Week of March 22, 2021

The Court interferes in economic policy, continues electoral bonds, and recommends a new Chief Justice!

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

No Country for Illegal Immigrants

The government this week expressed its opposition to a petition seeking to release detained Rohingya refugees in Jammu and Kashmir. The Rohingyas are a persecuted Muslim minority group fleeing Myanmar. While the petition noted that Rohingya children were subjected to various human rights abuses in Myanmar, the government declared that India could not become a capital for illegal immigrants. The government told the Court that they were in touch with Myanmar authorities, who would receive the refugees after their citizenship was confirmed. Although a UN special rapporteur filed an intervening application on the case, the Court refused to hear from the UN’s counsel. 

The Court does not stay electoral bonds

This week, the Court refused to stay issuance of electoral bonds in upcoming state elections. The Court expressed its doubts that objections against the electoral bond system were sustainable. The Court noted that anyone purchasing bonds through banking channels would have to list those purchases in their accounting statements, and that any bonds would have to be purchased through the banking system. In hearings on the case, the Election Commission argued in support for electoral bonds, arguing that without them, donations would be made through cash. 

CAN’T MISS THIS

The Court waives interest on pandemic-era loan moratorium

The Court waived compound interest accumulated during a loan-repayment moratorium instituted by India’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), during the pandemic. 

During the pandemic, India’s central bank, The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) issued a loan repayment moratorium. Banks deferred interest payments but were adding interest on the interest during the loan moratorium period. The government had earlier agreed to cover accumulated interest for loans up to ₹20 million ($275,000), footing a bill totaling ₹65 billion (~$900 million). This week, in another foray into government policy, the Court found “no rationale” in the government’s policy and waived accumulated interest on all loans. The Court also directed banks to repay those who had paid interest. 

The estimated bill for this addition waiver is at ₹70-75 billion (~$1 billion). 

The Court left industry-specific relief to the RBI. Various industries like power, real estate, and education had asked the Court to direct the RBI to fix some of its policies. The Court reasoned that it does not have the experience to interfere on such matters. 

The Court still left borrowers on hook for interest on principal of the loans, citing banks’ responsibilities to their creditors. As a result, bank shares rose during trading.

PETITIONS

Mumbai cop’s petition alleging corruption moved to Bombay High Court

Former Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh petitioned the Court to direct a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) investigation against Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh. Mr. Singh alleged that Mr. Deshmukh was interfering with his police work. His letter to the Chief Minister claimed that Mr. Deshmukh was attempting to collect ₹1 billion (~$13.7 million) a month from establishments in Mumbai. Acknowledging the seriousness of the allegations, the Court this week asked Mr. Singh to move the case to the Bombay High Court. 

Petition seeks to help women abandoned by NRI husbands

Non-resident Indians (NRIs) are Indians living abroad. A petition asks the Court to direct the government to issue guidelines to provide justice for women abandoned by their husbands who move abroad. The petitioner cites instances where husbands have moved abroad mere days after marriage, only to never communicate again with their wives. The petition notes that “police are reluctant to take such crimes seriously.” The Court this week asked for the government’s response to the petition.

STORIES WE’RE READING

A new Chief Justice on the horizon 

Chief Justice S.A. Bobde has recommended Justice N.V. Ramana to become the 48th Chief Justice of India from April 24. The recommendation comes after the Court dismissed a complaint filed by the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister accusing Justice Ramana of attempting to destabilize his government. Justice Ramana is from Andhra Pradesh. He became a Judge at the Andhra Pradesh High Court in 2000 and became a Justice at the Court in 2014. 

When will there be a female Chief Justice?

This article examines the upcoming vacancies at the Court and considers who will replace retiring Justices this year. Chief Justices of High Courts usually have the best shot. The author bases here analysis on seniority and High Court representation at the Court, rather than on the merits of each Judge. Although no woman fits into the seniority criteria, former Chief Justice of the Jammu & Kashmir High Court Gita Mittal may be appointed to increase female representation at the Court. The author notes that if Justice B.V. Nagarathna of the Karnataka High Court is appointed to the Court, she will eventually become the first female Chief Justice of India. Interestingly, her father is former Chief Justice E.S. Venkataramaiah.