The Supreme Court—an institution steeped in tradition—was forced to adapt to a new normal because of the pandemic-related restrictions. The once-bustling corridors of the Supreme Court fell silent, even as the humble mobile phone—once strictly banned in courtrooms—became a virtual courtroom.
March 23 was a watershed moment for the Supreme Court when the first fully virtual hearing took place. Since then, more than 15,000 cases have been heard virtually. According to the data available on the SC website, 696 verdicts were delivered in 2020.
Through these verdicts, the top court enhanced women's matrimonial and inheritance rights and granted them Permanent Commission (PC) in army, navy and air force. Reservation rights got a boost, land acquisition matters were cleared, and cryptocurrencies were given the green signal.
In one of the last physical hearings in court, the more than eight-year saga in the Nirbhaya rape case was put to rest as the four convicts lost their final appeal for clemency in a post-midnight hearing and were hanged in the early hours of March 20.
BOOM looks at important verdicts—in no particular order—that were delivered by the Supreme Court this year.
1) Access to the Internet a fundamental right, conditions apply
The Supreme Court on a plea filed by Kashmir based journalist Anuradha Bhasin constitutionally protected one's right to access the internet but said reasonable restrictions applicable under other fundamental rights would apply. Bhasin's plea had sought the restoration of internet services that were snapped in the aftermath of the revocation of special status accorded to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. The three-judge bench further ruled that internet services could be suspended for a temporary duration and indefinite suspension is "impermissible". The top court however clarified that internet shutdowns can be ordered only if cases of "public emergency" or "in the interests of public safety".
2) Speaker must decide on disqualification of lawmakers within three months
In the "absence of exceptional reasons", the Supreme Court ruled that the Speaker of a Legislative Assembly must decide on disqualification of a lawmaker under Tenth Schedule of the Constitution within a period of three months. The top court's order came on a plea filed by a Congress MLA who highlighted the Manipur Assembly Speaker's two-year delay in deciding 13 pleas for disqualification of lawmakers.
3) Protestors cannot indefinitely occupy public spaces
The apex court on October 7 ruled that public places cannot be indefinitely occupied for protests and administrations must take action to ensure areas are clear of encroachments or obstructions. The top court's verdict came on a batch of pleas that highlighted problems faced by the general public after anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protestors blocked a major carriageway at Shaheen Bagh in south Delhi.
4) Parties must publish criminal records of its candidates
In a fresh bid for electoral reforms, the top court directed political parties to publish the entire criminal record of candidates they were fielding and justify their reasons for backing them. This information must be published on the party website, social media handles and in national newspapers within 48 hours of the candidate's selection or less than two weeks before the first date for filing of nominations, whichever is earlier.
5) Permanent Commission for women in armed forces
The top court granted Permanent Commission (PC) to women officers in the army, navy and the air force. Absolute exclusion of women from command assignments is against the principle of equality the court said. "If society holds strong beliefs about gender roles – that men are socially dominant, physically powerful and the breadwinners of the family and that women are weak and physically submissive, and primarily caretakers confined to a domestic atmosphere – it is unlikely that there would be a change in mindsets," one of the two verdicts on this issue read.
6) Ambiguity over land acquisition laws cleared
A five-judge bench led by Justice Arun Mishra (now retired) settled the ambiguity over land acquisition laws. The Constitution Bench settled the stalemate that arose from contrarian views expressed in verdicts delivered by two different benches. The SC held that land acquisition proceedings under the old act would not lapse if the compensation payable to the landowner was deposited in the Treasury.
7) RBI ban on cryptocurrency set aside
The Supreme Court on March 4 set aside a Reserve Bank of India (RBI) circular that banned banking services to those dealing with cryptocurrencies. The apex court held that the RBI circular was unreasonable and disproportionate paving the way for regulated use of virtual currencies like Bitcoins and Ethereum in India.
8) Contempt petition against noted lawyer Prashant Bhushan and Re 1 fine
Anguished by his tweets that scandalized the judiciary and the Chief Justice of India in particular, the Supreme Court held advocate Prashant Bhushan guilty of contempt but let him off with a slap on the wrist and a token fine of ₹1 after a lengthy hearing. The court observed that while fair criticism is welcome, it must act "only in the case where the attack is beyond a permissible limit, the strong arm of the law strikes a blow on him who challenges the supremacy of the rule of law by fouling its source and stream."
9) Install CCTVs in all police stations
In a bid to ensure police accountability the top court passed an order directed the installation of CCTVs—including night vision and audio recording—in all police stations and investigation agencies where interrogations take place.
10) Important verdicts on issues of reservation
On February 10, the top court upheld the constitutional validity of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act of 2018, enacted by the Centre to restore the provisions of the old act which was diluted by a March 20, 2018 judgment. A division bench in 2018 had modified the SC/ST act banning automatic arrests and allowing anticipatory bails in case of false complaints.
In another significant order, the top court held claiming reservation for a public post was not a fundamental right. Providing reservations was at the State's discretion. Not mandatory or an obligation.
11) Important developments enhancing women's rights
The top court delivered several verdicts that enhanced women's matrimonial and inheritance rights. On August 11, the Supreme Court ruled that daughters will have equal rights to their father's properties that fall under Hindu Undivided Family (HUF). This right is accorded to daughters from the moment of their birth regardless of whether they were born before or after the Hindu Succession Act (HSA), 1956 was amended in 2005.
Safeguards rights of women embroiled in matrimonial disputes under provisions of Domestic Violence Act, the top court clarified that a woman has the right to live in a shared household where she has lived with the husband even if the house is owned by the husband's relative. The verdict could be further interpreted to mean that a wife is entitled to live in a shared household belonging to her husband's relative, irrespective of whether either spouse has any right title or interest in the shared household.
Updated On: 2020-12-29T10:15:11+05:30