Week of January 4, 2021

The Court allows Central Vista construction to begin, a petition accuses Twitter of ideological bias, 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

Homemakers produce economic value

In Kirti & Anr v. Oriental Insurance Company, the Court considered the appropriate compensation for the living family of a couple that died in a motorcycle accident. In a concurring opinion, Justice Ramana considered the method for calculating the income of a homemaker. The opinion challenges the conventional thinking that housework, such as cleaning and cooking, is not considered economic activity. The opinion notes that calculating notional income for homemakers in compensatory damages cases should consider the "gendered nature of housework".[1]

The Court distances itself from palace gossip

Responding to reports that the Chief Justice was going to take action against another sitting Justice, the Court released a statement declaring that its in-house procedures are entirely confidential, and information concerning them will not be released. The reports claimed that Chief Justice Bobde was seeking an explanation from Justice Ramana, who was accused of influencing the Andhra Pradesh High Court's decisions in favor of the opposition Telegu Desam Party. 

CAN'T MISS THIS

The Court allows Central Vista construction to go ahead

In Rajeev Suri v. Union of India, the Court allowed the contested Central Vista project to go ahead. The construction will create a new Parliament building, a new residence for the Prime Minister and Vice President, along with various buildings to house India's expansive central government. 

December 7: The Court stays construction

Among other ways, the petitioners challenged the Delhi Development Authority's ("DDA") proposed change in land use, which would have enabled the relevant land to be earmarked for construction.[2] The petitioners also contended that the DDA did not provide adequate notice to the public.[3] The Court had to essentially decide whether the government followed procedural guidelines outlined in various statutes. 

The Court found that the Central Vista Committee's "No objection", the Delhi Urban Art Commission's approval, and the "prior approval" of the Heritage Conservation Committee was appropriate.[4] Equally, the Court found that the government use of its powers under the DDA Act was "just and proper" and the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change ("MOEF") clearance followed the relevant procedures lawfully.[5]

However, the Court did add a caveat: It asked the MOEF to direct setting up smog towers in future development clearances, especially in cities with bad air quality.[6]

The case was decided in a 2-1 vote, with Justice Khanna dissenting. Justice Khanna would have remitted the matter for public hearing.

PETITIONS

"Love jihad" challenges to be heard

The Court agreed to hear the challenges to the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance 2020 and Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018. During oral arguments on January 6, the Court declined to stay the provisions that made forced inter-faith marriage and conversion a punishable offense. The petitioners argue that asking the accused to prove their innocence goes against long-established jurisprudence. 

Introduce regulations for social media platforms

Here's a petition Donald Trump would like: Regulate biased social media platforms like Twitter. Seeking government guidelines, the petition accuses social media companies of bias against certain ideologies. Notably, the petitioner claims that Twitter "shadow bans many accounts which do not suit its ideological inclination."

STORIES WE'RE READING

A peek into stories behind petitioners are

Although we discuss petitions and consider their legal merits and possible impact, we don’t often get a chance to see the human stories that motivate petitioners to seek redress from the country's apex court. This article is about a same-sex couple seeking to establish a constitutional right to marry for all. Their case is pending before the Delhi High Court, where a favorable judgment is possible. However, the government has argued against instituting this right. The article notes the difficulties the couple has faced as a result of current law: They cannot set up joint bank accounts, transfer property rights, or enjoy similar rights afforded to heterosexual couples.

70% of Justices enjoy jobs after retirement

Former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi's appointment to the Rajya Sabha immediately after retirement raised many separation of powers concerns. The Chief Justice had taken on many important cases concerning the government, creating worries that future cushy government positions may influence the Court's decision-making. This article analyzes retired Justices since 1991, and concludes that 71% of them enjoyed jobs after mandatory retirement. At least 60% of these positions were direct government appointments or those in which the government had a say. However, simply banning judges from taking on government-related roles is not easy. Statutes that set up tribunals often require that former judges and government officials populate them. 


[1] Page 17 of concurrence[2] Page 13 of opinion[3] Page 29 of opinion[4] Page 422 of opinion[5]Id[6] Page 423-24 of opinion