Week of July 27, 2020
A petition wants the Constitution's preamble corrected, a criminal case over turmeric takes 38 years, 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 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.
In ACW's first edition, we highlighted the Court's heavy-handed role in managing the COVID-19 pandemic. You can read some of the instructions the Court gave the Centre. On July 27, the Court noted that the Centre issued directions to its offices to comply with the Court's orders but did not produce evidence showing actual compliance. The Court asked both States and the Centre to produce evidence within two weeks showing compliance with the Court's directions.
CAN’T MISS THIS
An acquittal 38 years later
We've written about the incredible delays in criminal appeals in the Indian judiciary. For example, more than 14,000 criminal appeals have been pending for more than 30 years before some of India's High Courts.
We thought it may be interesting to show the long criminal justice process unfold. In 1982, a shopkeeper in Haryana was accused of selling adulterated haldi (turmeric).  A food inspection allegedly revealed worms in his product.While the defendant was accused in 1982, the trial court acquitted him in 1995. In 2009, High Court reversed the judgment and the defendant was sentenced to seven months in prison and ordered to pay Rs. 2500 in fines. Interestingly, the defendant's lawyer did not appear before the High Court. This week, in Prem Chand v. State of Haryana, the Court acquitted the defendant and reversed the High Court's judgment.
The Court disposed of the case quickly, doubting the validity of the Inspector's report that produced the criminal case. The Court also noted that prosecution did not meet the evidentiary burden required under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954.
Rajasthan Crisis reaches the Court
Congress's chief whip in Rajasthan, Mahesh Joshi, approached the Court to challenge the Rajasthan High Court's order effectively staying the disqualification proceedings against Sachin Pilot and other rebel Congress MLAs. The petition argues that the order is beyond the High Court's jurisdiction and adds that a prima facie case of "defection" exists against Sachin Pilot and the remaining MLAs. We will track this story as it develops at the Court.
A sovereign (socialist secular) democratic republic
When India's Constitution came into force, the preamble stated that India would be constituted into a "sovereign, democratic republic". In 1976, the 42nd Amendment Act added "socialist" and "secular" to the preamble. Today, a petition argues that the two terms were improperly added. The petition argues that adding the words into the preamble violates Freedom of Expression guaranteed in Article 19(1)(a) and Freedom of Religion guaranteed in Article 25. The petition also challenges the requirement that all political parties in the country must follow secular and socialist principles. Of course, many political parties in India do not actually adhere to such an ideology.
STORIES WE’RE READING
There is no record of the oral arguments at the Court, much to the chagrin of legal commentators, journalists, lawyers, the Indian public, and yours truly. However, the pandemic may accelerate a shift from the Court's archaic practices. Attorney General KK Venugopal advocated for video-streaming oral arguments across the country and expressed confidence that "e-courts" will be widespread within a year. The article also suggests that "e-filing" petitions may soon become a common feature of India's judicial administration.
Letter for Prashant Bhushan
Last week we covered the Court's contempt notice against Prashant Bhushan's tweets criticizing the Court's practices. This week, former judges, historians, and activists were among the 131 individuals who signed a letter urging the Court to withdraw the contempt notice. The letter called the contempt notice an attempt to stifle criticism against the Court. On Thursday (July 30), eight more former judges of High Courts and the Court signed on.
The Court’s watershed moment
This article celebrates the 40th anniversary of Minerva Mills v. Union of India. The Court in the case struck down parts of the Government's 42nd Amendment Act, which allowed the government to subdue Fundamental Rights guaranteed in the Constitution while pursuing Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP).