irregularity or dilute them as unnecessary or not mandated.
  • Deliberative democracy accentuates the right of participation in deliberation, in decision-making, and in contestation of public decision-making.
  • Adjudication by courts, structured by the legal principles of procedural fairness and deferential power of judicial review, is not a substitute for public participation before and at the decision-making stage. In a republican or representative democracy, citizens delegate the responsibility to make and execute laws to the elected government, which takes decisions on their behalf. This is unavoidable and necessary as deliberation and decision-making is more efficient in smaller groups.
  • Delegation of the power to legislate and govern to elected representatives is not meant to deny the citizenry’s right to know and be informed. Democracy, by the people, is not a right to periodical referendum; or exercise of the right to vote, and thereby choose elected representatives, express satisfaction, disappointment, approve or disapprove projected policies. Citizens’ right to know and the government’s duty to inform are embedded in democratic form of governance as well as the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.
  • When information is withheld/denied suspicion and doubt gain ground and the fringe and vested interest groups take advantage. This may result in social volatility. This is not to say that consultation should be open ended and indefinite, or the government must release all information, as disclosure of certain information may violate the right to privacy of individuals, cause breach of national security, impinge on confidentiality etc. Information may be abridged or even denied for larger public interest. This implies that there should be good grounds and justification to withhold information.

“Boundaries of what constitutes legitimate with holding can at times be debatable; but in the present case, there is no contestation between transparency and the right to know on the one hand, and the concerns of privacy, confidentiality and national security on the other. Further, the Development Act and Development Rules demand and require openness and transparency, and embody without exception the right to know which is implicit in the right to participate and duty to consult.”

  • While the Respondents have claimed that modifications to the Master Plan of Delhi would not result in change in character of the plan, a reading of the notice inviting tenders published by the Central Public Works Department inviting design and planning firms for the “Development / Redevelopment of Parliament Building, Common Central Secretariat and Central Vista at New Delhi” indicates that the proposed project does envisage extensive change to the landscape.

“The impact of the changes envisaged are not minor and what is envisaged is complete redevelopment of the entire Central Vista, with site development infrastructure, landscape design, engineering design and services, mobility plan etc. The expenditure to be incurred and demolition and constructions as proposed indicate the expansive and sweeping modifications/changes purposed.”

  • It would be hypothetical and incongruous to accept that L&DO had applied its mind to the objections and suggestions even before the public hearing, and therefore, the court should assume that the Central Government had considered the objections and suggestions. The letter written by the L&DO dated 6th February 2020 with reference to the background note does not reflect consideration of the objections and suggestions but inter alia states that by an earlier letter dated 4th December 2019, agenda for change of land use of eight blocks has been forwarded for placing before the technical committee of the Authority and a background note was being enclosed. Authority was requested to take necessary action accordingly. This is not a letter or communication showing consideration of the suggestions and objections.

“Final decision must be conscientiously and objectively taken by the competent authority post the hearing.”

  • The Central Government has not placed on record even a single document or minutes to show that the objections and suggestions were considered by the Central Government, albeit they place reliance on the gazette notification 20th March, 2020 which does not specifically talk about considerations of objections and suggestions but states ‘whereas the Central Government have after carefully considering all aspects of the matter, have decided to modify the Master Plan for Delhi 2021/Zonal Development Plan for Zone D and Zone C’.
  • There is violation of the Section 45 as public notice of hearing fixed on 6th and 7th of February 2020 was issued by way of public notice dated 3rd February, 2020 published on 5 th February, 2020. SMS and email were issued at the last moment. Lack of reasonable time, therefore, prevented the persons who had filed objections and given suggestions to present and appear orally state their point of view.
  • A meeting of the Committee on 23rd April 2020 through video conferencing, with the agenda “Proposed New Parliament Building at Plot No.118, New Delhi”, was held, and ‘No Objection’ was granted.
  • Pertinently, the mandate of the Committee is to engage architects and town planners to advise the government on development of the Central Vista and the Secretarial Complex. However, four independent representatives, namely, (i) President of Indian Institute of Architects; (ii) representative of Indian Institute of Architects (Northern Chapter); (iii) President of Institute of Town Planners, India; and (iv) representative of Institute of Town Planners, India, were absent and did not participate. Even the Chief Architect of the NDMC was not present. Therefore, only the representatives of the Government, the Director Delhi Division, MoHUA and Joint Secretary (Admn.) of Ministry of Environment and Forests were present.
  • Given the nature and magnitude of the entire re-development project and having given due notice to the language, as well as object and purpose behind the re-development project, undoubtedly prior approvals and permissions from the Heritage Conservation Committee were/are required and necessary.

“Where power is given to do a certain thing in a certain way, then the thing must be done in that way or not at all. Other methods of performance are necessarily forbidden. When the statute prescribes a particular act must be done by following a particular procedure, the act must be done in that manner or not at all.”

However, Heritage Conservation Committee was never moved to secure approval/permission. No approval/permission has been taken.

  • Paragraph 1.3 states that redevelopment, engineering operations, or even additions/alterations etc. require prior permission of Heritage Conservation Committee. However for demolition, major repairs and alterations/additions to listed buildings or building precincts procedure of inviting objections and suggestions from the public shall be followed. Heritage Conservation Committee would consider the suggestions and objections. Decision of the Heritage Conservation Committee is final and binding.
  • Failure to record reasons can amount to denial of justice, as the reasons are a live link between the mind of the decision maker to the controversy in question and decision or conclusion arrived at. Therefore, requirement of a speaking order is judicially recognised as an imperative.

Directions

A) The Central Government/Authority would put on public domain on the web, intelligible and adequate information along with drawings, layout plans, with explanatory memorandum etc. within a period of 7 days.

B) Public Advertisement on the website of the Authority and the Central Government along with appropriate publication in the print media would be made within 7 days.

C) Anyone desirous of filing suggestions/objections may do so within 4 weeks from the date of publication. Objections/ suggestions can be sent by email or to the postal address which would be indicated/mentioned in the public notice.

D) The public notice would also notify the date, time and place when public hearing, which would be given by the Heritage Conservation Committee to the persons desirous of appearing before the said Committee. No adjournment or request for postponement would be entertained. However, the Heritage Conservation Committee may if required fix additional date for hearing.

E) Objections/suggestions received by the Authority along with the records of BoEH and other records would be sent to the Heritage Conservation Committee. These objections etc. would also be taken into consideration while deciding the question of approval/permission.

F) Heritage Conservation Committee would decide all contentions in accordance with the Unified Building Bye Laws and the Master Plan of Delhi.

G) Heritage Conservation Committee would be at liberty to also undertaken the public participation exercise if it feels appropriate and necessary in terms of paragraph 1.3 or other paragraphs of the Unified Building Bye Laws for consultation, hearing etc. It would also examine the dispute regarding the boundaries of the Central Vista Precincts at Rajpath.

H) The report of the Heritage Conservation Committee would be then along with the records sent to the Central Government, which would then pass an order in accordance with law and in terms of Section 11A of the Development Act and applicable Development Rules, read with the Unified Building Bye-laws.

