Fundamental rights

This article is written by Sai Aravind, pursuing a Certificate Course in Advanced Civil Litigation: Practice, Procedure and Drafting from LawSikho.


The year 2020 is something which we unhoped-for. The unforeseen COVID-19 has forced the courts to function through video conferencing. But still, the Supreme Court managed to address riveting legal issues. 

The fundamental rights are an eminent part of Indian constitution. These constitutionally protected rights emanated as liberation from imperious British rule. Every citizen of the country deserves such hard-fought rights. Thus, this article will discuss noteworthy judgements delivered by the apex court concerning the fundamental rights of the citizens in 2020. 

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Important judgments on fundamental rights

The Secretary, Ministry of Defence v. Babita Puniya & Ors.

In India, women were allowed to join certain cadres of the army only through the Short Service Commission. This Short Service Commission provided only short-term appointments and they had no benefits like pension compared to men who get appointed by the Permanent Commission. The first writ seeking Permanent Commission for women was filled in 2013. Eventually, in 2019, the government decided to grant Permanent Commission to women in the army and on its guidelines, it was stated that such commission will function only prospectively where the already serving women will not be inducted.   

So, the Supreme Court decided on the necessity of the Permanent Commission and the validity of the guidelines issued in 2019. The Government contended that such induction would lead to management issues by alluding to maternity leave and child care leave which women claim. The court held all those submissions are assumptions based on sex stereotypes about socially recognized roles of gender which discriminate against women. The court highlighted its opinion by specifying various women officers in the Indian Army who have achieved laurels in their service. Accordingly, the Supreme Court held that the action of the state would infringe Article 14 of the Constitution and it directed that all women officers in the Short Service Commission shall be granted Permanent Commission irrespective of their service tenure. 

This is a crucial judgement which enables the constitutional commitment to the equality and dignity of women in all spheres. 

Union of India & Ors. v. Lt. Cdr. Annie Nagaraja & Ors.

Followed by the Indian Army in the above case, this case also upheld the equal rights of women pertaining to the Permanent Commission in the Indian Navy. The Ministry of Defence issued a policy letter dated 26 September 2008 granting Permanent Commissions to Short Service Commissioned officers in all the three branches of the Armed Forces. In this case, the petitioners are women officers in the Navy, joined through the Short Service Commission. Those women officers of different cadre sought grant for Permanent Commission and approached the High Court of Delhi. The High Court approved and granted them eligibility for a Permanent Commission with retrospective effect. 

In another case of Priya Khurana v Union of India, seven women officers under Short Service Commission sought grant for Permanent Commission before the Air Force Tribunal. They challenged the policy letter from the Ministry of Defence dated 26 September 2008 which granted Permanent Commission prospectively. The Air Force Tribunal directed the Union Government for reconsideration of the request for the grant of Permanent Commission to Short Service Commission officers. 

On the account of these two decisions, the Union appealed to the Supreme Court. The court held the prospective actions in the policy letter dated 26 September 2008 to be unenforceable. On the gender stereotypes, the court relied on the similar Babita Puniya case and held that not providing equal benefits to women counterparts as discriminatory. Thus, the court directed the women officers to grant Permanent Commissions including all consequential benefits including arrears of pay, promotions and retiral benefits. 

In this judgement, the Court held that the public interest in the maintenance of the Armed Forces has to be treated equally with the public interest in balancing the abrogation or restriction of fundamental rights of the officers in the Armed Forces. Accordingly, Article 33 of the Constitution which restrict or abrogate the fundamental rights guaranteed under Part III in application to the members of the armed forces is overridden in these cases in the realm of gender equality. 

State of Jharkhand & Ors. v. Brahmaputra Metallics Limited, Ranchi

This is an important case involving administrative law principles such as legitimate expectation and promissory estoppel. In 2012, the State of Jharkhand promised Brahmaputra Metallics through the Jharkhand Industrial Policy 2012 that a deduction of 50% of the electrical duty will be given for their power plants up to five years.  This policy was given life in 2015 and in such a way that it is applicable only prospectively. Challenging the law, Brahmaputra Metallics approached the High Court of Jharkhand which upheld their claim and ruled that denial of reduction retrospectively as contrary to the doctrine of promissory estoppel. 

This dictum of the High Court was challenged by the State in the Supreme Court. The court found that the doctrine of promissory estoppel has developed parallel to the doctrine of legitimate expectations which comes into play if a public body leads an individual to believe that they will be a recipient of a substantive benefit. The court opined that such doctrine of substantive legitimate expectation can guarantee the non-arbitrariness enshrined under Article 14. So, such denial of legitimate expectation is an infringement to Article 14. Hence, the court found itself in agreement with the High Court and held that Brahmaputra Metallics is entitled to a deduction in electricity duty retrospectively. 

