The Most Important Judgements Of 2020 - Part 1

The year 2020 has brought immense changes in all of the things around us. Be it our lifestyle or be it the legal aspect of life. This year has brought in several changes in various Indian Laws. Few were amended and few were replaced or rules out. Interestingly the year has also brought forward certain landmark judgments. The Judgments might change the legal reasoning and application.

Read on to find out the judgments that have been put forward this year!

1. Anuradha Bhasin vs. UOI

The Supreme Court of India passed a judgment that an indefinite suspension of internet services would not be legal under the Indian legal system and that orders for internet shutdown must satisfy the tests of necessity and proportionality. The case concerned the internet and movement restrictions imposed in the Jammu and Kashmir region in India on August 4, 2019, under the tag of protecting public order. In the end, the Court did not lift the internet restrictions. But it directed the government to review the shutdown orders against the tests outlined in its judgment and lift those that were not necessary or did not have a temporal limit. The Court reiterated that freedom of expression online enjoyed Constitutional protection, but could be restricted in the name of national security. The Court held that though the Government was empowered to impose a complete internet shutdown, any order(s) imposing such restrictions had to be made public and was definitely a subject to judicial review.

2. Sushila Aggarwal & Ors. Vs. State (NCT of Delhi)

The Court had to present a decision on two main problem areas in the recent Sushila Aggarwal (2020) case-
Should there be a fixed time period to seek anticipatory Bail, to enable a person to surrender before the Trial Court and seek regular Bail? Also, should the life of anticipatory Bail end at the time of summoning by the Court?

Can Courts impose any conditions while granting such Bail or not?

The Supreme Court (SC) in the Sushila Aggarwal v. State of NCT of Delhi (2020) case presented an extremely vital verdict, ruling that no time limit can be set while granting anticipatory Bail and it shall continue even until the end of the trial. The Court had referred to India’s freedom movement claiming that arbitrary arrests, indefinite detentions, and lack of institutional safeguards played an important role in rallying the people to raise the demand for Independence.

3. SK Md Raffique vs. Managing Committee

The challenged provisions of the 2008 Act bound the managing committee of aided Madrasas to appoint teachers nominated by the Commission constituted under the particular Act.

Notably, Section 12 prescribed the penal consequences that would follow upon the failure of the managing committee to appoint the nominated teachers within a reasonable time and without any reasonable ground. Such penal measures included dissolving the managing committee, stopping the grant of financial aid, and withdrawal of government affiliation.
These provisions were challenged back in 2013 before the Calcutta High Court as violative of the rights of minority institutions under Article 30 of the Constitution of India.

A Single Bench of the High Court allowed the challenge and found the provisions to be unconstitutional. An appeal filed by some candidates who were nominated by the Commission to Madrasas was subsequently dismissed by a Division Bench of the High Court, prompting a further appeal before the Supreme Court.

4. Shilpa Mittal vs. State of NCT of Delhi

The deceased in the vehicle accident was the brother of the appellant. The Juvenile, at the time of occurrence, was above 16 years and below 18 years of age. The Juvenile Justice board held that the juvenile 'X' had committed a heinous offense, hence, should be tried as an adult. The appeal filed to the children's Court was also dismissed. After that, the juvenile 'X' through his mother approached the High Court of Delhi, which held that no minimum sentence has been prescribed for the offense that had occurred. Further, it was stated that the said offense does not fall within the ambit of section 2(33) of the Juvenile Justice ( Care and Protection ) Act, 2015. Now, the appeal was filed by the sister of the deceased in the Supreme Court.

Sections 2(33), 2(45), and 2(54) respectively define Heinous, Petty, and Serious offenses. Heinous offenses are those for which punishment prescribed is a minimum of 7 years or more in IPC or any act time being in force.

Counsel for the appellant, Siddharth Luthra pointed out to the Court that 4th category of offenses have been left out by the Juvenile Justice Act for which the minimum sentence is less than 7 years, or no minimum sentence is prescribed, but the maximum sentence can be more than 7 years which included homicide not amounting to murder (offense of present case). He persuaded the Court to remove the word 'minimum' from the definition of heinous offenses so that all offenses except for petty and serious would fall under the heading of 'heinous offenses' Furthermore, he stated that if the fourth category of offenses was left out, it would result in absurdity which could not have been the intention of the legislature.