I) Heritage Conservation Committee would also simultaneously examine the issue of grant of prior permission/approval in respect of building/permit of new parliament on Plot No. 118. However, its final decision or outcome will be communicated to the local body viz., NDMC, after and only if, the modifications in the master plan were notified.

J) Heritage Conservation Committee would pass a speaking order setting out reasons for the conclusions.

Further, the order of the EAC dated 22nd April,2020 and the environment clearance by the Ministry of Environment and Forest dated 17th June,2020 was set aside, and EAC has been requested to decide the question on environment clearance within a period of 30 days from the date copy of this order received, without awaiting the decision on the question of change/modification of land use. Speaking and reasoned order would be passed.

[Rajiv Suri v. Delhi Development Authority,  2021 SCC OnLine SC 7, decided on 05.01.2020]


*Justice AM Khanwilkar has penned the majority opinion. Read more about him here

** Justice Sanjiv Khanna has penned the dissenting opinion. 

ALSO READ

Here’s why the Supreme Court gave a go-ahead to Central Vista Project in a 2:1 verdict [Read majority opinion]

OP. ED.SCC Journal Section Archives

CNLU_LJ_6_2016_17_1_1.png

(Let noble thoughts come to us from the universe)

Writing in 1859 J.S. Mill in “on liberty” emphasized that ‘the only purpose for which power can rightfully be exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm’… In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is of right absolute over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign. Yet whatever mischief arises from their use, is greatest when they are employed against the comparatively defenceless; and whatever unfair advantage can be derived by any opinion from this mode of asserting it, accrues almost exclusively to received opinions.

Content and viability are essential for the assertion of Right in the wider sense. Content includes Ethical assertion which forms the critical importance of certain freedoms viz. freedom from (torture) and correspondingly about need to accept some social obligation to promote or safeguard these freedoms. Viability includes Open impartiality or open and informed scrutiny. Viability in impartial reasoning is central to the vindication of rights even if such reasoning is ambiguous or dissonant as in the case of American declaration, French Declaration, Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The focus is on fresh legislation.

The acceptance of a class of human rights will still leave room for further discussion, disputation and argument that is indeed that nature of discipline. The validity is ultimately dependent on the presumption of the claims of survivability in unobstructed discussion. It is extremely important, as Prof. Sen puts to understand this connection between human rights and public reasoning especially in relation to demands of objectivity.

The universability of human rights relates to the ideas of survivability in unobstructed discussion – open to participation by persons across national boundaries. Partisanship is avoided not so much by taking either a conjunction, or an intersection, of the views respectively held by dominant voices in different societies across the world … but through an interactive process, in particular by examining what would survive in public discussion, given a reasonably free flow of information and uncurbed opportunity to discuss differing points of view.

Read more… 


[This Article was first published in CNLU Law Journal CNLU LJ (6) [2016-17] 1. It has been reproduced with the kind permission of Eastern Book Company]

* Pro-Chancellor-Emeritus/Vice-Chancellor, Chanakya National Law University, Patna.

** Dean & Principal of New Law College, Bharati Vidyapeeth University, Pune.

3 Sardar Bhagat Singh was hanged on midnight of 23rd March 1931, thus advancing it from the dawn of 24th March, 1931. Martyr Bhagat Singh was 23 years at the time where he kissed the noose as it was lowered to his head.

4 Shreya Singhal v. Union of India(2015) 5 SCC 1.

5 AIR 1952 SC 196.

6 AIR 1967 SC 1643.

7 AIR 1952 SC 196.

8 (1973) 4 SCC 225.

9 (2005) 8 SCC 534, 563.

Op EdsOP. ED.

Introduction

Eradication of political corruption is one of our long sought-after aspirations as a country to achieve an ideal democratic structure. However, in practical terms, these issues are far from being eliminated. Through media reporting, actions that count as an unethical or corrupt practice can also be seen very frequently. One of them is canvassing based on religion. While living in India we proudly adorn the title of being the largest democracy in the world and we also have the privilege of having the greatest democratic elections in human history. Elections in India are known as the Grand Festival of Democracy. However, in a country where elections are so important, there are certain things which make politics in India a dirty game, and Section 123(3) of the Representation of the People Act of 1951[1] (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Act’) is enacted to put a hold on one of the many ill practices.

Article 19(1)[2] defines the much-revered freedom of speech and expression. As mandated by the Constitution, freedom of speech and expression is a natural right which means that citizens acquire this right by birth. All the citizens hold the freedom of speech and expression but, it does not act as an unconditional licence. Therefore, certain reasonable restrictions are placed under Article 19(2) of the Constitution. Section 123(3) of the Act prohibits canvassing by an electoral candidate to woo voters in the name of race, caste, religion, community and language. It also prohibits usage of religious symbols or national symbols or flag for canvassing purposes. Usage of the aforesaid are considered to be corrupt practices. The electoral candidates cannot promise any public policy which they propose to implement on being successful. Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees the citizens of India, freedom of conscience and allows every citizen the right and freedom to profess, practice and propagate the religion of one’s choice subject to public order, health and morality.

The authors have attempted to compare Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India and Section 123(3) of the Act and have studied whether Section 123(3) of the Act is violative of Article 19(1)(a) or not in the context of the demographical feature of India and in the backdrop of the voters of the constituencies.

The Role of Election Commission

The Election Commission of India is a constitutional body, deriving its source of powers and functions from Article 324 of the Constitution of India. Entry 72 of Union List – Schedule 7 provides for the source of power to Parliament to regulate and frame laws with respect to elections to Parliament, State Legislatures and the election of the President and the Vice- President of India.

The Election Commission of India (hereinafter referred to as ‘the ECI’), over the years has passed rigid orders barring candidates like Maneka Gandhi, Azam Khan, and Giriraj Singh from campaigning and canvassing for votes, on the grounds of making communal speeches, which were against Section 123(3) of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951. In all the cases, the ECI reasoned out that the aforesaid candidates acted in contravention to the Model Code of Conduct (‘MCC’) which comes into force after the declaration of election is announced by the ECI and fell squarely within the ambit of ‘corrupt practices’, by appealing in the name of caste or communal feelings to secure votes. MCC stipulates that no political party or candidate can secure votes based on caste and religion. In many constituencies, there are poor people who do not possess the knowledge about the voting rights and the requisite knowledge with respect to corrupt practices, etc.

Some candidates try to take advantage of such public ignorance and use religion as to appeal for votes. The candidates often make hollow promises that, ‘if’ they are voted to power, then they will roll-out every possible schemes and benefits for the people of one distinct religious sect.

