Week of August 3, 2020

The Court saves a law student, "misplaced" files, Kashmir one year later, and goodbye fake news?

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 will also occasionally cover High Courts. We will 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. Sydney Eisenberg assisted with the research.

HOUSEKEEPING

Quotas referred to a constitutional bench

The Constitution (103rd Amendment) Act 2019 gave 10% reservations in jobs and education to the economically disadvantaged. Multiple petitions challenged the "quota" at the Court. On Wednesday (August 5), a three-Justice bench at the Court headed by Chief Justice Bobde referred the matter to a larger five judge Constitutional bench. This 2018 empirical overview [1] of the Court noted that only 1.3% of all cases were heard by a 5-Justice bench.

Take care of the elderly during the pandemic

That's what the Court told the Centre and States. A petition claimed that the elderly were not receiving priority treatment in government hospitals for COVID-19. Consistent with its intervention throughout  the pandemic, the Court issued a few more directions:

  • Everyone eligible for a pension should receive the pension[2]

  • States should[3] provide the elderly with "necessary medicines, masks, sanitizers and other essential goods " 

  •  Caretakers at old age homes should have PPE and sanitization[4]

Vijay Mallya files go missing

Some of you may have followed the Vijay Mallya saga over the years. Long story short, the billionaire got landed in legal trouble over his inability to pay debts. In 2017, the Court found Mr. Mallya guilty of contempt after he did not pay ₹90 billion ($1.2 billion) to his creditors. Mr. Mallya sought the judgment reviewed, but during a hearing on the matter on Thursday (August 6), a document relevant to the case was missing. Perhaps left with no other choice, Court scheduled a hearing in two weeks. 

CAN'T MISS THIS

Prashant Bhushan story escalates

Prashant Bhushan replied after the Court initiated proceedings against him following tweets criticizing the Court and the Chief Justice. In a 134-page affidavit, Mr. Bhushan defiantly doubled down on his criticism of the Court and cited Article 370 and the Citizenship Amendment Act as examples of the judiciary's failure. The reply affidavit followed a petition filed by Mr. Bhushan and economist Arun Shourie that challenged the constitutional validity of criminal contempt for "scandalizing the court".

The story does not end there. Mr. Bhushan filed an application on Thursday (August 6) seeking to separate the two tweets into two separate causes of action. According to the application, if the Court disagrees with Mr. Bhushan's arguments finding the contempt notice unsustainable, they may have to restart legal proceedings against him.

The Court looks after a law student

The University of Delhi did not share a law student's grades for two semesters with her because of inadequate attendance. She claimed that she could not attend because she was pregnant and later, a new mother. A Delhi High Court judgment[5] deferred to the University and denied the student's petition seeking a release of her grades. The Delhi High Court noted that courts would defer in such scenarios unless a "case of patent perversity is made out by the petitioners". However, the Delhi High Court did not find this case to be patently perverse. Instead, the Delhi High Court narrowly followed Rule 12 of the Rules of Legal Education of the Bar Council of India and denied relief.

On July 28, the Court stepped in and ordered the University of Delhi to release the grades.

Law students around the world know that grades are important to their careers. The Court certainly agrees. 

PETITIONS

Getting rid of fake news

petition chides the state of Indian news media today and seeks an independent regulatory authority to oversee the country's broadcast channels. Particularly, the petition notes that the Press Council of India does not have statutory authority to regulate broadcast channels.[6] According to the petition, the lack of regulation allows broadcast channels to masquerade as media. [7] On Friday, the Court asked the Centre to reply to the petition.

No China and Congress collusion

Alleged collusion between a political party and a foreign adversary isn't unique to the United States. We've covered a petition before the Court seeking an enquiry into a "Memorandum of Understanding" between Congress and the Chinese Communist Party. The Court dismissed the petition on Friday. While the Court asked the parties to approach the High Court first, the petitioner's advocate remarked that the case involved a matter of national security. During hearings, the Court bench noted that a political party entering into an agreement with China was "unheard in law". It is unclear whether the Court was referring to the Chinese Communist Party or the national Chinese government.

Former Bishop of the Roman Catholic Church to stand trial for rape

Bishop Franko Mulakkal (of the Jalandhar Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church) was accused of raping a nun in Kerala on 13 separate occasions. The Bishop petitioned the Court and sought dismissal of the case. He alleged that the nun falsely implicated him after he disciplined her for financial irregularities. On Wednesday, the Court dismissedthe petition. The dismissal clears the way for this trial.

STORIES WE'RE READING

Kashmir, one year later

We only recommend one topic this week: Kashmir. Last week marked the first anniversary of the Central Government's unilateral abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution. You can pick from this collection of articles from the Indian Express, including their editorial noting the Court's silence over the legality of the Government's actions. 

This article tracks the story of Kashmir since August 5, 2019. The Court's abstinence on the matter is a prominent theme.

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We appreciate your continuing interest in Apex Court Weekly and encourage you to engage with us in the comments section. Just as a heads up, Apex Court Weekly will be taking an end-of-the-(American) summer break starting with the Week of August 17, 2020. We will be back with the Week of September 2, 2020. 

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[1] Co-authored by Cornell India Law Center faculty director Sital Kalantry; [2] Dr. Ashwini Kumar v. Union of India and Ors., page 4 of order; [3]Id.; [4]Id.; [5] Ankita Meena v. University of Delhi; [6] Page E of petition; [7] Page G of petition