This article is written by Mehar Verma, a 3rd-year law student from Jindal Global Law School. In this article, the author talks about the landmark judgments passed in the year 2019, by the Apex Court of the country.
The highest court of India, the Supreme Court is busy all along the year and delivers some crucial judgments, which shape the legal system of India. In 2019, the Court addressed some compelling questions of law. Some of the significant judgments passed in the previous year are discussed below.
Divestment of CBI’s Director
The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), on 23rd October 2018, took away the powers and functions of Mr. Alok Kumar Verma, Director of Central Bureau of Investigation under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. Thereafter a writ petition was filed challenging the validity of the said order and the petitioners argued that the order passed by the Central Government was violative of Section 4 of Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act and the Supreme Court guidelines issued in Vineet Narain case. Under Section 4A of the DSPE Act, the approval of the Selection Committee is necessary to divest the powers of the director of CBI.
Judgment: On 8th January 2019, the Supreme Court held that the orders issued by the Central Government were not valid and thus quashed them. Alok Verma was reinstated with his powers and duties.
(Case name: Alok Verma V. Union of India, decided on 08.01.2019)
The Constitutional validity of Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code upheld
The constitutional validity of the IBC and National Company Law Tribunal has been questioned again and again, and the Supreme Court finally settled the challenges in the landmark case of Swiss Ribbons Pvt Ltd. v Union of India. A two bench judge held that the difference between operational creditors and financial creditors were based on intelligible differentia and thus not violative of Article 14 of the Constitution. The petition also challenged Section 12A and Section 29A of the code. Section 12A of the code prescribed threshold of 90% of the Committee of Creditors for allowing withdrawal of resolution application. However, the Supreme Court did not see any difficulty with such a high threshold and upheld the validity of the said Section.
Judgment: The Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 and NCLT.
(Case name: Swiss Ribbons Pvt Ltd anr v Union of India, decided on 25.01.2019)
Reliance Companies held guilty of contempt
In the Ericsson case, the reliance company owed Rs. 550 Crores to its creditors, out of which only Rs. 118 Crores had been deposited with the Court. Ericsson had filed 3 contempt plea against the reliance company, and in its judgment, the Supreme Court held that Reliance’s chairman, Mr. Anil Ambani is required to pay his dues in four weeks or he would face jail time. Further, a fine of Rs one Crore was imposed on all three reliance companies, Reliance Telecom, Reliance Infra Fel and RCom as they were also held guilty of contempt.
While pronouncing its judgment, the court also dismissed its two court master as an order issued by the Court on January 7, 2019, was tampered with. The order clearly stated that the personal presence of Ambani and other officials in the next hearing cannot be dispensed with, whereas the order uploaded on the official website did not provide the same.
Judgment: Anil Ambani and the reliance companies held guilty of contempt for defaulting payment to its creditor, Ericsson as per the previous undertaking is given to the Court.
(Case name: Reliance Communication Ltd and others v State Bank of India and others, decided on 20.02.2019)
Sarvana Bhavan founder held guilty for the murder
P Rajagopal, the founder of the famous South Indian restaurant, Sarvana Bhavan, started his journey by selling tea and helping at a grocery store. He then opened his first outlet in Chennai in 1981 and then there was no looking back for him, soon his restaurants had branches all over India and abroad as well. Things took a downfall for Rajagopal in 2001, when he was accused of threatening, abducting and murdering his former employee so that he could marry the deceased’s wife, Jeevajothi. The High Court of Madras held the accused guilty of murder under Section 302, IPC, which was appealed by Rajagopal. The Supreme Court on 29th April 2019 dismissed the appeals filed and held P Rajagopal guilty for murder, awarding him a life sentence.
Rajagopal was given time till July to surrender and serve his sentence however, he suffered from a cardiac arrest and passed away on July 18, 2019.
Judgment: Founder of famous restaurant Sarvana Bhavan, P Rajagopal and five others sentenced with life imprisonment for the murder of his ex-employee.
