Week of September 28, 2020

Babri Masjid accused acquitted, political detentions in Kashmir, UPSC exams go on 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

Mine your business

In ACW's first post (way back in the summer of 2020), we covered the Jharkhand government's petition challenging the Central government's decision to auction coal blocks at the coal-rich state. During oral arguments on Wednesday (September 30), the Court noted that neither the State nor Central government could auction coal if the land was determined to be in an eco-sensitive area. Recognizing that they may not have the expertise to make such a determination, the Court suggested that some experts may be asked to make the call. The Court listed the matter for hearing in two weeks and asked the Central government file an affidavit within a week.

ACW week of June 22

Will political detentions in Kashmir continue beyond a year?

That's the question the Court asked the Solicitor General on September 29th during a hearing challenging former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti's detention under the Public Safety Act. Ms. Mufti's daughter filed the petition before the Court. The Court asked the parties to file affidavits and counter-affidavits within a week.

Arnab Goswami v. Maharashtra Legislative Assembly

A new case is brewing at the Court between a journalist and a public entity over questions of speech. The Maharashtra Legislative Assembly passed a "Breach of privilege" motion against the infamous journalist after Mr. Goswami criticized the state government's handling of deceased celebrity Sushant Singh Rajput. Mr. Goswami has challenged the motion against him. 

The Constitution guarantees immunity to legislators from civil or criminal liability for their actions or statements during their legislative duty. A breach of this privilege constitutes an act that inhibits a legislative house or its members from performing their duties. Such motions are not uncommon; you can read a few past instances here. The Court will resume hearings next week.

CAN'T MISS THIS

Babri Masjid accused acquitted

Last year, in M Siddiq (D) Thr Lrs vs Mahant Suresh Das & Ors the Court resolved centuries-old Ayodhya land dispute. The dispute rose over a piece of land that some Hindus believed was the birthplace of Ram. In 1992, a Hindu mob destroyed the Babri Masjid, the mosque that stood on that land. The Court awarded title to parties representing Hindu interests and directed the government to create a trust that would build a Ram temple on that land. However, the Court did acknowledge that the Babri Masjid was illegally demolished and directed the government to provide land for a new mosque.

On Wednesday (September 30), a special court sanctioned by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) acquitted 32 individuals accused of conspiring to destroy the Babri Masjid. Some of the accused include leaders of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) such as LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Kalyan Singh, and Uma Bharati. Members of Congress found this judgment contradicted the Court's holding from 2019.

While the Court did not decide the case, it supervised the CBI Court. In 2017, the Court reinstated conspiracy charges against the accused and in 2019, had asked the CBI Court to produce a judgment within nine months. Most recently, the Court had extended the deadline to September 30. If you have a spare evening or two, you can read the 2300-page judgment (in Hindi) here

The Cornell India Law Center recently summarized the 1045-page Ayodhya opinion. You can read the summary here.  

PETITIONS

Here we go again

The Ayodhya dispute was one of the most contentious cases decided at the Court in recent memory. We've already discussed the Ayodhya land dispute. This week, a Mathura civil court dismissed a petition seeking to remove the Shahi Idgah mosque in Mathura. The petitioners, acting on behalf of Lord Krishna, claimed that the mosque was built on Krishna Janmabhoomi land. 

Constitutional challenges against new agriculture laws begin

As many groups continue to protest India's new agriculture laws, a Congress MP has challenged the constitutional validity of the Farmers' (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020. The MP for Thrissur, Kerala, claims that the Act violates Articles 14 [Right to equality], 15 [Prohibition of discrimination], and 21 [Right to life and liberty] of the Constitution. The petitioner argues that potentially hundreds of millions of farmers face severe financial losses. The new law creates a framework for farmers to contract with large agri-businesses. 

UPSC exams to continue

We covered a petition last week asking the Court to postpone India's Civil Service exams. On September 30, the Court dismissedthe petition and allowed the exams to proceed as scheduled on October 4. The exam's administrator -- the Union Public Services Commission (UPSC)-- had filed an affidavit saying that more than ₹500 million ($6.8 million) was spent to properly administer the exam during the pandemic. The Court expressed confidence that the necessary public health precautions would be taken during the exam.

STORIES WE'RE READING

Right to abortion?

September 28th was International Safe Abortion Day. This article surveys the global landscape on abortion access and shows few jurisdictions that guarantee an express right to abortion. In India, abortion access is limited. Notably, the author points out that while religious groups affect abortion discourse in Europe and the United States, the conversation in India focuses on contraception and premarital sex. 

“Crude fear mongering of private enterprise” fuels opposition to agriculture laws

India’s new agriculture laws already face a slew of constitutional challenges at the Court. The reforms have invited opposition from ordinary citizens and political parties alike. This article argues that farmers stand to benefit most from the reforms that eliminate colonial and socialist era regulations. Professor Ashok Gulati at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations likens these laws to India’s 1991 economic liberalization, which propelled India’s fierce economic growth in the decades since. Welcoming these reforms, the author concedes that they are mere band-aids to fix a bigger problem: Too many farmers.