The Election Commission endeavours to take all the necessary measures to ensure that free, fair and peaceful elections in the country. However, it has been observed in practice, that the guidelines issued by the Election Commission are not followed strictly, rather there is an attempt to flout the rules, which leads us to an inevitable conclusion, that there is a strong need for electoral reforms in the country. The Preamble of the Indian Constitution states that India is a democratic and a secular nation. The word “democratic” means that we have the right to choose our own representatives. A Government of the People, For the People and By the People. “Secular”, on the other hand, means that our country does not have an official State sponsored religion unlike many other countries of this world. For example, Pakistan is known by the official name – “The Islamic Republic of Pakistan” which clearly indicates that Pakistan has a State religion but, on the other hand India’s Constitution bars any State religion. The election being the most important and integral part of any democracy, should remain sacrosanct and therefore, it is again important to reiterate the fact that the candidates should not appeal for votes in the name of religion or any other class differentiation; it defeats the ethos of a healthy democracy.

Judicial Interpretations

The Indian judiciary has decided multiple cases on the aspect of “corrupt practices”. In S.R Bommai v. Union of India[3], the Supreme Court observed that secularism is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. A section of people sometimes describes such an attitude of neutrality towards religious belief as compassionate neutrality, although religious freedom is guaranteed to everyone in India, the faith, religion, and belief of a person are immune from the radar of the State. All are equal before the State and have the right to equal treatment. There is no place for religion in machinery and the working of the State.

If the Constitution mandates the State to remain neutral in perception and behaviour vis-à-vis religion, the same requirement applies to political parties and their electoral candidates as well. The Constitution does not recognise, nor, does it allow the mixing of religion and State power. Concerning Section 123(3) of the Act, the Supreme Court in  S.R. Bommai[4] judgment warranted broader interpretation of Section 123(3) of the Act, thereby rejecting the restrictive reading of the provision as limited to the candidate and her or his opponent(s). However, this was an obiter dicta made in the judgment and is a not a part of the ratio of the judgment, as the case of S.R. Bommai was not directly related to Section 123(3) of the Act, but at the same time, favoured and observed the need for a broader interpretation of Section 123(3) of the RP Act, 1951.

It is important to mention that the Supreme Court has already upheld the constitutional validity of Section 123(3) of the RP Act, 1951 way back in the 1950s in  Jamuna Prasad Mukhariya v. Lacchi Ram[5] on the touchstone of fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.

In  Manohar Joshi v. Nitin Bhaurao Patil  [6] the Supreme Court rather opined the opposite. The case came up during the Maharashtra State Assembly elections following the ghastly and the much-detested Mumbai riots of 1992-93, where Manohar Joshi, a prominent face of a political party promised to declare Maharashtra as the first Hindu Rashtra in India, if elected to power. The Supreme Court observed that Hindutva is a “way of life and state of mind”, thus there was no problem with it being invoked during the election. The Supreme Court decided this case in favour of Manohar Joshi by resorting to a debatable reasoning that such an exhortation did not amount to “corrupt practice” and though “despicable”, it can at best be described as a “hope” and “not appeal for votes on the ground of his religion.” This judgment was widely criticised by noted jurists in India and abroad.[7] However, such a practice is in violation of Article 25, as it places reasonable restrictions and the State has the liberty to make any law that restricts such economic, financial, political exhortation or activities which may be associated with religious practices.

Section 123(3) of the RP Act, 1951, strictly prohibits any appeal of votes in the name of religion, along with other caveats. The reason being that, India is a secular nation and it has no official religion, however, if we turn a blind eye to these electoral campaigns which are squarely a part of “corrupt practices” especially wooing voters in the name of religion, shall be against the ethos of democracy and secularism which is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution.

If we try to analyse the verdict of Manohar Joshi[8], from the perspective of a common man belonging to a particular religious sect, such a decision would instil fear in the minds of those people, as it runs counter to the constitutional morality and ethos imbibed by the framers of the Constitution.

In  Kanti Prasad Jayshanker Yagnik v. Purshottamdas Ranchhoddas Patel[9], the Supreme Court stated by a majority of 2:1, that the appeal of a political leader to the mass with respect to the fact that voting for a party will be against the religion does not amount to corrupt practice. The Supreme Court observed that, vide Section 123(3) of the RP Act, the candidate or his or her agent should not appeal to the voters for voting or refrain from voting for any person on the basis of their religion, that is, the candidate’s religion which means, that they should vote candidate on the basis of qualities and not on the religious grounds.

In  Dr. Ramesh Yashwant Prabhoo v. Prabhakar Kashinath Kunte and Bal Thackarey v. Prabhakar Kashinath Kunte [10] an election campaigning speech was made on the grounds of religion and a particular religious sect was maligned. The Court agreed with the High Court, that the speeches were within the ambit of corrupt practices of wooing of voters in the name of religion as covered under Section 123(3) of the RP Act, 1951.

In  Abhiram Singh v. C.D. Commachen [11], a seven-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court held that, calling for votes in elections based on religion, caste, race, community or language, including that of the electorate, would constitute a ‘corrupt practice’ under Section 123(3) of the RP Act, 1951 and  would call for the candidate to be disqualified. The Supreme Court opined that, “Election is a secular exercise and hence a process must be followed.” The relationship between man and God is an individual decision and this should be kept in mind,” ruled the Supreme Court in a 4:3 majority judgment.

The seven-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court held that an appeal in the name of religion, race, caste, community or language is inadmissible under the Representation of the People’s Act, 1951 and would constitute a corrupt practice adequate to nullify the election in which such an appeal was made regardless as to whether the appeal was in the name of the nominee’s religion. It is not an appeal to discuss matters relating to religion, caste, race, community or language which are of concern to voters on those grounds. The issues of constitutional importance include caste, race, religion and language.  The Constitution deals with them and includes provisions based on those features for the improvement of disabilities and discrimination. These are issues of concern to the electorate, especially where large segments of the population have been deprived of basic human rights due to caste and race-based prejudice and discrimination. The majority view was that, a secular State cannot identify itself with any religion or religious domination. This necessarily means that religion cannot play any role in the governance of a country that must be secular in nature at all times. The object of the RP Act, 1951 is to achieve the purity in elections and to ensure that the elections are free and fair, which means that caste, religion, language and community must be kept out of the electoral process.

The dissenting view (minority), held that, “to hold that a person seeking to contest an election is prohibited from speaking of the legitimate concerns of citizens that the injustices they face on the basis of the characteristics of origin of religion, race, caste, community or language would be remedied is to reduce democracy to abstraction,” which means that if there is a real problem that is related to religion, democracy would be reduced to abstraction.

Conclusion

In secular politics, correct behavior or propriety requires that an appeal for votes should not be made based on the religion of the candidate, which in itself is not an index of the suitability of the candidate for membership of the House.

Article 19(2) allows for the imposition of reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by Article 19(1)(a), which means that Section 123(3) of the Representation of the People’s Act, 1951 falls within the scope and ambit of “reasonable restrictions” and Section 123(3) is not an anti-thesis to Article 19(1) (a) as observed by the  Supreme Court in the judgment of Lacchi Ram in 1955[12] and also in the judgment of Bal Thackarey[13].

