Despite immense pressure of pending cases due to the pandemic, the Supreme Court had delivered a few landmark judgments on diverse issues such as freedom of the press, equality, legislative competence, matrimonial, sexual crimes, etc. This article will discuss some critical judgments passed by the Supreme Court in 2021.
Vikas Kishan Rao Gawali Vs. State of Maharashtra – OBC reservations cannot be more than 50%.
Brief Facts: In this case, a writ petition was filed under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution, seeking to declare that the Section 12(2)(c) of the Maharashtra Zilla Parishad and Panchayat Samitis Act, 1961 (number of seats to be reserved for people belonging to backward class) is ultra vires to the provisions of Article 243D (reservation of seats in favour of backward class for occupying seats in panchayats) and Article 243T (reservation of seats in municipalities) including Article 14 and 16 of the Indian Constitution. It also challenged the validity of the State Election Commission’s notification that provided more than 50% reservation in Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis and requested it to be quashed.
Judgment: The Court had put forward that Section 12(1)(c) of the Maharashtra Zilla Parishad and Panchayat Samitis Act, 1961 can be invoked only if the State fulfils the triple test/conditions before reserving seats in local bodies of OBC:
a) Set up a Commission to conduct an inquiry regarding the nature and implications of backwardness as local bodies within the State;
b) To specify the proportion of reservations based on recommendations made by the Commission; and
c) Reservation should not be more than 50% of the seats reserved for SCs, STs, or OBC.
The Court had also quashed and set aside the notification passed by the State Election Commission and ordered that the follow-up steps taken based on the recommendation of the Commission, such as the declaration of results of the candidates in the local bodies, which are against the OBC seats are declared non-est in law, and the seats should be kept vacant. It had further ordered the State Election Commission to announce an election for the vacant seats within two weeks from the date of judgment.
Aparna Bhat Vs. State of Madhya Pradesh – Madhya Pradesh High Court’s Judgement that prescribed tying of Rakhi as a condition for bail was set aside.
Brief Facts: In this case, Adv Aparna Bhat, along with other advocates, filed a petition against the order of the Madhya Pradesh High Court, where in a sexual assault case, the accused was ordered to visit the victim’s home on Raksha Bandhan along with a Rakhi and get it tied by the victim as a condition for bail. The accused was a neighbour of the victim. He entered the victim’s house and attempted to sexually harass her, for which an FIR was filed. Consequently, the accused had filed an anticipatory bail application under Section 438 of CrPC. Hence, the Madhya Pradesh Court had imposed a condition of tying a Rakhi as a condition for bail. This raised the question of whether imposing conditions for bail is acceptable or not and what impact a compromise can have on the victim.
Judgment: The Supreme Court had quashed the order passed by the Madhya Pradesh High Court and put forward guidelines in dealing with sexual crimes.
The guidelines laid down by the Court are as follows:
a) Condition of bail should not require or permit or order the accused and victim to come in contact. The condition should only protect the victim from being harassed further;
b) If there is an apprehension of the threat of harassment or if the Court believes that there might be a threat to the victim, then the Court should get the police report about the nature of protection required to be given to the victim and direct the accused not to contact the victim;
c) The victim should be informed if the accused is granted bail, and a copy of the bail order should be given to the victim within two days;
d) The bail conditions and orders should be in accordance with the Code of Criminal Procedure. They should not reflect any stereotype or patriarchal opinion about women.
e) The Court should not attempt to entertain any opinion or suggest any compromise between the accused and victim to get married, or any other form of compromise, as it is beyond the Court’s jurisdictions and powers;
f) The judges should display sensitivity towards the issue and ensure that the prosecutrix or victim is not traumatized during the arguments or proceedings.
g) The judges should not use words (oral or written) that would shake or undermine the confidence of the victim or survivor while being fair or impartial in the Court.
Moreover, the Court had directed the National Judicial Academy to inculcate gender sensitization in the training of young judges. Further, the Court had also directed the Bar Council of India to add gender sensitization in the LLB curriculum and compulsory subjects in the All India Bar Examination syllabus. The High Court should also formulate a module on judicial sensitivity to sexual offenses, which should be tested in the Judicial Service Examination.
Kerala Union of Working Journalists Vs. Union of India – Fundamental Right to Life also embraces undertrial unconditionally.
Brief Facts: In this case, Sidhique Kappan, a journalist, and member of the Kerala Union of Working journalists was arrested without serving any notice or order as stated under Section 107 of the CrPC. The detenu and his associates were going to Hathras (UP) to cover the report on the gang rape and murder of a young girl. The Petitioner had filed a writ of habeas corpus seeking the release of the detenu on bail owing to the deteriorating health conditions of the detenu.
