This article is written by Divyanshi Singh, from Symbiosis Law School, Noida. This article discusses the landmark judgments given by Justice Ashok Bhushan during his tenure.
“The Judges are only known by their judgments…Judgments are the only true criteria for testing the mettle of a Judge. Judges delivering the greatest of decisions are justifiably remembered.” (Said by Justice Ashok Bhushan in one of his interviews)
Such is the aura of Justice Ashok Bhushan who retired on 4th July 2021 after serving in court for four decades as an advocate in the beginning and later as a judge.
In 1979, Justice Ashok Bhushan graduated from Allahabad University. He began his practice in civil law at the Allahabad High Court and later served as the Standing Counsel for the Allahabad High Court and the Uttar Pradesh State Mineral Development Corporation Limited. He was elected as the Allahabad High Court Bar Association‘s Senior Vice-President.
Justice Bhushan was appointed to the Allahabad High Court as a permanent judge in 2001. He was also Chairman of the Higher Judicial Service Committee. He was appointed as a Judge of the Kerala High Court on July 10, 2014, and soon he took the office of 31st Chief Justice of Kerala High Court on March 26, 2015.
On May 13, 2016, he was appointed as Supreme Court Judge, where his judgments stood testimony to his welfarist and humanist approach by deciding the landmark cases with humility.
Landmark Judgments by Justice Ashok Bhushan
Binoy Viswam v. Union of India (2017)
Section 139AA was inserted in the Income-Tax Act, 1961 by an amendment (vide Finance Act, 2017) that made it mandatory to link the Aadhar number to the PAN as well as the income-tax return by the 1st July 2017. Moreover, it was further stated in the section that failure to do the same would result in a declaration of PAN as void ab initio.
In this case, the validity of Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act was in question.
The joint bench of Justice Bhushan and Justice Sikri had ordered a partial stay to the mandatory linking of the Aadhar Card with the PAN card. This order remained in effect until a nine-judge bench decided on the scope of the right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution of India in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India (2018).
Union of India v. M Selvakumar (2017)
A physically handicapped person had filed a petition to increase the number of attempts to write the Civil Services Examination from 7 to 10 as he also came under the ambit of reserved OBC category.
Whether the number of attempts to write the Civil Services Examination could be increased from 7 to 10 for the candidates who belong to two reserved categories, i.e. physically disabled and OBC?
A Division Bench consisting of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Ashok Bhushan denied the petition. It was held that the physically disabled category was in itself a separate category and an individual falling in this category cannot demand further reservation. Justice Bhushan said that the term “physically disabled” is a distinct group in and of itself. He further said that people in this category had similar limitations, regardless of whether they belong to the General or OBC categories. As a result, they must be treated equally in terms of concessions. It was also held by the court that such reservation falls under the ambit of government policy and courts have no power to bring such reservation in motion.
Jiju Lukose v. State of Kerala (2015)
In this case, the petitioner had received a copy of the FIR after 2 months of filing. Until then the petitioner was unknown of the charges levied against him.
A PIL was filed by the petitioner in the court for seeking directions for the uploading of FIR on the police station’s website and for making copies of the same available to the accused as soon as the FIR is registered. Petitioner further contended that according to the Right to Information Act, 2005, police officers are obligated to lay down the recorded information in the public domain.
Can a copy of the FIR be given under RTI Act?
The Kerala High Court’s Division Bench comprising of Justice A.M.Shaffique and Justice Ashok Bhushan ruled that the police officials must release a copy of the First Investigation Report (FIR) on an RTI application unless the competent authority deems that the FIR is covered by the provisions under Section 8(1) that can be exempted from being disclosed until the investigation is completed. Further, it was held that a copy of the FIR is given to the accused only when the proceedings are to be initiated on a police report by the competent judge.
M Siddiq (D) Thr Lrs v. Mahant Suresh Das & Ors (2019) [Ram Mandir Verdict]
This is popularly known as the Ram Mandir case. As per the beliefs of the followers of Hinduism, an ancient Ram Temple was situated at the birthplace of Hindu Lord Rama in Ayodhya. However, the temple was demolished by general Mir Baqi on the orders of Mughal Emperor Babur and the Babri Masjid was built in the same place in 1528-29. Babri Masjid was demolished by the Hindu extremist mod in 1992 that was followed by unrest in the entire country. The dispute dates from 1528 when the Ram Temple was demolished.
Who does the disputed land belong to?
This dispute came to an end on November 9, 2019, when the five-judge bench gave the final decision on the matter. The bench was led by the then CJI Ranjan Gogoi along with Justice Sharad A Bobde, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice Ashok Bhushan, and Justice Abdul Nazeer.
The bench ordered for the construction of Ram Temple on the disputed land and the whole of 67.703 acres of land was handed over to the trust named Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Tirtha Kshetra. The court further directed the Centre to allot a 5-acre tract to the Sunni Waqf Board for the construction of a mosque.