It can be safely concluded, that even if it is assumed that the Section 123(3) is a fetter only to be saved as a condition under which the candidate has the statutory right to contest the election, however, the fact that the system of separate electorates had been rejected by the framers of the Constitution and that secularism has been recognised to be a part of the basic structure of the Constitution, are relevant considerations to consider the fetter imposed by Section 123(3) of the RP Act, 1951, as a reasonable restriction on freedom of speech and expression, to maintain the code of conduct, required by morality and the propriety of social norms and to ensure free and fair elections which is also a part of the basic structure of the Constitution.

However, in our opinion, an electoral speech cannot, by itself, fall within the scope of sub-section (3) of Section 123, unless it can be interpreted as an appeal to vote for a candidate on the premise that, the candidate belongs to a particular religious community and that he is trying to woo voters based on religion and announcing packages as a part of his speech, or to abstain from voting for the candidate based on his religion. The mere reference to any religion in an election speech does not come within the definition of sub-section (3) and/or subsection (3-A) of Section 123, as a reference may be made to any religion in the context of secularism or to any political party to discriminate against any religious group or, more generally, for the conservation of Indian culture. In short, the mere use of the word ‘Hindutva’ or ‘Hinduism’ or the reference in an election speech to any other religion does not bring it within the scope of Section 123(3) and/or sub-section (3-A) to Section 123, unless the additional elements indicated in the provision, are also present in that speech. It is also essential to see the meaning and significance of the speech, and how it is likely to be perceived by the audience to whom the speech has been addressed.

Therefore, it is a task for the Election Commission to ensure that a strict vigil is kept and also it is also required that the election petitions are decided in a time-bound manner, as there are examples of election petitions getting decided after a period of four to five years, which allows a returned candidate to get away with a perpetration and the concept of free and fair elections are defeated.


*Advocate-On-Record, Supreme Court of India and Senior Associate, L&L Partners, New Delhi

**3rd Year Law Student, MAIMS, GGIPSU, New Delhi

[1] Representation of the People Act, 1951

[2] Article 19 of the Constitution

[3] (1994) 3 SCC 1  

[4] Ibid.

[5](1955) 1 SCR 608

[6] (1996) 1 SCC 169  

[7] https://www.outlookindia.com/magazine/story/endorsing-hindutva/200472

[8] (1996) 1 SCC 169

[9] (1969) 1 SCC 455

[10] (1996) SCC  130

[11] (2017) 2 SCC 629

[12](1955) 1 SCR 608

[13] (1996) SCC 130


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Patiala House Courts, Delhi
Case BriefsDistrict Court

Patiala House Court, New Delhi:  While deciding the instant bail application of student activist Safoora Zargar, who was accused of giving inflammatory speeches, thereby inciting riots and violence in North East Delhi and was arrested and taken into custody under the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 [hereinafter UAPA], Dharmendar Rana, ASJ, refused to grant her the bail. Furthermore, pointing out that although no direct violence is attributable to the applicant/ accused, still she cannot shy away from her liabilities.

The Court said that, “When you choose to play with embers, you cannot blame the wind to have carried the spark bit too far and spread the fire”. However, taking note of the accused/ applicant’s pregnancy, he requested the Jail Superintendent to provide adequate medical aid and assistance to her.

The applicant/accused is a student of Jamia Milia University. It was alleged by the prosecution that she delivered an inflammatory speech at Chand Bagh area of North East Delhi. Aftermath of which, riots erupted leading to a great loss of life and property. As per the submissions of the Additional Public Prosecutor, Irfan Ahmed, there is enough evidence available on record to connect the applicant/ accused to the riots. It was further submitted that Section 43D (5) of the UAPA places a statutory restriction on the power of the Courts to release the applicant/ accused on bail. The prosecution further pointed out that certain incriminating materials were seized by the police and if this recovery is viewed against the backdrop of the inflammatory speeches given by the applicant/ accused and statements of the witnesses, then it is clear that the riots were a result of a conspiracy to overawe the government and disrupt the normal functioning of the capital city. Thus under these circumstances, the applicant- accused should not be granted bail.

Meanwhile, counsel for the applicant/accused, Sanya Kumar, contended that the applicant/accused is an innocent woman who has a contrary opinion on the Citizenship Amendment Act (hereinafter CAA) and had simply exercised her fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution by being involved in a peaceful protest against the CAA. She further pointed out to the court that the applicant/accused delivered her speech on 23-02-2020 and riots started in the afternoon of 24-02-2020. The evidences clearly suggest that the applicant was not present on 24-02-2020, therefore the alleged violence cannot be attributed to her and the provisions of the UAPA have been wrongly invoked against her. The counsel also contended that the applicant/ accused should be granted bail on humanitarian grounds as she is 21 weeks pregnant and suffers from various other medical complications and given the spread of Covid-19, the applicant/ accused is particularly vulnerable.

Perusing the contentions of both the parties, the Additional Sessions Judge observed that freedom of speech and expression is indeed a foundation for strong and vibrant democracy, however the same is not an absolute right and is subject to the reasonable restrictions laid down in Article 19(2) of the Constitution. Considering the provisions of the UAPA, the Court observed that any activity which creates a disorder and disturbance of law to such an extent that an entire city is “brought down to its knees”, constitutes an ‘unlawful activity’ under Section 2(o) of the UAPA. Concurring with the contentions of the prosecution, the Court noted that it cannot ignore the material available on record which clearly suggests that there was a conspiracy to create an unprecedented scale of destruction and breakdown of law and order. Finding no merits, the Court thus dismissed the bail application. [State v. Safoora Zargar, Bail Application No. 1119/2020 , decided on 04-06-2020]

Hot Off The PressNews

With the never-ending controversies and never seen before moves by and against the judges of the top-most Court of the nation, it is safe to say that Indian Judiciary is in deep crisis. In January this year, the senior most judge of the Supreme Court of India, Justice J. Chelameswar, along with Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Kurian Jospeh, held a press conference over the controversy relating to assignment of cases by the CJI.

Addressing the nation through the press conference, Justice Chelameswar said:

“With no pleasure we are compelled take the decision to call a press conference. The administration of the Supreme Court is not in order & many things which are less than desirable have happened in last few months.”

The judges had also released the letter that they had addressed to the CJI on the said issue. On the principle of Chief Justice being the ‘master of the roster’, the letter stated:

“The convention of recognizing the privilege of the Chief Justice to form the roster and assign cases to different members/benches of the Court is a convention devised for a disciplined and efficient transaction of the business of the Court but not a recognition of any superior authority, legal or factual of the Chief Justice over his colleagues.”

Earlier, the Court number 1 of the Supreme Court witnessed a high voltage drama when a 7-judge bench headed by the Chief Justice of India, Justice Dipak Misra, assembled for reviewing the 2-judge bench order calling for constitution of a Constitution Bench of the first five judges of the Supreme Court to hear the matter wherein it was alleged that attempts were made to bribe some Supreme Court Judges in the matters relating to Medical admission scam. The bench of J Chelameswar and S. Abdul Nazeer, JJ had given the said order on 09.11.2017 .

