Week of February 8, 2021

Intercaste marriages are "the way forward", anti-CAA activist's bail rejected, 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

Panel set up by the Court had warned of Uttarakhand flooding

Nearly 200 people are dead or missing as rescue operations continue following flooding in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. The flood occurred when debris falling from a melting glacier struck a small dam, which created more energy and later struck a larger, under-construction dam.  A panel set up by the Court had warned in 2014 of flooding and devastation of the like that befell Uttarakhand recently. The Court had asked the panel to study the effect of receding glaciers on dams in the Himalayas, who in turn warned that constructing dams was dangerous in an environment where climate change was accelerating glacier melt and causing landslides and avalanches. 

Court preserves India’s first aircraft carrier

An aircraft carrier is any Navy’s most precious asset. INS Viraat is a recently decommissioned aircraft carrier that for much of its operational history, was India’s only aircraft carrier. An older aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant was recently scrapped and sold for parts after serving a brief stint as a naval museum. A petition wanted to stay a “dismantling” of the ship and instead sought to convert it to a new maritime museum. This week, the Court granted the stay.

WhatsApp privacy issues continue

A petition is challenging WhatsApp’s new privacy policy that asks users to agree to sharing their data with third parties before using the service. The petitioner noted that the WhatsApp policy did not exist for EU users, and the Solicitor General stated that the policy must not continue. This week, the Court asked WhatsApp to make an oath in court that users’ private data is not being shared to third parties. The Chief Justice expressed concern over possible privacy violations and called it the Court’s duty to protect people’s privacy.

CAN’T MISS THIS

Inter-caste and inter-faith marriages are the way forward

Amidst pending cases challenging the constitutionality of anti-conversion laws in various states, the Court stated that inter-caste and inter-faith marriages are “the way forward”. In Laxmibai Chandragi v. State of Karnataka, the Court held that family consent was unnecessary after two adults agreed to marry. 

The case originated from Karnataka, where the father of the bride in an inter-caste marriage had filed a criminal complaint against the couple. The couple had married without the approval of their parents. The Justices commentedthat “Possibly, this is the way forward where caste and community tensions will reduce by such intermarriage but in the meantime, these youngsters face threats from the elders and the courts have been coming to [their] aid.”

The Court quoted Dr. Ambedkar, the architect of the Constitution, who believed that inter-caste marriages were the only way to abolish the caste system. The Court found the freedom to marry “within a core zone of privacy”. 

Aside from rejecting the criminal complaint, the Court also asked the police to train their officers to handle such socially sensitive issues. 

PETITIONS

Court rejects bail petition for anti-CAA activist

Akhil Gogoi was imprisoned by Guwahati police during violence resulting from anti-CAA protests last year. Mr. Gogoi pleaded that while his organization organized the protests, evidence did not indicate that he caused the three minor incidents associated with the protests that took place across Assam. Mr. Gogoi faces up to 12 charges and argued that his actions do qualify as terrorist activities. The Assam High Court rejected his bail application in January, and this week, the Court affirmed the decision. 

Court rejects petition requesting President’s Rule in Uttar Pradesh

In India, the central government can suspend elected state governments and institute “President’s Rule”, allowing the central government to administer a state through the President as their proxy. President’s Rule has been implemented many times throughout the Republic’s history. A petition asked the government to direct the Court to institute President’s rule in Uttar Pradesh, a state with more than 200 million people and a legitimately elected government. The petitioner argued lawlessness and rising crimes as reasons for his claim, citing statistics that showed Uttar Pradesh leading states in crime. The Court rejected the petition this week.

STORIES WE’RE READING

The Court & Twitter political wars

We’ve chronicled the Court’s intervention surrounding criticism levied on Twitter, most notably the Prashant Bhushan case last year. In discussing the Indian government’s request to delete tweets criticizing the government, this articleon the New York Times notes the Court’s own hostility to criticism on Twitter. The article cites the person whose contempt case ACW generously covered: Prashant Bhushan.  Twitter has acquiesced to the government’s recent requests and deleted more than 500 accounts accused of “making inflammatory remarks . . . [against the] . . . Prime Minister”. Check out our coverage of Twitter and the government from last week.

Former Chief Justice Gogoi taking his business elsewhere

Former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said he wouldn’t approach the Court to settle his grievances, citing the lengthy time in securing justice. The Rajya Sabha MP remarked that “You want a 5 trillion-dollar economy, but you have a ramshackled judiciary.” He suggested overhauling the judiciary, given India’s difficulties with delivering decisions and enforcing contracts. Mr. Gogoi’s remarks came when asked about approaching the Court after a politician suggested that Mr. Gogoi decided the Ayodhya case to secure a seat in Parliament.