Week of November 23, 2020

The media can cover alleged corruption, election challenge dismissed, 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.

HOUSEKEEPING

Reform the bail system

We've covered Arnab Goswami's run-ins with the Indian judiciary this year perhaps more than we should have. In a judgment on Friday (November 27), Justice Chandrachud discussed the slate of pending bail applications in the Indian judiciary, citing nearly 200,000 applications pending before high courts and district courts.[1] The opinion used the Arnab Goswami case to highlight the need to reform the bail system in India.[2]

Implement interest waivers

In Gajendra Sharma v. Union of India, the Court directed the government to implement its October decision to waive interest on eight different loan categories.[3] These loan categories comprise a wide range of credit lines and include credit card, home, automobile, and education loans.[4]

Constitution Day celebrations

As India celebrated its 71st Constitution Day this week, the Chief Justice highlighted that the Court did not close for business at all during lockdown. Although there is an ongoing health crisis, people's need to have access to justice has not abated. However, the Chief Justice lamented that during lockdown, only those with technology access could also access justice. The Attorney General KK Venugopal was optimistic that the entire judiciary would soon live-stream court proceedings.  

CAN'T MISS THIS 

COVID updates from the Court

Starting from our edition in June, we've regularly discussed the Court's role in managing the pandemic in India. Utilizing its suo motu powers, the Court this week chastised state governments in Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Assam over their handling of the pandemic. The Court singled out Delhi in particular, telling its lawyers that "Delhi has to answer for a lot of things."

As the Court noted that stricter control measures were needed, the Central government said that the current spike in these states was "harsher than the first one". The government informed the Court that 77% of new cases were confined to 10 states. Perhaps deliberately or as a coincidence, the Prime Minister virtually met with all Chief Ministers and stressed that providing a vaccine is the government's "national commitment".

The Court asked the state governments to provide a status report on their progress.

The Court allows the media to cover alleged corruption

On September 15, the Andhra Pradesh High Court ordered the media to refrain from reporting on an FIR registered with the Andhra Pradesh police. The order asked the FIR to not be made public in "any electronic, print, or social media". The FIR concerned illegal land transactions involved in shifting Andhra Pradesh's capital to the new city of Amaravati. 

This week, the Court intervened in the case and stayed the High Court's order. Notably, the Court did not stay other orders passed by the Court, including a stay of the FIR filed with Andhra Pradesh police. The Court listed the matter to be heard again in the last week of January and asked the High Court to not decide on the case until then. 

PETITIONS

Modi election challenge dismissed

Former Border Security Force ("BSF") constable Tej Bahadur's petition seeking to overturn the Prime Minister's election as the MP from Varanasi was dismissed and "rightly nipped in the bud".[5] In Tej Bahadur v. Shri Narendra Modi, Chief Justice Bobde dismissed the case for lack of standing.[6] The opinion also noted that the petitioner's paperwork to run for the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat was faulty, and was not corrected after the Election Commission pointed out the flaws.[7] Because the petitioner was dismissed from the BSF, he needed to produce a certificate declaring that he was not dismissed for corruption or disloyalty to the State.[8]

Stop using electronic voting machines (EVMs)

U.S. courts are roundly dismissing unfounded claims on the legitimacy of their elections, including allegations that electronic voting systems were corrupt. Now, the Court faces a similar petition: Ban the use of EVMs as they are vulnerable to hacking or tampering. The petitioner argues that other democratic countries use ballot papers instead of electronic voting machines precisely because of the security concerns associated with EVMs.

STORIES WE'RE READING

Not So Fast: Fast-track courts slow to meet their promise

Fast-track courts were set up in the early 2000's to deal with the immense backlog in the Indian judicial system. This article cites data showing that these courts have failed to live up to their promise. For example, 81% of the cases completed by these courts took between one to ten years. The article chronicles the history of these courts, discusses why this "legal logjam" exists, and how processes can be improved. 

Defending the Chief Justice's controversial remarks

Chief Justice's Bobde recently commented that Article 32 petitions before the Court should be curtailed. Article 32 of the Constitution permits petitions directly to the Court for enforcing fundamental rights. According to this article's author, the bevy of criticism that followed the Chief Justice is unwarranted. The author suggests that petitioners should approach high courts first, who are granted broader jurisdiction. Notably, the author argues that the finality of the Court's decisions make high courts a better judicial forum. 


[1] Page 53 of opinion[2]Id.[3] Page 28 of opinion[4] Page 21 of opinion[5] Page 13 of opinion[6] Page 12 of opinion[7] Page 11 of opinion[8] Page 8 of opinion