Week of October 26, 2020

The Court intervenes in Hathras, an attorney appears shirtless, 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.


Air pollution laws coming

A walk outside or a glance through the window is a quick reminder that Delhi's air is dangerously polluted. With Diwali approaching, air pollution is on the public's minds again and on the Court's. The central government informed the Court that they will be introducing legislation that will address air pollution in the National Capital Region. The government was responding to a petition brought by a teenager asserting his right to breathe clean air. 

A shirtless attorney at the Court

Around the world, conducting business through video-conferencing has led to a fair share of gaffes, some worse than others. During a virtual hearing, a lawyer arguing before the Court briefly appeared shirtless on screen. The hearings were on a familiar matter to ACW readers: the Sudarshan TV case. After oral arguments, the Justices on the bench expressed disdain for the attorney's slip-up.


The Court orders protection to Hathras victim's family

We've previously discussed the many petitions surrounding the Hathras case that had recently reached the Court. Notably, the petitions did not ask the Court to decide on the criminal case surrounding the victim and alleged perpetrators. Instead, petitioners sought the Court's intervention in ensuring a fair criminal investigation. 

In Satyama Dubey & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors., the Court declined to directly monitor the criminal proceedings and investigation, delegating the responsibilities to those usually assigned like the Allahabad High Court. The Court noted that the matter was within the High Court's jurisdiction and empowered the High Court to proceed as necessary. 

However, the Court did consider the steps taken by the Uttar Pradesh government to protect the victim's family and any witnesses. While the Court agreed that the state's protections were adequate, they directed the victim's family and witnesses to be placed under CRPF protection. Unlike the Uttar Pradesh police, the Central Reserve Police Force is controlled by the central government. The Court was quick to acknowledge that moving protection into the central government's hands was not meant to cast aspersions on the Uttar Pradesh government's ability to adequately protect the relevant individuals. 

The Court left open the question whether the case would need to be transferred to another court in the future. 


The Court cannot implement laws

The Court gave petitioners a basic civics lesson: Courts do not administer laws, they adjudicate disputes. Apart from asking the Court to ban protests against the Government's newly enacted agriculture reforms, the petition asked the Court to give "general direction" to the Government to implement the Acts. As ACW has often covered, the Court directs the government in various aspects of public life. However, in this case, the Court noted that they are not in the business of giving "general directions". 


Originally developed to treat Ebola patients, Remdesivir is an antiviral drug used to treat COVID-19 patients. The United States Food & Drug Administration has approved the drug as a treatment for the novel coronavirus. However, a World Health Organization study found that the drug had little or no effect in preventing COVID-19 deaths. This week, the Court issued noticeon a petition challenging the drug's use as a treatment for COVID-19 without regulatory approval. The petition cited the WHO study and challenged the use of the drug.


A progressive turn for the Court

Recognizing the unique structures of Indian society, The Domestic Violence Act, 2005 created new protections for women against domestic violence, including the "right to reside" for married women in their adopted homes. Soon after, the Court's narrow reading of this right to only include households where the husband legally owned the property. This article contends that the narrow interpretation defeated the Act's purpose and commends the Court for correcting the error this year in Satish Chander Ahuja v Sneha Ahuja. Interpreting residence rights broadly, the Court held that they were not only limited to where the husband had established legal rights.

Keep virtual courts forever

A Parliamentary panel recently recommended maintaining virtual courts even after this pandemic ends. The chair argued that virtual courts provide a cheaper and quicker method for securing justice, and carry additional benefits such as protecting vulnerable witnesses. As a veteran of contentious hearings in courtrooms, the author of this article endorses the virtual court approach. As our lives are increasingly digitized, including government administration, the judicial system can follow suit.