(Case name: Pattu Rajan and others v State of Tamil Nadu, decided on 29.03.2019)
Cinema ban in West Bengal overturned
Bengali film “Bhobishyoter Bhoot” was stopped from screening by the Bengal Government in most of the cinemas. The Government contended that the movie was politically sensitive and it may hurt some sentiments and cause disorder in the State. Thereafter, a plea was filed by the producers of the film claiming their fundamental right to speech and expression has been violated. The Supreme Court while deciding the case imposed a fine of Rs. 20 Lakhs on the West Bengal government as compensation to the producers for the loss they suffered due to the virtual ban imposed. Further, the Court held that the right to free speech and expression cannot be taken by public officials because they fear mob violence.
Judgment: Public officials and the State Government are subject to the rule of law and cannot gag free speech due to fear of violence. The ban imposed on the Bengali film was overturned and compensation was provided to the producers.
(Case name: Indibility Creative Pvt Ltd and others v Government of West Bengal and others, decided on 11.04.2019)
CJI of India accused in a sexual harassment case
On 19th April 2019, an ex-staff of the Supreme Court alleged that she was sexually harassed by the former Chief Justice of India, Mr. Ranjan Gogoi who denied all the allegations made against him. A three-judge bench began hearing the matter and an in house panel was set up to look into the allegations made against the CJI. During the hearing, the bench ordered to conduct an inquiry into the alleged conspiracy and the report and the findings of the inquiry were submitted to the bench in a sealed cover. The inhouse panel concluded that Mr. Ranjan Gogoi should be held free of all charges and was given a free chit. As the details of the inquiry made were never shown to the public, many contended that the method was unfair and discriminatory. Moreover, the complainant was not allowed to show any video or audio during the proceedings, her lawyer was not present during the proceedings and she was not informed about the procedure adopted by the committee in reviewing the case.
Judgment: A three-judge bench held an inquiry against the former CJI, Mr. Ranjan Gogoi in the matter of sexual harassment allegations made against him by an ex-employee of the Court. Later, he was given a clean chit.
(Case name: In re Matter of Great Public Importance touching upon the Independence of the Judiciary, decided on 25.04.2019)
Reservation in promotions under Karnataka Act upheld
Karnataka in 2002, enacted a law that stated consequential seniority would be applicable while dealing with promotions of the SC/ST employees in government offices. This implied that a reserved category employee could be promoted before a senior employee belonging to the general category. In 2007 the Supreme Court held that the law passed by the Karnataka Government did not comply with the guidelines established under the Nagraj case and was thus unconstitutional. Subsequently, the Karnataka Government set up a Committee to demonstrate the criteria laid down in the Nagraj case has been fulfilled, i.e. (1) current backwardness of SC/ST (2) inadequate representation and (3) and impact on administrative efficiency and thereafter re-enacted the earlier law. The constitutional validity of the re-enacted law was questioned. The Supreme Court held that the deficiency that was noted in the 2002 Act have been fulfilled and the Reservation Act 2018 is thereby valid under Article 16(4A) of the Constitution.
Judgment: The constitutional validity of the Karnataka Act approving consequential seniority in promotions for the reserved category was upheld.
(Case name: BK Pavitra and others v Union of India, decided on 10.05.2019)
Drinking liquor in private vehicle, an offence under prohibition laws in Bihar
The Bihar Excise (Amendment) Act 2016, prohibits the possession, consumption, and sale of alcohol within the territory of the State. The meaning of the word ‘public place’ mentioned in the said Act was questioned before the Apex Court after a man jailed on being found drunk in his private car in Bihar. The appellant contended that as no bottle of liquor was found on him and as he was traveling in his private car, the FIR against him must be quashed. The Supreme Court held that the FIR will not be quashed and the man is liable under the Bihar Excise Act, 2016. Consumption of liquor in a public place, even if done in a private vehicle is an offense under the Act. The Court also held that as per the Act if a person enters into the territory of Bihar in a drunken State even when the consumption of alcohol took place outside the State, he be liable under the Act.
