EWS Quota, Abortion Rights, Sedition: 10 Important Supreme Court Verdicts of 2022
BOOM takes a look at the important Supreme Court judgments from 2022.
The year 2022 was significant for the Supreme Court of India.
With three different chief justices, the SC passed noteworthy orders including issuing guidelines for bail to long-term undertrials, interpretation of the Hindu Succession Act that held a daughter's right to inherit a share of her father's self-acquired property, expanding the scope of a 'vulnerable witness', and reminding the Centre to direct states from charging people with Section 66A of the Information and Technology Act, 2000 which has been struck down.
The top court also became the battleground for political battles: It heard matters pertaining to the Karnataka hijab ban, Maharashtra political crisis, sedition, demolishing houses of accused to seeking laws against hate speech.
Three different Chief Justices, many retirements, and the return of constitution benches—This was also the year of change at the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, it also saw the revival of an ongoing age-old debate on who should appoint judges to the higher judiciary A government-constituted commission or the Supreme Court's collegium.
The Supreme Court saw eight judges retire this year including two chief justices. It also saw the swearing-in of two chief justices and the elevation of a judge to the top court. Earlier this year in August, Justice NV Ramana, retired as the 48th Chief Justice of India. He was succeeded by Justice UU Lalit—whose tenure as CJI lasted a mere 74 days.
Incumbent Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud started his two-year tenure as top judge on Justice Lalit's retirement last month in November.
Supreme Court has seen many changes under the three different CJIs, the most significant changes brought in by Justice Lalit. Under his tenure, ex-CJI Lalit not only reintroduced Constitution Benches—after a gap of a year—but he also brought in administrative changes that resulted in a significant reduction in the pendency of cases.
BOOM recaps the important and noteworthy verdicts passed this year.
1) SC Okays Centre's 10% EWS Quota
Supreme Court on November 7 in a majority verdict upheld the constitutional validity of the Centre's 10 per cent quota in jobs and education for the economically weaker section of society. The five-judge Constitution Bench ruled 3:2 in favour of the EWS Quota with Chief Justice UU Lalit and Justice S Ravindra Bhat dissenting.
The bench offered four opinions—three in favour, and one dissenting. The top court ruled that reservations are an instrument of affirmative action and quotas on economic criteria alone do not violate the basic structure doctrine. Penning the dissent for himself and CJI UU Lalit, Justice S Ravindra Bhat observed though the amendment was valid on grounds of economic inequality, its exclusion on basis of class—SC/ST was violative.
Also Read:EWS Reservation: 5 Things You Need To Know
2) Sedition law put on hold
A day after the Centre said it would re-examine the laws on sedition, the Supreme Court on May 11 held the colonial law in abeyance. The top court had said it would be inappropriate to use the provision of this law until such time the re-examination process of this law is over.
"The Court has to balance the rights of civil liberty and sovereignty of the state. This is a difficult exercise," then CJI Ramana had said.
3) Zakia Jafri used as a political tool to keep pot boiling
Supreme Court on June 24 upheld the Special Investigation Team (SIT) clean chit given to then Chief Minister Narendra Modi in connection with the 2002 Gujarat riots. Congress leader Ahsan Jahri's wife Zakia had challenged the clean chit.
Supreme Court verdict further made scathing observations observing that activist Teesta Setalvad exploited Jafri's emotions and filed the plea to "keep the pot boiling" in an "abuse of process".
"Antecedents of Teesta Setalvad need to be reckoned with and also because she has been vindictively persecuting this lis [dispute] for her ulterior design by exploiting the emotions and sentiments of Zakia Jafri, the real victim of the circumstances," the three-judge bench had observed.
However, the top court's verdict—which came 20 years after one of the worst communal riots seen in recent times—was significant for what came after. Gujarat Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) on June 25 detained activist Teesta Setalvad and former IPS officer RB Sreekumar for allegedly giving false information pertaining to the 2002 Gujarat riots case. The two were arrested shortly thereafter.