In the latest turn of events, Justice Chelameswar has yet again written a letter to the CJI, highlighting the ‘Executive encroachment’ in the judicial matters. In the letter dated 21.03.2018, Justice Chelameswar has said:

“We, the judges of the Supreme Court of India, are being accused of ceding our independence and our institutional integrity to the Executive’s incremental encroachment. The Executive is always impatient, and brooks no disobedience even of the judiciary if it can. Attempts were always made to treat the Chief Justices as the Departmental Heads in the Secretariat. So much for our “independence and preeminence” as a distinct State organ.”

The latest letter that is doing the rounds, Justice Chelameswar has highlighted the issue of ‘executive bidding’ by Justice Dinesh Maheswari, the Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court for the elevation of Krishna Bhat, a District & Sessions Judge. He said:

“We only have to look forward to the time, which may not be far-off if not already here, when the executive directly communicates with the High Courts about the pending cases and what orders to be passed. We can be happy that much of our burden is taken away. And an Honourable Chief Justice like Dinesh Maheswari may perhaps be ever willing to do the executive bidding, because good relations with the other Branches is a proclaimed constitutional objective.”

Considering the seriousness of the issue, Justice Chelameswar said:

“I am of the opinion that this matter is now ripe for the consideration of the Full Court on the judicial side, if this institution really is to be any more relevant in the scheme of the Constitution.”

Below is the full text of the letter:

To

Hon’ble Mr. Justice Dipak Misra

Chief Justice of India

Lord Bingham in his book ‘The Rule of Law’ said that “there are countries in the world where all judicial decisions find favour with the powers that be, but they are probably not places where any of us would wish to live”. Let us also not live where Bingham loathed to live.

We, the judges of the Supreme Court of India, are being accused of ceding our independence and our institutional integrity to the Executive’s incremental encroachment. The Executive is always impatient, and brooks no disobedience even of the judiciary if it can. Attempts were always made to treat the Chief Justices as the Departmental Heads in the Secretariat. So much for our “independence and preeminence” as a distinct State organ.

Someone from Bangalore has already beaten us in the race to the bottom. The Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court has been more than willing to do the Executive bidding, behind our back.

I read with dismay and disbelief the “confidential report” sent to the Hon’ble Chief Justice by Shri Dinesh Maheswari, the Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court. To begin with, it was unasked for. Second, it is uncalled for. The confidential report blatantly records the impropriety of the executive directly contacting the High Court to reassess a collegium recommendation of the Supreme Court.

It is a moot proposition that any Principal & Sessions Judge is the administrative head of the district he works in. He has to exercise his supervisory, and “disciplinary” power over all other judicial officers in that district.

From the letter of the Hon’ble Chief Justice, Karnataka, the following facts can be culled out. In 2014, when Shri Krishna Bhat, a District & Sessions Judge, was working in Belagavi district, he sent to the High Court a report concerning the (mis)conduct of Ms. M.S. Shashikala, a Judicial Magistrate of First-Class. The High Court registered a vigilance case (HVC) No.93/2014 but did not choose to act upon the same till 18.02.2016. Till that time, Krishna Bhatt had faced no allegations from any quarter, including his subordinates.

With Shri Krishna Bhatt’s elevation around the corner, Ms. M.S. Shashikala chose to complain against him.

If such retaliatory complaints are entertained, no career conscious judge would ever risk disciplining his subordinates.

From the material available on record, it appears that Ms. M.S. Shashikala offered her resignation in April 2016 and withdrew it in June 2016. The then Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court was asked to provide the details and background of Ms. Shashikala’s resignation. The then Chief Justice, after inquiring into the issue, sent two confidential reports dated 14.10.2016 and 14.11.2016. He asserted that the allegations levelled against Shri P Krishna Bhatt were incorrect and concocted. He has found that Ms. M.S. Shashikala has made her allegations only to malign Shri P Krishna Bhatt.

In the meanwhile, acting on the recommendations of the Karnataka High Court collegium, we recommended his name, along with five others from the service category, for elevation. At that time we were aware of the allegations but we consciously and rightly disbelieved them.

Surprisingly, the Government selectively withheld his elevation and accepted that of the remaining five others’, though all the five are juniors to Shri Krishna Bhatt.

Now comes what is unpredictable and unthinkable. If the government had any reservations or misgivings about Shri Krishna Bhatt’s nomination, it could have sent back the recommendation for our reconsideration — a well-established though long forgotten practice. Instead, it sat tight on the file. In other words, our recommendation still retained its validity and legitimacy.

For sometime, our unhappy experience has been that the Government’s accepting our recommendations is an exception and sitting on them is the norm. “Inconvenient” but able judges or judges to be are being bypassed through this route.

I do not think any of us disputes that elevating a person to be a judge of a High Court is a constitutional concern involving two authorities: the Supreme Court and the executive. The role of High Court ceases with its recommendation. Any correspondence, clarificatory or otherwise, has to be between these two authorities. To my mind, I could recollect no instance from the past of the executive bypassing the Supreme Court, more particularly while its recommendations are pending, and asking the High Court, as if it were an interdepartmental matter, to look into the allegations already falsified and conclusively rejected by us. Asking the High Court to reevaluate our recommendation in this matter has to be deemed improper and contumacious.

Now the Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court informs us that he had received a communication from the Ministry of law and justice “to look into the issue.” The Chief Justice, establishing himself to be more loyal than the King, acts on it, convenes a meeting of the Administrative Committee, and decides to reinvestigate the issue, thus burying the previous Chief Justice’s findings on the same issue, given at our asking. He has been gracious enough to inform us, at least now.

A long time ago, an idealist, without knowing the ways of the world, has said this: the accumulation of all powers legislative, executive and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few or many, and whether hereditary, selfappointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny. Naïve as it may sound now, that was James Madison in the Federalist Papers No.47.

We only have to look forward to the time, which may not be far-off if not already here, when the executive directly communicates with the High Courts about the pending cases and what orders to be passed. We can be happy that much of our burden is taken away. And an Honourable Chief Justice like Dinesh Maheswari may perhaps be ever willing to do the executive bidding, because good relations with the other Branches is a proclaimed constitutional objective.

We cannot deny Robert H. Jackson’s assertion in United States v. Wunderlich that men are more often bribed by their loyalties and ambitions than by money. Let us also not forget that the bonhomie between the Judiciary and the Government in any State sounds the death knell to Democracy. We both are mutual watchdogs, so to say, not mutual admirers, much less constitutional cohorts.

I am of the opinion that this matter is now ripe for the consideration of the Full Court on the judicial side, if this institution really is to be any more relevant in the scheme of the Constitution.

Since we are a precedent oriented institution, I may be pardoned for quoting a precedent to the Master of Roster that it was exactly a similar letter written by the then Union Law Minister which sparked up a judicial debate in S.P. Gupta.

With Regards,

Yours sincerely,

(J. Chelameswar)

Hot Off The PressNews

In a first, the senior most judge of the Supreme Court of India, Justice J. Chelameswar, along with Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Kurian Jospeh, held a press conference at his residence to put an end to the speculations making rounds over the differences between the judges and the Chief Justice of India, Justice Dipak Misra, over the assignment of cases.