Judgment: The Court held that the fundamental right to life also applies to the undertrials and that the detenu should be given adequate medical treatment. It was further held that once the detenu is declared fit by the doctor, he should be shifted back to jail.
Vikas Kumar Vs. Union Public Service Commission – Judgement declaring that persons with 40% visual/hearing disability should be excluded from judicial service is not a binding precedent anymore.
Brief Facts: In this case, the appellant had a dysgraphia disability, also known as Writer’s Cramp. He had done MBBS from the Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Instruction and Research. The appellant appeared for Civil Service Examination (CSE) to pursue his career in civil services. To enable the appellant to appear for a written test, the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) provided him with a scribe. To get the service of a scribe, the appellant had declared himself as a person with a locomotor disability in the application form for CSE. However, the CSE Rules 2018 issued by the Department of Personnel and Training had stated that people with at least 40% disability would be provided with a scribe. The appellant contended that he had a benchmark disability of 40% or more. However, the UPSC rejected the appellant’s request.
Judgment: The Court held that denying the scribe service to the appellant takes away the rights and entitlement recognized by the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016. Hence, the Court rejected the ‘benchmark disability’ and declared that the appellant is entitled to get the scribe facility for appearing before CSE or any other competitive examinations. The Court had directed the Union Government to frame policies and guidelines for granting scribe facilities to people with disabilities.
Case V: Union of India Vs. KA Najeeb – Undertrial accused under UAPA cases who have been subject to prolonged imprisonment can get bail.
Brief Facts: In this case, the respondent, along with other members of the Popular Front of India, attacked and chopped off the right palm of a professor who had included an objectionable question in a question paper that had hurt the sentiments of a particular religion. The respondent had filed a bail application before the Special Court and High Court to seek leniency on the ground that he had limited involvement in the offence and that other co-accused had been acquitted or granted bail.
Judgment: Keeping in view that the trial has not been started and the respondent has been in custody for four years, the Court granted bail to the respondent. The Court held that the respondent, an undertrial, could not be kept in custody for so long when the trial had not been started. This would be prejudicial to the respondent as it violates Part III of the Indian Constitution.
Case VI: M/s Imperia Structures Ltd. Vs. Anil Patni – Homebuyers can choose between Consumer Protection Act and RERA.
Brief Facts: In this case, the homebuyers had approached the National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission (“NCDRC”) to file a complaint under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 for unfair trade practices and deficient services that led to a delay in handing over the possession of the apartment. Therefore, Imperia Structure (Respondent) challenged the NCDRC’s jurisdiction to take the complaints relating to delay in possession as it came under the RERA’s purview and had further contended that the homebuyers had bought the property for commercial purposes; therefore, they cannot be treated as consumers under Consumer Protection Act.
Judgment: The Court upheld the decision of NCDRC. The Court had also stated that Consumer Protection Act and RERA (Real Estate Regulatory Authority) are two different legislations. Even though the matter is referred to as RERA, the consumer forum also has the jurisdiction to take cases. The homebuyers are considered ‘consumers’ under the Consumer Protection Act as the main objective of the Consumer Protection Act is to safeguard the interest of the consumers and address their grievances. Section 79 of RERA has provided for the jurisdiction of the Civil Courts only.
In contrast, the consumer forum is not a civil court. The Court further observed that Section 18 of RERA does not restrict any person from claiming other remedies, and Section 88 and 89 of RERA state that the RERA laws are available in addition to other laws. Hence, a person cannot be compelled to withdraw his complaint from other forums.
Some Notable Mentions
Some of the other vital judgments passed by the Supreme Court are no extra chance for UPSC exams, two Indian parties can select a foreign seat of arbitration, the media’s freedom to report Court hearings, a private vehicle would constitute a public place during COVID-19 regulations, allowed the courts to order House-arrest under Section 167 CrPC in appropriate cases. The Court also declared the Maharashtra State Socially and Economically Backward Class (SEBC) Act, 2018, unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has also directed the Central Government to install CCTV cameras at all police stations and central agencies. The Court has highlighted the role of tribunals in some instances for reducing the burden on the Indian judiciary. It struck down some provisions which interfered with the independence of the tribunals. The Court has also stressed the issues of free and fair elections. And not to forget, the Court had also invalidated the FIR filed against a journalist for sedition as it highlighted the value of freedom of the press in a democratic country.