4) Lapses in probe, no shred of evidence: reasons why SC acquitted death row inmates
In at least three cases, the Supreme Court this year acquitted five people on death row for heinous crimes like rape and murder. SC also overturned the conviction of three men in the gruesome Chawwla murder case where a 19-year-old girl was gangraped and killed observing there were "glaring lapses" during the trial in this matter.
In another case, death row inmate Ramanand was acquitted after the Supreme Court said the investigation was "perfunctory". In Chotkau's case, the supreme court said the prosecution did great injustice by fixing culpability on him without a "shred of evidence".
Earlier this year in September, the Supreme Court asked a constitution bench to decide on its suo motu matter seeking procedural guidelines to be considered while imposing the death penalty.
5) Can't Force Vaccination, But Reasonable Restrictions Apply
Supreme Court in May underscored one's right to refuse vaccines and said restrictions imposed on the unvaccinated were disproportionate. However, the top court said the Centre could impose reasonable restrictions against the unvaccinated for the protection of the larger community.
In a key judgment on present COVID-19 vaccine mandates, the Supreme Court said no one could be forced to get vaccinated; Centre's vaccine policy was not arbitrary; data on vaccine trials and adverse events after immunization must be made public; and the court could not second guess expert opinion on the issue of the vaccination policy for children.
6) SC releases Rajiv Gandhi assassins
Supreme Court exercised its powers under Article 142 and released Rajiv Gandhi's assassin AG Perarivalan after noting the Centre's delay in taking a decision on his plea for early release. Perarivalan, who was sentenced to life for assassinating the former prime minister, had undergone 32 years in prison and filed a plea for early release. Even as the Tamil Nadu government in 2018 recommended remission, the Centre kept its decision pending.
The Supreme Court's verdict reiterated that the governor was bound by the state government's advise on remission. The top court further underscored that the state and not the Centre was the "appropriate government" to decide on remission in murder cases.
Months later, the top court directed the release of the remaining convicts in this case as well.
7) Her body, her Choice: Supreme Court on women's abortion rights
Supreme Court in September said a woman and cisgenders had the right over their bodies and had the final say on whether they wanted to terminate a pregnancy. The top court clarified that this right extended to unmarried women as well.
The top court also gave relief to minors read down the mandate requiring authorities to report all teenage pregnancies to the police under the provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
More significantly, an observation that will have a strong bearing on pending pleas seeking criminalization of marital rape, the Supreme Court said the meaning of rape must include "marital rape" for the purpose of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act.
8) Supreme Court Upholds stringent PMLA law giving powers to ED
The Supreme Court in July upheld the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002 outlining the Enforcement Directorate's (ED) powers of arrest, attachment and search and seizure. A month later in August, the top court issued notice on Congress leader Karti Chidambaram's plea seeking a review of its July 27 judgment upholding the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act that outline the Enforcement Directorate's power of arrest, attachment of properties, search and seizure.
However, even as a three-judge bench upheld the various provisions of the amended act, a seven-judge bench still has to consider the question of whether the 2018 amendments to the PMLA could have been brought through the Finance Act.
9) Concept of traditional families are changing: Supreme Court
The Supreme Court expanded the meaning of a traditional family observing that familial relationships may take the form of domestic, unmarried partnerships or queer relationships and such atypical family units also deserved equal protection in law. The top court's order came on a woman's plea who sought maternity leave for her first biological child and her husband's third.
Supreme court pointed out that the assumption of a predominant understanding of what a family is ignores both, the many circumstances which may lead to a change in one's familial structure, and the fact that many families do not conform to this expectation, to begin with.
10) Unsecular or ticket to freedom: Supreme Court split verdict in hijab case
Supreme Court in October delivered a split verdict leaving the issue of Karnataka's hijab row unresolved. Since the matter has been referred to the Chief Justice of India for further consideration, the state-imposed hijab ban upheld by the Karnataka High Court is still operational.
Justice Hemant Gupta agreed with the Karnataka government's order banning the hijab in educational institutions and observed that "a uniform was an equalizer of inequalities"; while Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia said the enforcement of a dress code was not as important as the education of a girl child.
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