Addressing the nation through the press conference, Justice Chelameswar said:

“With no pleasure we are compelled take the decision to call a press conference. The administration of the Supreme Court is not in order & many things which are less than desirable have happened in last few months.”

He further added that being the senior most judges of the institution of judiciary, they owed a responsibility to the institution and to the nation and hence, they tried to persuade the CJI to remedy and measures but since none of their efforts worked, they had to call for a press conference.

He said:

“We met CJI with a specific request which unfortunately couldn’t convince him that we were right therefore, we were left with no choice except to communicate it to the nation that please take care of the institution.”

Stating that it was important for the nation to know what is what, Justice Chelameswar said:

‘All four of us are convinced that unless this institution is preserved and it maintains its equanimity, democracy will survive in this country, or any country.”

The judges also provided a copy of the letter that they had written to the CJI. On the principle of Chief Justice being the ‘master of the roster’, the letter states:

“The convention of recognizing the privilege of the Chief Justice to form the roster and assign cases to different members/benches of the Court is a convention devised for a disciplined and efficient transaction of the business of the Court but not a recognition of any superior authority, legal or factual of the Chief Justice over his colleagues.”

Though the judges did not mention the details in the letter, they said that they did so in order to avoid embarrassing the institution but note that such departures have already damaged the image of this intuition to some extent. The judges, through the letter, told the CJI:

“There have been instances where case having far-reaching consequences for nation & the institution had been assigned by Chief Justice of this court selectively to benches ‘of their preference’ without rationale basis. This must be guarded against at all costs.”

It is important to note that earlier, the Court number 1 of the Supreme Court witnessed a high voltage drama when a 7-judge bench headed by the Chief Justice of India, Justice Dipak Misra, assembled for reviewing the 2-judge bench order calling for constitution of a Constitution Bench of the first five judges of the Supreme Court to hear the matter wherein it was alleged that attempts were made to bribe some Supreme Court Judges in the matters relating to Medical admission scam. The bench of J Chelameswar and S. Abdul Nazeer, JJ had given the said order on 09.11.2017 .

The four judges are the senior most judges of the Supreme Court of India after the CJI. While Justice Chelameswar, Justice Lokur and Justice Jospeh are set to retire this year, Justice Ranjan Gogoi is next in line to be the Chief Justice of India after CJI Justice Dipak Misra retires on 02.10.2018.

Uttarakhand High Court
Case BriefsHigh Courts

Uttaranchal High Court: Addressing the present petition highlighting the apprehensions that are being raised upon the functioning of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Verifiable Paper Audit Trial (VVPAT) Machines, especially in the light of the recently concluded Legislative Assembly Elections in five States, the Division Bench of Rajiv Sharma and Sharad Kumar Sharma, JJ., observed that, Article 324 of the Constitution has a wide ambit and gives the Election Commission powers to cope up with any unprovided scenarios vis-à-vis smooth conduction of elections. Thus the Election Commission can use its residuary power under Article 324 to fill the vacuum and to “meet unforeseen contingencies”. However the Court noted that off late various political parties have started a systematic campaign to tarnish the image of the Commission by casting doubts upon the EVMs. To this, the Court held that, it cannot allow the national parties to tarnish the image of a Constitutional body such as the Election Commission and that freedom of speech and expression doesn’t permit to level unsubstantiated charges against the constitutional bodies.

The petitioner, a politician had expressed certain reservations regarding the use of EVMs. Counsel for the petitioner Arvind Vashisth contended that the role of Election Commission gets over the moment election results are declared, therefore the proposed “EVM Hackathon” on 03.06.2017 as it has been notified in the Commission’s press release dated 20.05.2017, will affect the outcome of the pending election petitions in this Court and other High Courts. The respondent argued that the EVM is not hackable and it cannot be physically tampered during transportation or at its manufacturing stage and the proposed ‘hackathon’ has been undertaken by the Commission to allay the apprehensions of the political parties.

The Court held that broad meaning should be given to Article 324 and the Court also must “promote”, “nurture” and “maintain” independence of constitutional bodies and protect them from criticism. It further stated that use of EVM has been ordered by the Commission while exercising the power under Article 324. The Court lastly held that the faith of people must be safeguarded on fair and free election which is a basic feature of the Constitution, therefore in public interest the Court restrained all political parties, NGO’s and individuals from criticizing the use of EVM, till any decision is reached over the pending election petitions and the decision to hold the ‘hackathon’ challenge was left on the discretion of Election Commission with a caveat that the results of the challenge does not in any way affect the decision in the pending petitions. [Ramesh Pandey v. Election Commission of India, 2017 SCC OnLine Utt 676, decided on 02.06.2017]

 

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the controversy relating to the Arunachal Pradesh elections where the illegal withdrawal of the nomination of Atum Welly resulted into unopposed election of Kameng Dolo, the Court upheld the decision of the Gauhati High Court wherein the said election was held to be void under Section 100(1)(d)(iv) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

Noticing that there were only two candidates in the fray, one from the Indian National Congress and the other from the Bhartiya Janata Party and that the election petitioner while campaigning came to know that his nomination papers were withdrawn that were alleged to be withdrawn by Sanjeev Tana who was neither the candidate himself nor the proposer nor the election agent of the candidate and, therefore, the High Court held that he was not authorized to seek withdrawal of the candidature. It was noticed that though it is a settled law that election of a candidate who has won at an election should not be lightly interfered with but it has also to be borne in mind that one of the essentials of election law is to safeguard the purity of the election process and to see that people do not get elected by flagrant breaches of that law or by corrupt practices.

Refusing to interfere with the decision of the High Court, the bench of Dipak Misra and A.M. Khanwilkar, JJ said that Section 37 of the Act reflects that the legislature has provided number of safeguards before exercising the authority for acceptance of withdrawal of a candidate. The intention of the Parliament is that due care and caution has to be taken in letter and spirit so that no confusion is created. The issue of alert and careful exercise gains more significance when there are two candidates because if one’s withdrawal is allowed in complete violation of the statutory provision, the other candidate gets automatically declared elected, for there is no election, no contest. When in transgression of the statutory provision, a candidate’s candidature is allowed to be withdrawn, it will tantamount to sacrilege of democracy.

The Court noticed that, in the instant case, there was no contest at all and there can be no manner of doubt that there was flagrant breach of Section 37 of the Act leading to unopposed election of the appellant. Hence, the election had been materially affected and accordingly the election result dated 15.03.2014 is void under Section 100(1)(d)(iv) of the Act. [Kameng Dolo v. Atum Welly, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 556, decided on 09.05.2017]

 

Op EdsOP. ED.

The power to make laws in most modern societies lies in democratic institutions. Under the Constitution of India (“the Constitution”) as well, this power is entrusted with the legislature. However, Article 123 of the Constitution allows the head of executive (which is the President under the Constitution) to promulgate ordinances to deal with situations which require immediate attention. It is considered to be a very important provision of the Constitution (with two major constitutional amendments focusing on them)[1], and has come to be accepted despite its obvious and inherently undemocratic nature. This article intends to show that this provision to promulgate ordinances is often misused and needs to be amended.

