Week of November 2, 2020

American and Indian courts disagree, states limit CBI's powers, the live-stream era begins 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.


No security for judge who wrote Babri Masjid opinion

We've covered the acquittal of the accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case. The Court declined to extend security protection for the now retired judge who wrote the 2000-page opinion. 

Livestreaming has arrived

In pre-pandemic times, hearings at the Court were neither televised nor recorded. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust the public's accessibility to the Court into the limelight. Recently, the Gujarat High Court began livestreaming its proceedings. Now, the Court is preparing to do the same.  The move comes two years after a Court decision that had agreed in principle to begin streaming proceedings. 

Z+ Security

Z+ security protection is the highest level of police security for individuals. This week, the Court dismissed a petition seeking to remove Z+ security for the Ambani brothers and their families. The petition argued that the families can afford to provide for their own security. While the Court sided with the respondents, it did not agree with the Bombay High Court's reasoning that those who can afford government security should receive it. The Court declined to rule that anybody who can afford state protection will receive it. Z+ security does not cover the Prime Minister, who is covered by the Special Protection Group. 


Indian and American judiciaries disagree

Within a federal judiciary, a higher court may reverse the lower court's decision. The practice certainly applies in both India and the United States. This week however, the Court disagreed with a lower federal court in the United States.

In 2015, an international arbiter ordered Antrix Corporation, the commercial wing of the Indian Space and Research Organization (ISRO), to pay $1.2 billion to Devas Multimedia, a Bengaluru based start-up. Devas was pursuing litigation since 2011 against Antrix after the latter cancelled a contract involving satellites built by Devas. This litigious path led Devas to the Western District of Washington, a federal district court in the United States. Devas wanted the court to confirm the international arbiter's award.

On October 27, 2020, in Devas Multimedia Private Ltd. v. Antrix Corp. Ltd., the district court in the United States sided with Devas and ordered Antrix to pay $562 million plus interest to Devas– an amount equaling $1.2 billion. Notably, the district court found jurisdiction over a dispute between an Indian start-up and an Indian state-run company through the latter's contacts in the United States: long-term negotiations with a Virginia-based consulting firm created the Devas corporation and the agreement between Devas and Antrix. According to the court, Antrix purposely availed the privilege of conducting business activities in the United States. 

The case reached the Court as well. This week, the Court stayed the American district court's decision to award $1.2 billion to Devas. The Court noted that executing the award given under any "law or convention" to Devas while restraining Antrix from pursuing litigation under the Arbitration and Conciliation Act would be unfair. The Court granted jurisdiction over the case to the Delhi High Court and listed the case for final disposal on November 25, 2020. 


Decide on 370

Challenges surrounding the government's abrupt abrogation of Article 370 have been pending before the Court since 2019. A petition asks the Court to expedite these petitions and challenges the government's action. Notably, the petition challenges all subsequent government actions surrounding Kashmir, including the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019 and various related policy guidance. The petition notes that the Court's reticence in deciding on the matter "stands to risk [] permanency" to the government's actions. 

Religious disputes under the Court's jurisdiction

Sections 2, 3, and 4 of the 1991 Places of Worship Act prohibit lawsuits seeking to reclaim places of worship or change its character from the status quo on August 15, 1947. A petition challenges the constitutionality of this provision in the code and contend that the sections violate constitutional rights and the Constitution's secular character. You can likely think of a notable exception to this law. 


Arnab Goswami again

Rather than covering the news (to put it generously), Arnab Goswami has lately become the news. We've covered litigation surrounding the infamous journalist this year. This article covers the seven petitions the journalist has filed before the Bombay High Court and the Court in the last seven months. Perhaps indicative of the unequal access to justice in India, four of these petitions  were heard the next day. 

CBI's limited legal options

As India's pre-eminent investigative body, the Central Bureau of Investigation requires robust legal tools to pursue its policy goals. Recently, seven states have withdrawn "general consent" that the CBI previously enjoyed. The withdrawals now mean that the CBI will need the state's permission before commencing cases within the state's jurisdiction. As policing is a state subject under the Constitution, this article contends that the CBI's legal recourse is limited. All withdrawing states, including Maharashtra, contend that the central government was deploying the CBI for political purposes.