The Court assented to Mr. Luthra's submission but reasoned that it was not the duty of the Court to fill in the gap and correct it. The Court stated that it could add or subtract words from a statute when the intention of the legislature is clear. However, in cases where the purpose of the legislature is unclear, the Court cannot add or subtract words to give meaning which the Court feels would fit into the scheme of things. The Court was interpreting a statute that must be interpreted as per its language and intent.

The purpose of the Act of 2015 is to ensure that children who come in conflict with the law are dealt with separately and not like adults. When the language of the section is clear where it prescribes a minimum of 7 years imprisonment while dealing with heinous offenses then we cannot wish away the word 'minimum'.

The Court disposed of the appeal by answering the issue and holding that an offense that does not provide a minimum sentence of 7 years cannot be treated as a heinous offense. However, the Act does not deal with the fourth category of offenses, i.e., offense where the maximum sentence is more than seven years imprisonment, but no minimum sentence or a minimum sentence of fewer than seven years is provided, shall be treated as 'serious offenses' within the meaning of the Act and dealt with accordingly till the Parliament takes the call on the matter.

5. Pratvi Raj Chouhan vs. UOI

In this case, the constitutional validity of section 18-A of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act,2018 was questioned by the petitioners.

The petition was filed on the ground that section 18-A of the said Act nullifies the decision of Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. The State of Maharashtra &anr. Here, the court held that the provisions of the Prevention of Atrocities Act were misused.

The court had put forward in the court of law several safeguards in the Kashinath Mahajan case but the parliament overturned these safeguards by the amendment in the Act.

The safeguards are given in this case were-

  • Conduct of preliminary inquiry before registration of First Information Report
  • The investigating officer should receive approval before the arrest.
  • Anticipatory bail to accused, notwithstanding any judgment or order or direction of any court.
  • This amendment has diluted the effect of Kashinath Mahajan. Kashinath Mahajan Judgement was intended to prevent the people from abusing the Act.
  • After the passing of Kashinath Mahajan, the parliament took a step to undo the judgment as it causes so much violence and protest by the Dalits and Adivasis group and placed the amendment bill in the parliament.
  • A review petition challenging the Kashinath Mahajan judgment was filed before the Supreme Court of India.

In response to the notice, the central government file affidavit and stated that-

The legislature is competent to make changes through the process of

  • A large number of acquittal cases under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities Act) does not indicate the cases to be fake.
  • Several petitions were filed challenging the 2018 Amendment.
  • After hearing before the three-judge bench, the court upheld the constitutional validity of the 2018 Amendment.

In this case, the three-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India has upheld the Constitutional validity of section 18-A of “The Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act,2018” and had nullified the effect of the Kashinath Mahajan case. The court held that the directions given in the Kashinath Mahajan case had placed an unnecessary burden upon people of Scheduled Caste and Schedule Tribes.

While dealing with the section 18-A of the Act, the court said that while looking into the provision of section 18 concerning the preliminary inquiry before registration of FIR, the inquiry is permissible only in conditions laid down in Lalita Kumari v. Government of U.P.

Court further held that no anticipatory bail to be given for offenses under SC/ST Amendment Act. In the concurring opinion, Justice Ravindra Bhat observed that anticipatory bail can only be given in exceptional cases and not in every case. The court had earlier observed that the anticipatory bail can only be granted where there is no prima facie case under the SC/SCT Act.
Justice Ravindra Bhat while delivering judgment also states about equal treatment of all citizens and fostering the idea of fraternity because the concept of fraternity is as important as the personal liberty of a person.
Court further held that if an accused is a public servant, the arrest can only be made after the approval of appointing authority and if the accused is a non-public servant, the arrest can be made after the permission of Senior Superintended of Police.

6. The Secretary Ministry of Defence vs. Babita Puniya & Ors.

In February 2003, Babita Puniya, a practicing advocate, filed a writ petition like public interest litigation at Delhi High Court, seeking permanent commission for female officers recruited through SSC in the army, at par with their male counterparts. Many other women officers (both air and army officers) separately filed a petition for the same.
Later, in the ending months of 2005, the Ministry of Defence issued a notification extending the validity of the appointment scheme of the Indian Army for the women officers. In 2006 a further notification was issued allowing the SCC women officers to serve for a maximum of 14 years. Major Leena Gaurav again filed a writ petition on 16th October 2006 primarily to challenge the conditions of service imposed by the circulars previously in that year and also seeking the permanent commission for the women officers. In 2007 Lt Col Seema Singh for the same issue moved to the court.

