The year 2019 has turned out to be exceptionally spicy on all the fronts, from historic judgments to environmental disasters and from a wishy-washy start to protests like never before for the climax. Altogether, this year came with the pinch of tang that was not witnessed but missed in the past couple of years. A massive contributor to the same has been the Top Court of India.
The Apex Judicial body interestingly seemed to be promoting itself from the role of a strict yet contained and controlled 'H.O.D' of the 'Indian School of Drama' to the 'Principal' of the school, one that is expected from, looked up to in the times of crisis and the one that commands reverence. The court seemed to have realized the power that it actually possesses and has stepped on the peddle serving right, left and center to those who needed pacification, interfered at the exact time when it was expected to and delivered judgments that compelled all of us to put our hands together for the show stopper.
Although the institution was put to criticism for some of the debatable verdicts and the system followed in the court for the appointment of judges, the court revisited and corrected many of its erroneous judgments as well. In a nutshell, the Apex Court came out playing the 'Maryada Purush' out of all the others and basked in the light of its glory, integrity, and honor while trying to escape the pulling grip of other institutions in the country.
Following is the account of a few judgments delivered by the Head Court that made headlines in 2019.
'Ram Janmbhumi - Babri Masjid Case'
2 of the biggest communities in the world battled for a piece of land measuring 2.77 acres in Ayodhya, Hindus claiming it for Ram Lalla Temple and Muslim community claiming it to rebuild the mosque that was demolished in 1992 by Karsewaks. The 5-judges bench unanimously gave the disputed land to Ram Lalla while another prominent site in the city, double the size of the disputed land (5 acres), was given to the Sunni Waqf Board. 'The Muslims did not hold the site consistently', 'prominent signs of a Hindu temple were found below the Babri Masjid' and 'place of worship is not material in Muslim religion' were some of the grounds below this judgment.
CJI Harassment Case
Former CJI Ranjan Gogoi was entangled in a harassment case. Advocate Utsav Bains raised the allegations in the court after an ex-member of the SC-staff shared with media that she had been harassed by the then CJI. The SC bench consisting of Justice Arun Misra, Justice Nariman and Justice Deepak Gupta gave the responsibility to probe the matter to J. A.K Patnaik (retired). A 3 Judges panel was comprised for the same which gave CJI a clean chit in the end. The details of the inquiry were kept secret leaving many murmuring. The media was drawn to the flames like never before.
Floor Test in Maha Politics
Maharashtra politics got out of control when the government took U-turns faster than one could spell 'fast'. President of India was questioned for being biased and prejudicial. SC stepped in and order an urgent floor test to be conducted the very next morning to determine the majority of Devendra Fadnavis-led government. Everyone found his/her legit place by the next day. The three-judge bench deemed it necessary to prevent horse-trading which is frequent in such situations.
'Private Vehicle in a Public Place is a Public Place!'
SC held, to the dismay of many young and old ones in Bihar, that consuming alcohol in a car does not make it a private act of the consumer if it is in a public place and further that the person so consuming the liquor can be pursued and booked by police. SC held that a private car is not exempted from the definition of a 'public place'. Thus, a private vehicle in a public place is a public place! Cheers!
CJI Office = Public Authority
Upholding a 2010 judgment of Delhi HC, SC decided to place the CJI's office within the ambit of the definition of 'Public Authority' in the Right to Information Act. However, it was added to the judgment that some matters can be kept away from the grasp of the RTI Act if it is in public interest.
Alok Verma (CBI VS CBI) Case
CBI Chief Alok Verma and CBI Special Director Rakesh Asthana had been allegedly 'fighting like cats' since July 18 and were asked to go on a leave in October by the center (the decision was taken at 2 am-midnight). The chief was subsequently divested of his powers against which he appeared in the SC with a petition. SC, after a detailed inquiry of all the parties, reinstated Verma to his post who was again removed by the CVC and offered another position in the Fire Department, which he refused and resigned from his then-current position.