The President is allowed to exercise legislative powers in cases which require “immediate action”. It would appear, however, that this legislative power is exercised by the President without any urgency. Several ordinances are regularly passed on subjects where no immediate action is required and which would not justify bypassing the democratic process.[2] In fact, the number of ordinances promulgated and the subject-matters dealt therein would make one believe that the Indian legislative system is functioning with President only.

It is obvious that this was not what was intended by the Constituent Assembly when the provision for ordinances was included in the Constitution. The use of the words “immediate action” make this clear. It was also suggested in the Constituent Assembly to change the heading of the Chapter to read “Extraordinary Powers of the President” instead of the current “Legislative Powers of the President” to make it clear that the powers “are extraordinary; that is to say, they are not to be employed in normal times”[3].

It would appear that the provision is often used by the ruling Governments to quickly enact laws that (in their opinion) do not require much debate or attention. This is because the President has to act on aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, and keeping in mind the ordinances promulgated in the past, amendments to the existing laws is often made through ordinances. Ordinances appear to be a loophole that the ruling Governments have found to push laws without bringing much attention or spending time in Parliament.

Romesh Thapar explains, “[government] by ordinance is the pattern these days. Apart from the fact that the speculators have to be curbed, there is no time to go through the tedious procedures in Parliament which permit disruptive lobbies to build, lobbies that paralyse action.”[4] None of this, however, justifies the fact such procedures have practically just become tricks to bypass the ordinary democratic process. In a later article, Thapar agrees, “There is not a situation in India which cannot be handled by the normal law of the land, that is, if the instruments of policy implementation are kept intact and not reduced to disarray by politicians and fawning bureaucrats.”[5]

An inherent premise of the above argument is that if something is undemocratic, it is undesirable. However, there is no reason for this to be true. A good decision can come out of an undemocratic procedure as well. An analysis of ordinances promulgated in the recent past would reveal that most of them are introduced as bills in Parliament and accepted.[6] This would imply that the democratic process has approved of the ordinance as being correct and desirable.

Why, then, is the lack of democracy in ordinance procedure being portrayed as bad in the present article? This is because of several reasons. Correctness of decision aside, the fact, in theory at least, remains that the provision is undemocratic at heart — a State may be ruled by a monarch for a long time, however, that does not justify his exercise of power over other people regardless of the correctness of the decision. Further, such a State does not have any legitimacy attached to it. As several authors have argued, legitimacy of institutions runs to the core of a State, and a failure to justify its legitimacy could directly attack its sovereignty.[7]

Moreover, just because practically a provision is used only to arrive at the correct decision does not mean that this will remain the case in the future as well. Many scholars agree that there is a “[p]ossibility of abuse of the ordinance-making power”[8] and there is “no guarantee that such powers will not be abused in the future”[9].

This potential for misuse arises from the way Article 123 is phrased and the lack of provisos or safeguards thereto. The President may promulgate ordinances if he is satisfied that there are circumstances which make it necessary for him to take action. While the ordinance is amenable to judicial scrutiny, the court would not look into the preconditions of necessity.[10] Moreover, even the concept of mala fide would not apply as legislative intentions are out of judicial reach.[11] Further, it is for the petitioner to prove that necessary circumstances could not have existed.[12] Such a scheme of things is strange — the burden of proof should be on the executive to prove that the undemocratic use of power was necessary, and not vice versa.

One of the biggest factors adding to the potential for misuse is the fact that ordinances can go without adequate legislative review for more than half a year at a time. And even if the ordinance lapses or is repealed by the Legislative Assembly, the ordinance would not be void ab initio. Any legal effect caused by the ordinance in that period would continue to exist. Thus, even if the democratic institutions are to approve or disapprove of the acts later, the fact is that the undemocratic laws can affect the nature of the Indian State quite drastically.

Several authors have argued that any provision for ordinances is unnecessary and should be taken out of the Constitution. A.G. Noorani has argued:

How do countries like the US and Canada deal with such a situation? In the same way that any other country does — summon the legislature urgently. [This power] has been abused not only by the States but also by the Centre with no check by the Supreme Court.… The precondition of urgency has been ignored…. The existence of the circumstances has never been probed into by the courts.[13]

Various other authors support this — “Legislation by ordinances is not extra-constitutional, but improper and undemocratic.”[14] Prof. M.P. Jain agrees with Noorani, saying that “[t]he executive in Britain or the USA enjoys no such power.”[15] In a different article, Noorani argues, “History will be made the day the Supreme Court holds that the very power to make … ordinances is judicially reviewable and is subject to strict conditions”[16].

Such a situation, where the power to promulgate ordinances is completely taken out of the Constitution of India would indeed be ideal. However, if the State is of the opinion that it is necessary to retain this provision (to deal with urgent situations, for instance), it is essential that essential safeguards be put into place.

The time period for which the ordinance is to be in force needs to be reduced drastically, to a few weeks at most. This is because if there is a situation which requires immediate attention, then the legislature needs to be summoned as soon as possible to deal with it. Ordinances should only be used as a temporary measure till the legislature assembles for the emergency meeting.

Further, provisos must be included to the effect that necessity of action or urgency to promulgate action needs to be proved by the executive. Ordinances should only be used for situations of utmost emergency, and having a provision which requires material to be shown to ensure that necessary conditions exist is necessary to balance the provision with at least some responsibility added to the executive. Another provision that could be included to ensure that ordinances are promulgated only in situations of urgency is to include a restriction which says that ordinances can only be issued when emergency has been proclaimed by the President. This would again make sure that ordinances are not issued unnecessarily when a democratic procedure could be followed. Ultimately, the aim should be to reduce the undemocratic elements to a minimum (or, if possible, completely eliminate it), and where in the Constitution it still remains, high requirements be imposed for its usage.

*3rd year student, BA LLB (Hons.), Jindal Global Law School, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat.

[1]  The Constitution (Thirty-Eighth Amendment) Act, 1975 and the Constitution (Forty-Fourth Amendment) Act, 1978.

[2] For instance, Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Ordinance, 2015; Commercial Courts, Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of High Courts Ordinance, 2015; Negotiable Instruments (Amendment) Ordinance, 2015; among many others.

[3]  Constituent Assembly Debates, p. 201

[4]  The Trouble about Ordinances, Romesh Thapar, Economic & Politicial Weekly (13-7-1974).

[5]  Law or Ordinance?, Romesh Thapar, Economic & Political Weekly (23-11-1974).

[6]  Ordinances promulgated in and after 2014 have been considered for this analysis.

[7]  Mithi Mukherjee, An Imperial Constitution?: Justice as Equity and the Making of the Indian Constitution, in India in the Shadows of Empire: A Legal and Political History, pp. 199-201 (Oxford University Press, 2011).

[8]  Introduction to the Constitution of India, Durga Das Basu, Nagpur LexisNexis, (22nd Edn., 2014) p. 207.