In February 2019 the government put forward guidelines that permanent commission will be granted to the women officers but prospectively and commissioned that only those women will be eligible who commissioned after this order is notified keeping the serving officers out of the ambit of the permanent commission. It granted a permanent commission to new SSC officers in eight combat roles.

The Supreme Court bench led by Justice D.Y Chandrachud challenged the notions given by the Union and stated that they are entrenched in stereotypical assumptions of ascribed gender roles for women. Moreover, it is a clear violation of their fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution of India. He said that although Article 33 of the Indian Constitution did allow for restrictions on Fundamental Rights in armed forces it is also clearly mentioned that it could be restricted only to the extent that it was necessary to ensure the proper discharge of duty and maintenance of discipline.

7. Indore Development Authority vs. Manoharlal & Ors.

In March 2019, the Supreme Court formed a Constitution Bench to examine the correctness of two 3 judge Bench decisions dealing with lapsing land acquisition due to compensation disputes.

By a 2:1 judgment in Indore Development Authority, the Court held that land acquisitions could not lapse due to a landowner's refusal to accept compensation within 5 years. It held that once compensation has been tendered, but the person refuses to accept it, this amounts to a discharge of obligation under section 31(1) of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. Also, the majority of judges - Justices Mishra and AK Goel held the previous 2014 Pune Municipal Corporation judgment to be ‘per incuriam’, while Justice Shantanagoudar dissented.

On 4 March 2020, the five-judge Bench overturned Pune Municipal Corporation and held that land acquisition proceedings cannot lapse merely due to a failure to pay compensation to landowners. It held that a lapse will only occur if the State also fails to take physical possession of the land. Further, it held that payment does not require the State to deposit money in a landowner's account - tendering compensation is sufficient. Justice Mishra authored the judgment.
The judgment does not address the issue of whether a Bench can set aside a judgment of an earlier Bench of the same strength.

8. Nirbhaya Case

“Nirbhaya” is the pseudonym used for the rape victim of the infamous 16 December 2012 Delhi gang-rape incident. On just another chilly December night in Delhi, Nirbhaya and her friend were returning from a movie theatre, they were waiting for a bus. One of the would-be culprits convinced them to get on an empty bus with tinted windows. They were assaulted by six males, one of whom was a minor, aged 17.

The friend, when he tried to protect Nirbhaya, was beaten up by the perpetrators. Nirbhaya was not just sexually violated, her body was mutilated beyond human imagination. Her intestines were pulled out, and private parts mutilated. She later died of multiple organ failure, internal bleeding, and cardiac arrest on the 29th of December.

All the six men in the Nirbhaya rape case, including the juvenile, were convicted by the court. All the accused were identified as Ram Singh, Mukesh Singh, Vinay Gupta, Pawan Gupta, Akshay Thakur, and a juvenile. Ram Singh, the bus driver, committed suicide on March 11, 2013, in Tihar Jail during the trial. The minor was tried separately in a juvenile court and given the maximum sentence of three years' imprisonment in a reform facility. In September 2013, the trial court had awarded capital punishment to Mukesh, Akshay, Pawan, and Vinay. Subsequently, the three convicts besides Akshay had sought review of the judgment but it was dismissed. The order on the review petition filed by Akshay was dismissed by the Supreme Court on December 18, 2019.

9. Alembic Pharmaceutical Ltd. vs. Rohit Prajapati

In the case of Alembic Pharmaceuticals Ltd. v. Rohit Prajapati & Ors., the Supreme Court bench comprising of Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice Ajay Rastogi set aside the National Green Tribunal (NGT) direction for the closure of the industries and directed them to pay Rs 10 crores compensation each.

The case pertained to the following industries which were engaged in the manufacture of pharmacy The bench stated that the direction for closure was disproportionate and allowed the resumption of operations by the industries on condition of payment of the compensation.

The Apex Court upheld the 2016 order of the National Green Tribunal setting aside a circular issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests which envisaged the grant of post facto ECs.

The Court agreed with the NGT's finding that the circular was unsustainable in law. The circular allowed industries which had commenced operations without obtaining EC in terms of the Environment Impact Assessment notification of 1994 to obtain the same by an extended date in 2003.

In this regard, the bench followed the decision of the Court in Common Cause vs Union of India, which held that ECs cannot be granted post-facto.

The Court directed the defaulting industries to pay compensation by referring to the powers under Article 142 of the Constitution of India.