Relief to Amrapali Investors
SC gripped Amrapali and its pull-men for siphoning crores of rupees from thousands of homebuyers in Noida and Greater Noida in connivance with the Noida and Greater Noida authorities. SC further canceled Amrapali's registration under RERD Act, 2016. Further, it handed over Amrapali's projects in the said locations to National Building Construction Corporation restoring justice and a major relief to the bona fide purchasers and penalty to the defaulters. SC has also ordered ED to pursue the defaulters under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
Sarvana Bhavan Case
The 72-year-old owner of Sarvana Bhawan (famous South Indian food-chain having outlets around the world) Rajagopal was held guilty for the murder of one Santhakumar in order to marry his wife Jeevajothi (who would be Rajagopal's 3rd wife). It was found out that he intended so because an astrologer told him that she would prove to be lucky for his business. The 72-year-old accused was asked to surrender by July but died of cardiac arrest on July 18.
Contempt of Court Against Nageshwar Rao
Additional Director of CBI Nageshwar Rao who filled in for Alok Verma when the latter was sent on vacation was held guilty for the 'contempt of court' for transferring a team of investigators probing the Muzaffarpur Shelter Home Case. It was found that Nageshwar Rao took the step despite knowing that the SC had passed the order prohibiting the transfer of the investigators.
Nageshwar Rao was slapped with a fine of Rs. 1 Lac and was sentenced till the rising of the court.
Contempt Case Against Anil Ambani
The case involved one of India's richest families and a mammoth amount of money. Anil Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Communications, was held guilty of contempt of court when he failed to comply with the orders of the court and to pay Rs. 453 crore to Ericsson. The court also found out that the order of the court rejecting the plea to excuse Ambani's personal appearance was tampered with so as to excuse him from personally appearing in the court (Two court masters were also fired as a development). The court allowed 4 weeks to Anil Ambani to make the payment or be behind the bars. A penalty of Rs. 1 Crore each was also imposed on the 3 companies chaired by Anil Ambani. The stiffness exhibited by the court was not expected by the people as Reliance has been enjoying the favor of the government for a long time and has dodged the stick of the courts.
Respite for Teachers
Justice Indu Malhotra and Justice A.M Sapre recalled their erroneous judgment over the matter where 'Teachers' were excluded from the definition of 'Employee' in the Payment of Gratuity Act of 2009. The parliament had changed the definition of 'Employee' given in section 2(e) of the said act earlier with a retrospective effect which was not brought to the court's notice and which further, according to the judges, led to the erroneous judgment.
Unofficial Ban by Government on Bengal Movie Lifted
Supreme Court had the makers of a Bengali Film 'Bhobishyoter Bhoot' receive a compensation of Rs. 25 Lacs against the unofficial ban by the West Bengal Government faced by the movie. The government argued that the ban was necessary to avoid violence and distortion of Law and Order as the material in the film was critical against the government.
The 2 judges bench of the SC very boldly conveyed that freedom of speech cannot be capped due to the fear of the reaction to such speech and the subsequent violence.
Voice Samples Can Be Procured from the Accused Without Consent
The SC held that an accused can be directed to give voice samples, without consent, by a magistrate if so is required to proceed with the investigations in a case. This judgment came as a resolution to the conflicting verdict of a 2-judges bench in 2012.
Restoration of Possession of a Property Acquired through Adverse Possession
The 3 Judge bench observed very interestingly that a person who has acquired the property through the law of prescription (Adverse Possession) under the Limitation Act of 1963 could also file a suit for the restoration of possession of a property in case his right is infringed.
NGOs = 'Public Authority'
A two-judge bench held in the case of D.A.V College Trust and Management Society Vs Director of Public Instructions that the NGO's that are substantially financed by the government of any state, whether directly or indirectly, fall under the ambit of 'Public Authority' under section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005.
'Any Property' does not include 'Immovable Property'
The 3-judge bench resolving a time long confusion held that the police under Section 102 of CrPC does not have the power to attach the immovable property of any party. However, the bench made it clear that the words 'Any Property' in the section comprise movable property which can be frozen by the police.
Section 13 (2) of the Chhattisgarh Rent Control Act Unconstitutional
The Constitution Bench of the Apex Court held that the said section is violative of the constitutional provisions for not incorporating a provision that allows a direct appeal to the Supreme Court. The court further observed that a state cannot make any law that adversely affects the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
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