Week of March 1, 2021

The Chief Justice's controversial remarks, an Army officer is missing, 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.


It’s official: In-person hearings resume

Around a year after the Court went virtual, in-person hearings are set to resume from March 15th. We’ve covered the variety of petitions and general debate at the Court surrounding in-person hearings– the lack of which has affected litigants and lawyers alike. The Court will resume in-person activity in a limited capacity and will still leave a lot of room for virtual hearings.

Court’s CCTV plans not implemented

The Court chided both central and state governments for not implementing its administrative orders on installing CCTV cameras across the country’s jails. A December 2, 2020 order had ordered states to set up 24-7 CCTV cameras across the country, with storage capability of up to 18 months. While the order asked to complete installation within 12 months, various states requested extensions. Most governments also requested extensions to fulfil budgetary needs, which the Court did not satisfy. The  Court’s orders were given to protected custodial torture by the police. 

Anticipatory bail for Amazon Prime Video executive delayed

Uttar Pradesh police had registered a case against Aparna Purohit, the commercial head of Amazon Prime Video in India. Along with some actors in the Amazon show “Tandav”, Ms. Purohit had approached the Court after the Allahabad High Court had rejected her request for anticipatory bail. Ms. Purohit is facing charges for offending Hindu deities through the show. The Allahabad High Court rejected her petition, commenting that “the applicant had scant respect for the law of the land”. This week, the Court delayed a hearing on her appeal of the High Court order. Anticipatory bail will prevent Uttar Pradesh police from arresting Ms. Purohit. 


The Chief Justice’s controversial remarks

In a case involving a man accused of raping a minor, Chief Justice Bobde asked the defendant whether he would marry the girl. The Chief Justice also stated that “If you want to marry (her) we can help you. If not, you lose your job and go to jail".  The Chief Justice also expressed his doubts in recognizing marital rape. 

After the defendant reneged on a promise to the girl’s family that he would marry her, the family went to the police. The Bombay High Court rejected his application for anticipatory bail, where he argued that he would lose his government job if arrested. 

Such remarks naturally created substantial controversy.

More than 5,000 people signed a letter to the Chief Justice expressing their outrage and asking him to retract and apologize for his remarks. The letter noted that the defendant was “accused of stalking, tying up, gagging, repeatedly raping a minor school-going girl, and threatening to douse her in petrol and set her alight, to hurl acid at her, and to have her brother killed."

The Chief Justice has also faced criticism for seeking a compromise between the two sides, a criticism also levied against the Court after it began mediating between protesting farmers and the government over agricultural reforms. 

Responding to criticism, the Chief Justice said that his remarks were taken out of context, calling them “completely misreported”. The Solicitor General cited Section 165 of the Evidence Act and noted that “will you marry” her was simply a factual inquiry and perfectly within the Chief Justice’s powers.


Petition against Farooq Abdullah dismissed

petition leveled sedition charges against Jammu and Kashmir politician Farooq Abdullah after he criticized the decision to delete Article 370 from the Constitution. This week, the Court dismissed the case. The Court said that expressing views different from the government is not adequate grounds for sedition. Instead, the Court sanctioned the petitioner with a Rs. 50,000 fine for making unsubstantiated allegations against Mr. Abdullah. Mr. Abdullah had remarked that the Chinese never accepted abrogating Article 370 and hoped that they would help restore the Article. 

Mr. Abdullah and his son and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah were placed on house arrest when the government unilaterally repealed Article 370. The Court is yet to comment on the constitutionality of the Court’s actions. 

Find missing Army officer possibly in Pakistani jail

The Court gave the government four weeks to locate an Army officer who went missing more than twenty years ago and is widely believed to be in Pakistani jail. The Court was responding to a petition filed by an 84-year-old woman whose son went missing in 1997 while patrolling the Indo-Pakistan border in Gujarat. The petitioner told the Court that she had no information about her son’s location. Although the Army presumed him dead in 2004, they listed him as a presumed prisoner of war in 2010. The Court asked the petitioner to create a list of other Army officers imprisoned in Pakistan. 


The Court can’t choose between vaccines

The government informed the Court that Justices willing to take covid vaccines will not have a choice between which vaccine they will receive. Justices and their families will begin their vaccinations on Tuesday. In February, the Court had agreed to hear a petition asking lawyers, judges, and court staff to be included in a higher priority vaccine group. The Court is set to begin hybrid hearings from March 15. 

The Court seeks government’s opinion on elevation of gay judge

Although the Court has fiercely protected its right to appoint judges independently from the government, it once again asked for the government’s input on appointing Delhi High Court Judge Saurabh Kripal. Judge Kripal was first recommended by the Delhi High Court collegium unanimously in 2017. The Court asked the government to provide their inputs on Judge Kripal, reminding them of a similar request from 2019 that was not attended to. Earlier discussions with the government had prompted the Intelligence Bureau to flag Judge Kripal’s foreign partner as a “security risk”. In an interview with the Print, Judge Kripal said his sexual orientation has delayed his elevation to the Court.