Judgment: Consumption of liquor in a private vehicle in a public space, comes under the definition of ‘public space’, according to the Bihar Excise Act, 2016.
(Case name: Satvinder Singh Saluja and others v State of Bihar, decided on 01.07.2019)
Section 148 of the Negotiable Instrument Act, 1881: Retrospective in nature
Section 148 was introduced in the Negotiable instruments Act, 1181 by way of amendment in 2018. The Section states that the Court may order the drawer to deposit at least 20% of the compensation or relief awarded by the Trial Court, within 60 days from the date of the order passed. In its judgment, the Supreme Court held that Section 148 of the Act should have retrospective effect and is thus also applicable for those complaints as well which were filed before the amendment took place.
Judgment: Section 148 applies to cases even when the criminal complaint under Section 138 was filed before the amendment of the Act.
(Case name: Surinder Singh Desawal v Virender Gandhi, decided on 29.05.2019)
Registration of Amrapali under RERA Cancelled
A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra held Amrapali and other authorities of Noida and Greater Noida guilty of defrauding home buyers. The group diverted the money to create personal assets for the directors of Amrapali and failed to complete the project on time. The Supreme Court ordered the cancellation of the Real Estate Regulation and Development Act (RERA) registration of the Amrapali group and ordered National Buildings Construction Corporation Limited (NBCC) to complete all the pending projects of the group. An action under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act and Foreign Exchange Management Act is taken against the Amrapali directors and a periodic report of the same is to be submitted to the Supreme Court.
Judgment: The Amrapali group was banned from taking any real estate project in the future as their registration under RERA was canceled by the Supreme Court for money laundering. The court also ordered the completion of more than 42,000 flats by NBCC which was previously taken by the Amrapali group.
(Case name: Bikram Chatterji and others v Union of India and others, decided on 23.07.2019)
Death penalty awarded for rape and murder of a minor girl
In 2010, the accused with another, kidnapped the victims, a 10-year-old girl, and her 7-year-old brother. The girl was then raped and thereafter both the victims were thrown in a canal alive, causing their death. One of the convicts was killed during an encounter and the High Court awarded the death penalty to the other convict. The judgment of the High Court was appealed in the Supreme Court and was heard by a three bench judge. The majority of the judges upheld the conviction of the death penalty however, Justice Sanjiv Khanna had a dissenting opinion. He believed that the convict should not be given the death penalty as the case does not fall under the category of ‘rarest of rare’ case, but the appellant should be given the punishment to suffer for life in imprisonment as the case would fall under a special category.
In another case, Ravi v State of Maharashtra, a man was awarded the death penalty for committing rape and murder of a 2-year-old.
Judgment: Death penalty was given for committing the crime of rape and murder of minor girls.
(Case name: Manoharan v State, decided on 21.08.2019)
Habeas corpus petitions filed against the detention of Kashmiri MLA
A state-wise ban was imposed on the State of Jammu and Kashmir after the Parliament abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution. A virtual lockdown was imposed and various political leaders and non-political persons were detained since August 5, 2019, when the Centre passed an Act taking away the special status that was granted to the State. On 19th August 2019, general secretary of the Communist Party of India, Sitaram Yechury filed a habeas corpus petition in the Supreme Court challenging the illegality and constitutional validity of the detention imposed leader of his party Mohammed Yousuf Tarigiami. The Supreme court allowed the petitioner to visit the detenu however, the judgment passed was highly criticized as the bench did not question the grounds on which detention was placed by the Central Government. Moreover, the petitioner was permitted to only meet his leader and was not allowed to carry out any other political activities. He was also required to submit a report on his return to the Apex Court.
Judgment: In response to the habeas corpus petition filed by the general secretary of the Communist Party of India, the Supreme Court allowed him to visit the detenu. However, restrictions were imposed on his meet and no justification was given to validate the detention imposed by the Central Government.