[9]  Ordinance Raj (Editorial), The Economic Weekly (20-2-1954).

[10]  A.K. Roy v. Union of India, (1982) 1 SCC 271; S.K.G. Sugar Ltd. v. State of Bihar, (1974) 4 SCC 827.

[11]  T. Venkata Reddy v. State of A.P., (1985) 3 SCC 198; State of Karnataka v. B.A. Hasanahba, 1998 SCC OnLine Kar 93 : AIR 1998 Kar 210.

[12]  Gyanendra Kumar v. Union of India, 1996 SCC OnLine Del 367 : AIR 1997 Del 58.

[13]  Ordinance Raj, A.G. Noorani, Economic & Political Weekly (12-12-1998).

[14] Ordinance Raj (Editorial), The Economic Weekly (20-2-1954).

[15]  Indian Constitutional Law, M.P. Jain, Nagpur LexisNexis (6th Edn., 2003) p. 181.

[16]  Supreme Court and Ordinances, A.G. Noorani, Economic & Political Weekly (28-2-1987).

Law School NewsOthers

We, the concerned students, researchers and teaching faculty, of the National Law School of India University, Bangalore express deep condolences on the sad demise of Mr. Rohith Vemula, a PhD scholar in Science, Technology and Society Studies Programme at the University of Hyderabad (UoH).

Rohith was one among the five Dalit students who were expelled from their hostels and were not permitted to participate in the student’s union elections, enter administration building and other common places in groups on account of an earlier alleged altercation with a member of another student organization in the University. However, in the process, the present administration ignored the discrepancies and inconsistencies in the findings and recommendations of the Proctorial Board. Rohith and his friends were vocal about the instances of caste-discrimination on campus, and have been fighting against the insensitive attitude of the administration, which has shown blatant disregard for social justice and human dignity.

This horrifying incident cannot be viewed in isolation. Our educational institutions are becoming increasingly exclusionary with time. This is also a reflection on the shrinking democratic spaces within our institutions, with dissenting voices being brutally suppressed and termed as ‘anti-national’. It is significantly an onslaught on the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution of India.
The Police registered an FIR on Rohith’s suicide, against few individuals, which includes the current Vice Chancellor, Prof. Appa Rao Podile. FIR was registered under IPC section 306 (Abetment of Suicide) and Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. Further, the students seeking end to discrimination against Dalits on campus, including Rohith, had spoken about the vindictive nature of the administration on previous occasions. We therefore demand that those who are responsible for Rohith’s suicide and social boycott of the students be made answerable and an impartial investigation must be conducted to look into the issue.
We stand in solidarity with the agitating academic community of UoH. It is our responsibility to strongly condemn any such violations of human rights and uphold the spirit of the Constitution. We condemn any attempt to shrink democratic spaces within educational institutions.
Signatures:
1. Deepankar
2. Osho Chhel
3. Gaganjyot Singh
4. Aditya Mehta
5. Karundeep Singh
6. Shreyas Satadeve
7. I.R. Jayalakshmi
8. Vijay Kishor Tiwari
9. Neenu Suresh
10. Sonali Charak
11. Chirayu jain
12. Simranjit Singh
13. Spadika Jayaraj
14. Kaushik Prasad
15. Rajini Murugeshan
16. Annie Jain
17. Apurva Wankhede
18. Rohan Gupta
19. Arti Kumari
20. Vani Sharma
21. TVS Sasidhar
22. Abhishek Kumar
23. Noaman M
24. Harsha N
25. Mukta Joshi
26. Megha Mehta
27. Ayush Singh
28. Divij Joshi
29. Beena
30. Elizabeth V.S.
31. Mathavi
32. Reeya Singh
33. Nandini Biswas
34. Pankhuri Agrawal
35. Dharma Teja
36. Nikita Garg
37. Pradeep Ramavath J
38. Jyotsna Sripada
39. Paldron Tenzin Tsering
40. Aditya Vardhan Sharma
41. Vikas Gautam
42. Sukhbeer Singh
43. Siddharth Raja
44. Protyush Choudhury
45. Hafsa Bashir Bhat
46. Neha Rajpurohit
47. Akash Meena
48. Aishwarya Gaur
49. Prachi Singh
50. Kriti
51. Aakarshi Agarwal
52. Pooja Singh
53. Yogesh Dilhor
54. Sanjana.M
55. Meghana Muddurangappa
56. Harjas Singh
57. Aditya Patel
58. Swati Mohapatra
59. Saumya Maheshwari
60. Padmini Baruah
61. Thangminlal Haokip
62. Devashish Yadav
63. Satya S. Sahu
64. Manmeet Singh
65. Aswin Vinodan K
66. Dr. Anuja. S
67. Abhijit Singh
68. Aneesha Johny
69. Ashwajit Gautam
70. Neeraj Panicker
71. Noaman M
72. Arvind Ghimray
73. Sneha S K
74. Ashwin Pantula
75. Anarghya Chandar
76. Shruthi Raman
77. R Jagannath
78. Dr.D.S.Makkalanban
79. Atulaa Krishnamurthy
80. Surbhi Ajitsaria
81. Bilal Anwar Khan
82. Nimoy Sanjay Kher
83. Simi Sunny
84. Anjali Shivanand
85. Kunal Ambasta
86. Shrikant Wad
87. Shibu Sweta
88. Samuel Sathyaseelan
89. Aditya Mukherjee
90. Sharvari Kothwade
91. Sharmila R.
92. Akshat Agarwal
93. Sharda S
94. Sharwari
95. Nupur Raut
96. Parth Singh
97. Dhruv Jadav
98. Aman Shukla

Supreme Court

Supreme Court: Rejecting the practice of causing delay in the conclusion of the trial of an election petition which leaves an impression that the elected candidate has the skilfulness to enjoy his full term without being concerned or bothered about the challenge to his election, the bench of Dipak Misra and P.C. Pant, JJ held that the same defeats the very object of expeditious disposal of election petition as envisaged in Section 86(7) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (the Act). The Court said that the fundamental purpose for expeditious disposal of an election petition is to sustain the purity of parliamentary democracy.

Considering the case at hand where the elected candidate has been taking time at his own pleasure and leisure and filing applications as he desired giving vent to his whim and fancy and the Court has granted adjournment in an extremely liberal manner, the Court, going into the legislative intent of the provision in question, said that engrafting a provision in the nature of Section 86(7) of the Act, the legislative intendment is clear that the Court has to endeavour to dispose of an election petition as expeditiously as possible and not to allow the parties to take resort to unnecessary adjournments or file vexatious applications.

Laying emphasis on fundamental values of democracy, the Court said that a voter casts his vote as a responsible citizen to choose the masters for governing the country, hence, it should be election candidate’s sanguine effort to become free from the assail in the election petition and work with attainment and not take shelter seeking adjournments with the elated hope that he can be triumphant in the contest by passage of time. Pukhrem Sharatchandra Singh v. Mairembam Prithviraj,  decided on 01.10.2015