Week of April 12, 2021

Another round of COVID updates, the Court punts on the BCCI case (again), and more!

Apex Court Weekly is a weekly round-up of judgments, petitions, orders and notices as they develop at the Supreme Court of India (“the Court”). We also occasionally cover High Courts. We cover some stories that gather national attention and some that should. This update is written by Rahul Srivastava, J.D. candidate at Cornell Law School, and supported by the Cornell India Law Center.

HOUSEKEEPING

Mandatory COVID test to enter the Court

Although the Court began hybrid hearings earlier this year, the current COVID surge gripping the country has made the Court introduce measures to contain the spread of the virus. Anyone entering the Court must be tested for COVID. However, there’s a caveat: only those with symptoms need to be tested. Given that a significant portion of COVID cases are asymptomatic, this could open the door for spread. The Court issued additional guidelines for social distancing and mask wearing, including restricting elevator access to three people at a time and only for going up.

How’s that?

We’ve covered the Court’s dispute with the BCCI’s principal officers Sourav Ganguly and Jay Shah. Messrs. Shah and Ganguly have argued to stay on the Court for longer than the Court-approved BCCI constitution permits, citing their right to amend the constitution. In December, the Court had punted its decision on the issue into the new year. This week, the Court adjourned the case for another two weeks. 

CAN’T MISS THIS

As cases surge, a COVID update from the Court

Given the Court’s role in filling up India’s governance vacuum, plenty of administrative directions on COVID come from the Court since the pandemic’s early days last year. Going back to our first edition, we’ve periodically covered COVID updates at the Court. It’s time for another one. 

Although India is vaccinating more people than almost any other country, the surge in cases, India’s large population, and vast experience with mass immunizations has left many people clamoring for a significant expansion of the vaccine rollout. To that effect, a petition is asking the Court to give vaccines to everyone over the age of 18. Calling the vaccine restrictions an infringement on the rights to health and life, the petitioner argues that expanding vaccine access to younger people is necessary to curb India’s exploding second wave. However, the issue has been put to rest without the Court’s intervention. On April 19th, the government announced that everyone 18 years or older will be eligible for a vaccine from May 1.  

Another petition asks the Court to intervene at the mass gatherings taking place during the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar. Hundreds of thousands of people attend Kumbh Mela, where they do not follow safety guidelines like mask wearing and social distancing. The petition notes that more than 1000 people tested positive in Haridwar between April 13 and 14. The petitioner also criticizes both the central and Uttarakhand governments for facilitating the gathering by organizing trains to Haridwar. 

The petitioner also cites election rallies in West Bengal as potential super-spreader events. For both Kumbh Mela and the election rallies, the petitioner the Court to intervene and stop the events. Former Union Minister Ashwani Kumar wrote to the Chief Justice this week and asked for a similar intervention from the Court. His letter asks the Court to direct the central and state governments to restrict political rallies, religious congregations, and protests from exceeding 50 people. He also asked the Court to restrict vaccine exports. 

Despite the Court’s efforts to mitigate spread, Justice Shah’s entire staff tested positive this week.

PETITIONS

Petitioner fined ₹50k for asking the Court to remove verses from the Quran

Former chairman of the Shia Waqf Board Syed Waseem Rizvi petitioned the Court to remove 26 verses from the Quran, arguing that they threatened the country’s “sovereignty, unity, and integrity”. The Court initially advised the petitioner’s lawyer from proceeding with the case, who responded that unregulated education at Madrassas needed the Court’s attention. Calling the petition “absolutely frivolous”, the Court dismissed the case and levied a ₹50k sanction on Mr. Rizvi.

Court to hear on Rafale corruption case

A new petition seeks the Court’s inquiry into alleged corruption in the purchase of French-made Rafale fighter jets. The petition comes in light of a French news report that a middleman received a kickback worth €1.11 million as part of the deal. The petitioner alleged corruption at the Court in 2015 and again in 2019. Both petitions were dismissed. The Court agreed to hear this petition in two weeks.

STORIES WE’RE READING

Outgoing Chief Justice Bobde: Time for a female Chief Justice

Hearing a petition seeking increased female representation in the judiciary, the Chief Justice remarked that “the time has come when a woman should be Chief Justice of India”. While the petitioner cited that women comprise an abysmal 11.4% of the higher judiciary, the Chief Justice declared that every collegium considers women for appointment. The Collegium appoints judges to India’s higher judiciary in a process often criticized for lack of transparency. During the hearing, the bench suggested that domestic responsibilities are often holding women back from elevation. 

Rohingya ruling: Against international law

This article argues that the Court’s decision to reject the release of Rohingya refugees in Jammu goes against India’s binding international law commitments. The article notes that the refugees were detained despite possessing UNHCR refugee cards. The police stepped into these refugee camps and separated families by detaining men, women, and the elderly. Only children were left behind. Citing India’s acceptance of Afghani, Sri Lankan, and Tibetan refugees, the authors allege that the Rohingya refugees were treated differently because they are Muslim. The authors criticize the Court for agreeing with the government’s contention that the refugees are an internal security threat.