(Case name: Sitaram Yechury v Union of India, decided on 28.08.2019)
Government-funded NGOs come under RTI
While deciding an appeal filed by the DAV management wherein they contended that they are not public authorities and thus do not come under Right to Information Act, the Court held that public authorities defined under Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 would include all such institutions which are ‘substantially’ financed by the Government. Substantially financing does not mean that the government should finance 50% or more, but it means that a large portion is financed by the government and the finance can be either direct or indirect. This means that authorities that are financed by the government including the NGOs will have to maintain records as prescribed in the Act and vital information has to be presented to every citizen who asks for the same. The Supreme Court added that every citizen has a right to know where the money is being spent by their government, thus NGOs financed by the government should be transparent in its proceedings and records.
Judgment: NGOs which are directly or indirectly, substantially financed by the government come under the RTI Act and thus every citizen has the right to ask for information from them.
(Case name: DAV College Trust and Management Society v Director of Public Instruction, decided on 17.09.2019)
43-year-old precedent overruled by the Supreme Court
The bench headed by Justice RF Nariman held that even at the post cognizance stage a Magistrate can invoke his powers under Section 156(3) of CrPC. A 43-year-old judgment which held that Section 156(3) of CrPC can only be invoked at a pre cognizance stage was overruled.
(Case name: Vinubhai Haribhai Malaviya and others v The State of Gujarat and others, decided on 16.10.2019)
Supreme Court verdict passed in Ayodhya- Babri Masjid case
The Ayodhya- Babri Masjid dispute is the longest property dispute in the history of India. The case was finally concluded by the Supreme Court after 134 years from the first case filed on this matter. The Allahabad High Court delivered a judgment in 2010 wherein the land in dispute was divided into three equal parts, the judgment did not satisfy any of the parties involved and thus an appeal was filed in Supreme Court. After 9 years and 40 days of continuous hearing, the Court gave one of the most crucial judgments. The Court after observing the developments of the case scrapped the High Court verdict and held that the land in dispute is to be awarded to the Hindu Deity ‘Ram’ for the construction of the temple. It was observed that the land was not of Islamic origin and the Masjid was not built on vacant land. The Court also ordered that a suitable alternative land of 5 acres is to be allotted to the Sunni Waqf Board for construction of the mosque in Ayodhya itself.
Judgment: The disputed land was given to Ram Lalla and the Central Government has been ordered to formulate a scheme and set up a trust within 3 months for the construction of the temple.
(Case name: M Siddiq through Lrs v Mahant Suresh Das and others, decided on 08.11.2019)
Chief Justice of India comes under RTI
In November, the Supreme Court in its historic judgment held that the CJI comes under the Right to Information Act and is a public authority under Section 2(h) of the Act. This implies that the CJI is to be transparent and is answerable to all questions raised by the citizens of the County. However, the court also emphasized the importance of maintaining confidentiality under certain aspects of the judiciary’s working. The RTI will apply to CJI only when it is in the interest of the public and does not hamper the proceedings of the judiciary in any manner.
Judgment: CJI is a public authority under the RTI Act.
(Case name: Central Public Information Officer, Supreme Court v Subhash Chandra Agarwal, decided on 13.11.2019)
Aadhar Card Judgment referred to a larger bench and Section 184 of Finance Act upheld
The Supreme Court delivered its judgment on the constitutional validity of Section 184 of the Finance Act, 2017 and whether the Act comes under the definition of Money Bill as defined under Article 110 of the Constitution of India. Section 184 of the Act was challenged because it gave the power of appointment and service conditions of members of a Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal and other authorities to the Central Government and thus was considered unconstitutional and arbitrary by the petitioners. The Court held that the powers delegated to the Center cannot be questioned and taken away on the mere possibility of misuse of such powers. The issue of whether Finance Act can be referred to as a Money Bill or not was referred to a larger bench for further examination.