The amount should be deposited with GPCB and it shall be duly utilized for restoration and remedial measures to improve the quality of the environment in the industrial area in which the industries operate
In conclusion, the Hon'ble Court held that the concept of 'ex post facto' Environmental Clearance (EC) is against the fundamental principles of environmental jurisprudence. cuticles and bulk drugs in the industrial area of Ankleshwar in Gujarat.

10. Internet and Mobile Association of India vs. RBI

On 6 April 2018, the RBI had issued a Circular that prohibited banks and other entities regulated by it from both dealing in VCs, as well as from providing services to any individual or entity dealing with or settling VCs. The effect of the prohibition was that exchanges through which VCs were traded could no longer maintain and operate a bank account, thereby putting an end to the business of VC trading that required conversion from fiat currencies using formal banking channels. Pertinently, at the time the Circular was issued, there was no legislative ban on the use and trading of VCs in India, and by the RBI’s proscription, VCs were ring-fenced from the formal economy.

The Circular was based on the RBI’s concerns that VCs were prone to hacking; that there could be speculation on account of there being no underlying asset and the resultant volatility could lead to significant losses; and that VCs could potentially lead to money laundering and terrorist financing. Interestingly, before issuing the Circular, the RBI had, since 2013, only issued cautionary press notes setting out the same concerns. At the time the Circular was issued, the RBI did not highlight any new risk.
The Court accepted the submission and held that the Circular was disproportionate because none of the RBI’s regulated entities had ‘suffered any loss or adverse effect directly or indirectly, on account of the interface that the VC exchanges had with any of them’. Furthermore, by relying on the regulatory approaches in other jurisdictions, the Court held that there were alternative regulatory means through which the RBI could have achieved its stated objectives. The thrust of the Court’s conclusion in this regard was that regulation would be a more proportionate response than prohibition.

11. Shivraj Singh Chouhan vs. Speaker MP Legislative Assembly & Ors.

The bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta, JJ has held that the Madhya Pradesh Governor was right in ordering floor tests after the State Government lost majority. The bench said,

“in a situation where the Governor has reasons to believe that the Council of Ministers headed by the Chief Minister has lost the confidence of the House, constitutional propriety requires that the issue be resolved by calling for a floor test. The Governor in calling for a floor test cannot be construed to have acted beyond the bounds of constitutional authority.”
In a detailed judgment, the Court also explained the scope of the power of the Governor and the law revolving around floor tests.
On the timing of directing a trust vote

The Court explained that in directing a trust vote, the Governor does not favor a particular political party and that it is inevitable that the specific timing of a trust vote may tilt the balance towards the party possessing a majority at the time the trust vote is directed. The Court, however, added,

“where the evidence indicates that circumstances of violence and coercion exist that would undermine a free and fair vote in the assembly, the Governor and the court must take measures to ensure that the sanctity of the trust vote is maintained.”
It, hence, held that in the present case there existed no extraordinary circumstances for the Governor to determine that a trust vote was not the appropriate course of action on 16 March 2020.

12. Chebrolu Leela Prasad Rao vs. State of AP & Ors.

The Governor in the exercise of powers under Para 5(1), Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, can exercise the powers concerning any particular Act of the Parliament or the legislature of the State. The Governor can direct that such law shall not apply to the Scheduled Areas or any part thereof. The Governor is empowered to apply such law to the Scheduled Area or any part thereof in the State subject to such exceptions and modifications as he may specify in the notification and can also issue a notification with retrospective effect.

The judgment was laid down according to the law laid down in the Indra Sawhney case. Senior Advocate Dr. Rajeev Dhawan, counsel for the respondent, in this case, has rightly said that there is a need to revise the reservation list of Scheduled Tribes. The Government is duty-bound to revise the lists. These lists must be revised after a uniform period of time so that the benefits trickle down to the needy and are not usurped by those classes who have come up after obtaining the benefits for the last 70 years or after their inclusion in the list.

By reserving seats for Scheduled Tribes as per the Constitutional mandates will not alone uplift them, but by adopting measures such as giving incentives through a specific Government scheme and informing them about their rights and freedoms which are guaranteed to them under the Constitution will uplift them in a much effective way. Its high time to fulfill the dream of our founding fathers of the Constitution of achieving social and economic equality by uplifting the Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes, and Other Backward Classes of the country socially, economically, and educationally.

 

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Ishita Desai Online
on 02 January 2021
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