Siddaraju v. State of Karnataka

The issue in the case is whether the persons, governed under “The persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995”, can be given reservation in promotion. This case was dismissed by the High Court of Karnataka in 2016 on the basis that reservation in promotion is constitutionally impermissible as per Indra Sawhney v. Union of India

On an appeal to the Supreme Court, it was held that people with disabilities under Persons with Disability Act, 1995 are capable of discharging full functions to their post. It was opined that the Indra Sawhney case is irrelevant as it dealt with a different issue. So, it was held that such reservation in promotion is not forbidden under Article 16(1). Accordingly. the union was also directed to reserve up to three percent for people with disabilities. 

Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India

On 5 August 2019, the Government of India revoked the special status to Jammu and Kashmir, granted under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Subsequent to which an order under section 144 of Code of Criminal Procedure (hereinafter referred to as “CRPC”) was implemented by the District Magistrate which restricted unlawful gathering and internet in Jammu and Kashmir. 

In the context of this, writ petitions were filed challenging the order. For which the Supreme Court addressed various issues such as the validity of order passed under section 144 of CRPC, right to internet under Article 19 and freedom of the press in such circumstances. 

The court held the right to internet as one of the integral parts of Article 19(1)(a) and it also acknowledged the internet being the medium for modern terrorism. The court pointed out that the suspension of the internet service is a drastic measure which should not be done unless necessary. Regarding the freedom of Press, the court held that there is no concrete evidence from the petitioners establishing such infringement of freedom. The Court also held that Section 144 of CRPC can be exercised even when there exists an apprehension of danger where such order should state material facts to enable judicial review.

Arnab Ranjan Goswami v. Union of India 

Arnab Goswami, the managing director and editor in chief of Republic Media Network is the petitioner in this case. This case happened on the background of the Palghar lynching where three persons were killed by a mob in presence of police in Maharastra. The petitioner in his news channel questioned the involvement of Indian National Congress President, Sonia Gandhi in that crime. Following which many FIRs were filed against the petitioner in different States and he also accused that he was assaulted by members of Indian National Congress due to this issue. 

Consequently, the petitioner moved to the Supreme Court under Article 32 for the protection of his journalistic fundamental right to the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. The court held that the exercise of journalistic freedom lies at the core of speech and expression protected by Article 19(1)(a) and India’s freedoms will be safe as long as journalists can speak truth to power without any threat of reprisal. Since the right under Article 19 is not absolute, the court flagged up that such right is answerable to the legal regime enacted with reference to the provisions of Article 19(2). On the outline, it was held that the right of a journalist under Article 19(1)(a) is no higher than the right of the citizen to speak and express.

Prathvi Raj Chouhan v. Union of India

The three-judge bench of Supreme Court decided the constitutional validity of section 18A of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act,2018 in this case. Section 18A of the Amendment Act stated that a preliminary enquiry is not required for registration of FIR, approval is not necessary for arresting a person under the Act and anticipatory bail cannot be granted for an offence committed under the Act. It was challenged on the basis that the provision is directly contrary to the ruling given under Dr Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra. It was also contended that the absolute bar on anticipatory bail infringes the personal liberty ensured under Article 21.

However, the Supreme Court through its majority opinion upheld the constitutional validity of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act,2018. By this, they nullified the effect of Dr Subash Kashinath case. In fact, the 2018 Amendment Act was found to provide a deterring factor in offences against SC and ST which enables such people to live with the right to dignity protected under Article 21. Regarding the anticipatory bail, it was held that it is neither a statutory right nor a fundamental right under Article 21. The reason given is that such positive discrimination is required in order to counteract the appalling state of SC and ST in the country.


The year started with the Supreme Court upholding the right to internet and freedom of the press under Article 19 in the internet shutdown case in Kashmir. Similarly, the journalistic freedom of Arnab Goswami was also upheld by the Court later in the year. Followed by that the Court held that reservation in promotion for the people with disabilities is not forbidden by the equal opportunity under Article 16. Then the Court played a prominent role in defying the stereotypical role given to women by granting permanent commission to women in Indian Army and Navy through their right to equality and right against discrimination. Regarding personal liberty, the court upheld the validity of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act,2018 on the basis that it protects the right to dignity of disadvantaged people under Article 21. The court also held the administrative law principles of legitimate expectation and promissory estoppel to guarantee non-arbitrariness under Article 14 in the final month of the year. 

In 2020 unprecedentedly we spent most of the days in lockdown. But most of these crucial cases involving fundamental rights are pronounced in the first quarter of the year itself i.e, before the implementation of lockdown. Nevertheless, the court still managed to answer several queries of law with the help of digitalisation. 

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