Judgment: The 5 Judges Bench doubted the correctness of referring to the Finance Act as a Money Bill and thus it was referred to a larger Bench. However, the Court upheld the legal validity of Section 184 of the Finance Act, 2017.
(Case name: Rojer Mathew v South Indian Bank Ltd, decided on 13.11.2019)
Review of Sabarimala case still pending
In September 2018 the Supreme Court in its verdict uplifted the age-long ban imposed on the entry of women in the temple of Sabarimala in Kerala. The Court declared the ban as unconstitutional and held that women of all age groups would be granted the right to enter the temple. The verdict led to protests by the devotees of Lord Ayyappa which soon took a violent turn and thus multiple petitions to review the judgment were filed. The Court held that every citizen has the right to practice, propagate and promote their religious beliefs under Article 25 of the Constitution and the right of entry into religious places by women is not restricted to Sabarimala but also includes other religions and sects. The Court also highlighted that the issue of whether a ban of entry of women comes under ‘essential practice’ or is an integral part of the religion is to be considered. For this, review petitions were referred to a seven-member bench.
Judgment: To determine questions relating to essential religious practices, the Sabarimala case was referred to a larger bench.
(Case name: Kantaru Rajeevaru v Indian Young Lawyers Association, decided on 14.11.2019)
Rafale deal upheld
The Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi entered into a deal with France to purchase 36 Rafale fighter aircraft. After the deal was signed multiple litigants filed petitions in the Supreme Court claiming that the deal made by Mr. Modi was not according to the established procedure. Questions regarding the decision-making process, pricing irregularities, offset partners were made in the petitions. In 2018, the Court after hearing both the parties concluded that there were no irregularities based upon the evidence procured and thereby a review petition was filed, challenging the earlier judgment passed. This year the Court dismissed the review petitions and held that it had limited jurisdiction under the defence contracts.
Judgment: All the defendants held not guilty and the rafale deal upheld after the Court dismisses the review petitions filed.
(Case name: Manohar Lal Sharma v Narendra Modi, decided on 14.11.2019)
Section 87 of Arbitration and Conciliation Act expelled
Before the 2015 Amendment, the then Section 36 of the Act provided that an arbitral award could not be enforced if there was a pending petition and this was termed as the automatic stay. This Section was substituted in 2015 and the Act stated that unless a stay order has been passed the arbitral award does not become unenforceable and mere filing of a petition is not enough to render an arbitral award as not enforceable. The 2015 amendment also provided that the changed Act would apply only to arbitral proceedings which commenced on or after the passing of 2015 Amendment. Section 87 of the Act introduced as an amendment in 2019 discarded the changes made in the 2015 amendment and re-introduced automatic stay. The Court held that this would cause a delay in the arbitration proceedings and increase interference of the Court in arbitrary matters thus defeating the whole purpose of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act.
Judgment: Supreme Court struck down Section 87 of the Act, introduced in the 2019 Amendment as it was arbitrary.
(Case name: Hindustan Construction Company Ltd v Union of India, decided on 27.11.2019)
2019 observed some good as well as some disappointing judgment from the end of the Supreme Court. The year started on a rather good note wherein the constitutional validity of Insolvency and Bankruptcy was upheld, reliance companies were held guilty of defrauding its creditors, owner, and founder of Saravana Bhavan, Mr. P Rajagopal was sentenced to life imprisonment in the case of murdering his ex-employee, the cinema ban in West Bengal was overturned and the producers were awarded compensation as well, death penalty was awarded for rape and murder of minor girls and many more. The year also witnessed certain controversial judgments like the in the sexual harassment case against the CJI, response to the petitions filed against the detention of Kashmiris MLAs or the dismissal of the review petitions in the rafale case. The Supreme Court also gave the verdict on momentous cases like Ayodhya- Babri Masjid dispute, Sabarimala case and Section 87 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act.
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