It is worth noting that Justice Bhushan joined the Ayodhya bench months after delivering a relatively crucial judgment on September 27, 2018, in which the three-member bench refused to refer the 1994 Ismail Faruqui verdict to the five-judge Constitution bench. The 1994 decision concluded that a mosque was not required to deliver prayers in Islam. When the bench took up the Ayodhya matter, Muslim groups demanded that the SC first submit the Ismail Faruqui ruling to the five-judge panel. In this case, Justice Abdul Nazeer issued a dissenting opinion that mosque is not an essential part of the practice of Islam.
In Re: Problems and Miseries of Migrant Labourers (2021)
During the lockdown, migrant workers were facing problems in earning their living and a lack of access to food. Another issue was the weak implementation of the national schemes.
An extensive order was issued to the Central and State governments by the bench composed of Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice MR Shah to ensure the welfare of the migrant workers and people working in unorganized sectors. The orders included the directions:
- To host communal dinners in inconspicuous locations;
- To re-assess the entitled beneficiaries;
- To assure the implementation of One Nation One Ration Card;
- To establish a national database for unorganised workers; etc.
Reepak Kansal v. Union of India and Others (2021)
A petition was filed in the Supreme Court of India seeking ex gratia monetary compensation of Rs. 4 lakhs to the families of people who died due to COVID-19 or its side effects.
Should ex gratia monetary compensation of Rs. 4 lakhs be provided to the families of people who fell prey to COVID-19?
As part of the bench hearing this case, Justice Ashok Bhushan directed the Union government to formulate a uniform guideline on ex-gratia payments to the families of people who died due to COVID-19 within six weeks. He also accepted the fact that the Prime Minister-led National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) had miserably failed to perform its statutory duty due to its inefficiency to follow the compensation scheme.
Jaishree Laxmanrao Patil v. The Chief Minister & Ors (2021)
This case is popularly known as the Maratha Quota Reservation case. The Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018 was passed in the state of Maharashtra to increase the already existing reservation for the Marathi community to 16% in education and public employability.
Though the Bombay High Court upheld the Act, it tried to reduce the percentage of reserved seats for Marathas to 12% in education and 13% in public employment, as per the recommendations of the Gaikwad Committee.
The validity of the Maratha Quota Reservation was in question.
A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court led by Justice Ashok Bhushan issued the decision on the constitutionality of the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018. The court unanimously dismissed the review petition on the grounds that no extraordinary cause had been made for breaching the ceiling limit of 50% in favor of the Marathas.
The bench of Justice LN Rao, Justice Hemant Gupta, and Justice S Ravindra Bhatt issued the majority opinion. However, Justice Ashok Bhushan (together with Justice Abdul S Nazeer) disagreed with the majority opinion regarding the function of states in identifying the underprivileged classes, pointing out that the 102nd Constitutional Amendment does not deprive the states of the authority to establish backward classes.
Ms. X v. State of Jharkhand (2021)
A petition was filed by a rape victim after being raped by Mohd Ali and 3 others while she was going to meet her child, who was under the custody of his father after their divorce.
What should be the benefits granted to the rape survivor?
Justice Bhushan in the judgment stated that a rape survivor should be provided with housing facilities under Prime Minister Awas Yojna or any other Central or State Schemes, and the minor children of such women should be provided with free education in any government organization until the age of 14.
Shanti Bhushan v. Supreme Court of India (2018)
A writ petition was filed by Mr. Shanti Bhushan to question the powers of Chief justice of India as Master of the Roaster and suggested that the allocation of cases must be done either by a Collegium or by the full court.
Is it lawful for CJI as a Master of the Roaster to allocate the cases?
In the Apex Court, the Bench comprising Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan held that the “Chief Justice in his individual capacity is the Master of Roster and it cannot be read as the Collegium of the first three or five Judges. Thus, it is his prerogative to constitute the Benches and allocate the subjects which would be dealt with by the respective Benches.”
Small Scale Industrial Manufacturers Association (Regd.) v. Union of India and others (2020)
The case is popularly known as the ‘Loan Moratorium’ case. A writ petition was filed under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution seeking direction for a remedial measure to redress the financial strain that was faced by the industrial sector due to COVID-19. The petition stated that the COVID 19 Regulatory Package notified by RBI was inadequate and ineffective. Moreover, it did not offer any substantial relief to the industries.
Can courts order a remedial measure to redress the financial strain faced by the industrial sector?
In the judgment on the loan moratorium of 23 March 2021, the Bench of Justice Ashok Bhushan, Judge R Subhash Reddy, and Justice MR Shah held that the topic of economic and fiscal regulation should be very carefully tackled since judges are not specialists. The decision concluded that during the duration of the loan moratorium the total exemption from interest cannot be provided and that the court cannot grant any sector-specific relief(s).
The judgments of Justice Ashok Bhushan will always be a testimony to his welfarist and humanist approach that he never failed. He believed that the relationship between the bar and the bench is like a relationship of the sea and clouds that always run parallel to each other but can’t exist without each other.
During his online farewell, Justice Ashok Bushan paid his homage and regards to members of the bar. Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana remarked that Justice Ashok Bhushan has always been a valuable colleague to work with and above all a “great human being.”
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