Week of July 20, 2020

Twitter squabbles reach the Court, the BCCI, and liquor home-delivery is still legal

Apex Court Weekly is a weekly round-up of judgments, petitions, orders and notices as they develop at the Indian Supreme 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. Pranjal Jain assisted with the research.

HOUSEKEEPING

All cramped up

You may have heard of the Indian Government's plans to build a new Parliament, which may include space for up to 900 Lok Sabha MPs (up from 545 current members).  In an affidavit filed before the Court, the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) noted that the current Parliament building suffers from serious safety concerns. The building:

  • Does not satisfy earthquake safety provisions[1]

  • Does not meet modern fire safety norms[2]

  • Does not have space for the expected expansion of MP numbers in 2026[3]

The affidavit also outlines some features that will replace the outdated Parliament building and expand existing government office space.

The Virtual Court continues

Last week we wrote that the Court will decide on whether to resume in-person hearings in August. On July 20, the Supreme Court Advocates-On-Record Association passed a resolution urging the Court to resume in-person hearings. On July 22, the Chief Justice reiterated that physical hearings would have to wait. A committee (because, of course) will decide on the matter. 

Last week's ACW

Encounter probes continue

We've covered the Vikas Dubey "encounter" that recently took place in Uttar Pradesh. However, "encounters" aren't just limited to India's most populous state. On Friday, the Court allowed an Inquiry Commission (led by retired Justice V.S. Sirpurkar) into an "encounter" in Andhra Pradesh to continue their work for another six months. Four individuals accused of raping a veterinarian were killed in an "encounter" in Hyderabad.

CAN’T MISS THIS

A Tweet storm

A few weeks ago, we covered the Court's frequent use of suo motu powers. 

This week, the Court used those powers to issue a contempt notice against one of the Court's most famous practicing lawyers: Prashant Bhushan.  Mr. Bhushan is guilty of an act many of us have committed: Criticizing public authority on social media. 

The Court took issue with some of Mr. Bhushan's tweets,[4] and said that the tweets undermine "the dignity and authority of the Institution of Supreme Court in general and the office of the Chief Justice of India in particular, in the eyes of public at large.[5]"

One of Mr. Bhushan's tweets offered a scathing critique of the Court. He accused the Court and four former Chief Justices of facilitating the end of Indian democracy. Ironically, Prashant Bhushan and the Court may be accusing each other for the same thing.

How's that?

After the 2013 spot-fixing cricket scandal, the Court became a third umpire of sorts over Indian cricket administration. For better or worse, the Court's hands-on management of Indian cricket remains a continuing affair. Two important matters are pending before the Court. 

The first is from the country's Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). The CAG asked the Court to excuse the office from nominating an officer to BCCI's[6] Apex Council. While the CAG nominee is the only independent officer on the Council, the CAG argues that the Council seat prevents them from independently performing their primary function: Financial oversight of the BCCI and state cricket associations.

The second matter involves BCCI President and former India captain, Sourav Ganguly. Since December, the BCCI has repeatedly asked the Court to examine proposed amendments to BCCI's constitution. The current constitution allows the president and secretary to serve two conservative terms before stepping down. However,  a term at a state association is included in that calculation. The amendments propose allowing the president and secretary to serve two consecutive terms at the BCCI.

Because Mr. Ganguly served at the West Bengal Cricket Association, he will soon have to step down as president if the Court does not approve the proposed amendments. On Wednesday, the Court agreed to hear the petitions in two weeks.

PETITIONS

Dismissals 

We use this section to sometimes give space to the variety of original petitions that are a distinct feature of the Court. We covered a petition asking the Court to direct the government to create national yoga guidelines. Well, the Court has already dismissed the yoga policy petition. 

The Court dismissed another petition that sought a ban against the home delivery of liquor.  Interestingly, the petition was filed by the Maharashtra Wine Merchants Association. We’re wondering they’re concerned for your health, or just want you to try a glass of red instead of drinking liquor. 

No Country for Chinese e-commerce 

Buying products at stores allow us to feel the product’s texture. If we look close enough, we can even see the country where the product was manufactured. However, we do not have that luxury when buying online. That is the argument a petition makes[7] while seeking the Court to direct e-commerce websites to list the “country of origin" alongside the products they sell.[8] The petition expressly alludes to the Sino-Indian clash in Ladakh and alleges that the entire country is collectively boycotting Chinese products.[9] The petition alleges that the e-commerce companies are acting unpatriotically by not including "country of origin" besides every product.[10] The Court agreed to hear the case on Friday.

STORIES WE’RE READING

In full force 

India's Consumer Protection Act, 2019 came into force this week. This article discusses the Act's features and broad scope. Some of the Act's features include:  A new consumer protection agency, a mediation mechanism for disputes, no fees for filing cases up to ₹500,000, provisions on product liability, and creating consumer protection councils. The Act addresses e-commerce, a burgeoning industry in India. 

Protect your data

India's new Data Protection Bill, introduced in 2019, still awaits Parliamentary approval.  This article discusses the current statute (the Information Technology Act, 2000) governing data breaches and argues that the statute needs an upgrade. One may reasonably see that legislation on data protection from 2000 is outdated. However, in the latest episode of the Cornell India Law Center's podcast, A Law in Common: India and the United States, the Atlantic Council’s Justin Sherman highlights some serious issues with the new Data Protection Bill. 

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[1] Page 3 of affidavit; [2] Page 4 of affidavit; [3] Page 4 of affidavit; [4] Pages 1-2 of notice; [5] Page 2 of notice; [6] Board of Control for Cricket in India; [7] Page 4 of petition; [8] Page 6 of petition; [9] Page 4 of petition; [10] Pages 4-5 of petition