What can be predicted in the year 2021 by the Supreme court:
On 4th January 2021 apex court reopens after the winter vacation, what can we expect next is one of the most uncertain years for the top court as the pandemic affecting the functioning of the Court, particularly when it comes to hearing cases of Constitutional importance. Since the country went into a lockdown in March last year to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Supreme Court has been working through video conference and will continue till vaccines are administered to a sizeable section of the population.
Let us take a look at how the apex court would deal with this Subject:
There are a total of 30 Judges in the apex court who is currently functioning through its sanctioned strength is 34 in which 5 Judges shall be retiring this year.
- Justice Indu Malhotra: March 13, 2021
- Chief Justice of India SA Bobde: April 23, 2021
- Justice Ashok Bhushan: July 4, 2021
- Justice Rohinton F Nariman: August 12, 2021
- Justice Navin Sinha: August 18, 2021
After Justice Indu Malhotra retires, Justice Indira Banerjee would be the only woman judge at the Supreme Court unless a woman High Court judge is elevated. The Collegium is expected to meet soon to fill up the vacancies.
Who will be the next Chief Justice of India?
After Justice SA Bobde Justice NV Ramana is the second senior-most judge who can succeed him as the Chief Justice of India (CJI) and will take oath on April 24, 2021. Justice NV Ramana has recently been in the spotlight due to allegations raised against him by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy that Justice Ramana is managing appointments and roster at the Andhra Pradesh High Court to favour the opposition Telugu Desam Party.The allegation which was sent to CJI Bobde were placed as an affidavit.
Important cases that are pending before the top court are as follows:
- Petition challenging to repeal Article 370 of the Constitution of India:-The court is hearing 23 petitions which challenge the central government’s decision to scrap Article 370 thereby revoking the special status of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir. The matter has been pending in the court since 2019.The matter was last listed on 2nd March 2020 when a 5-judges Constitution bench of the Supreme Court in a 42-page judgment declined to refer the case to a larger bench of seven judges. The case has not been heard after that. The case involves important questions related to federalism, Centre-State relations, and the role of the Governor which require the Court’s adjudication.
- The case related to Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019:-The court is hearing more than 150 petitions and are still pending due to Covid-19 and restricted hearing. The bench consisting of CJI SA Bobde Justices BR Gavai and Surya Kant had issued notice to the Central government on December 18 but refused to stay the Act. The Court had said that the prayer for the stay will be considered later.The case was last heard on 18 February 2020 when the court granted time to the Central government to file its response. The Centre filed its response on March 17, stating that the CAA is intended to tackle the problem of religious persecution in certain specific countries and that it will not affect the rights of any of the Indian citizens. When the matter was mentioned by Senior Counsel Kapil Sibal on 5th March for an early hearing, the CJI said that the matter will be heard soon after the conclusion of the hearing in the Sabarimala reference case. He also granted liberty to Kapil Sibal to mention the matter again after the Holi break but the court went into restricted functioning due to Covid-19 since then the matter is not heard.
- The matter related to the Faith vs.Rights:-The case involves legal questions on the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple and other gender-related questions in other religions aside from the Sabarimala case, there are three more cases that talk about the rights of Muslim, Parsi, and Hindu women vis-à-vis religious practices. The first petition is regarding the entry of Muslim women into mosques, the second petition challenges the practice of female genital mutilation practiced by the Dawoodi Bohra community and the last one is the restrictions on Parsi women to enter the holy fireplace of an Agyari (fire temple) if they marry non-Parsis. The bench consisting of 9 Judges was established to deal with larger questions arising out of the cases after a 14 November judgment given by a five-judge bench was hearing the review petitions in the Sabarimala case. Under the review, the judgment was entered into the Sabarimala temple was made open to all women irrespective of their age. In the Judgement, the court observed that that the practices not only involves the restrictions on the entry of women in places of worship were not limited to the Sabarimala case but also arose in respect of the three above-mentioned cases. Further, the court had said that the issues concerning women’s rights in religious practices require consideration by a larger bench of not less than seven judges so as to ensure that a judicial policy is evolved to do substantial and complete justice and the Court had also framed seven questions to be decided by the larger bench. Meanwhile, the Judgement came under scrutiny because it was argued that the court cannot frame legal questions or refer matter to larger Benches when hearing review petitions. Moreover, on 10th February the Court stays the challenges and held that questions can be referred to a larger Bench even in review petitions. So Chief justice of India SA Bobde said in open court on March 5 that the matter would be heard by a nine-judge bench from 16 March but But the court functioned only in a restricted manner due to pandemic and the case was not taken up due to the national lockdown was announced on 24th March and the Court was constrained to limit its functioning.
- Money Bill case: The petition filed which challenges the government adopting the money bill route to get laws passed in Parliament is another important case pending before the Supreme Court. This matter has to be heard by a bench of seven judges but still, there is no confirmation when it will be heard. A short brief of Money bill-A money bill originates in Lok Sabha. Once passed in the Lok Sabha by a simple majority, it is sent to the Rajya Sabha for its recommendations. The recommendations made by Rajya Sabha on money bills are not binding on Lok Sabha which may choose to reject it. As the Lok Sabha passed the Finance Act, 2017 as a money bill was challenged and a five-judge Bench of the Court on November 13, 2019, held that in its judgment in the Aadhaar case the money bill route needs to be reconsidered and therefore the court transfer the case to a bench of seven judges.
- Creamy layer: The case related to the applicability of the creamy layer principle to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes is another important case in which the hearing has been delayed by the apex court. The Central government has argued the apex court to reconsider its 2018 judgment, in which the Court had ruled that the principle of creamy layer, previously applicable to Other Backward Castes (OBCs) should be applied to Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) communities for reservation in promotions. What does the creamy layer mean? Creamy layer means those individuals who are better among other backward classes, are ineligible for reservations as per the Mandal Commission provisions. A person who falls under the ‘creamy layer’ category is determined based on economic parameters and the creamy layer would cover households with an annual income of Rs 8 lakh per year. The Centre opposed and challenges it and argued, the application of this principle to SC/ST communities on the ground that they have been discriminated against for centuries and should get reservation benefits despite economic advancement. Two years back in the year 2018 the apex court in its judgment in Jarnail Singh & Ors. v. Lachhmi Narain Gupta & Ors. had held that the principle of a creamy layer, previously applicable to Other Backward Castes, should be applied to SC/ST communities as well for reservation in promotions.
- The constitutional validity of the Right to Information Act (RTI), amendment 2019: The Petition has been filed by the Congress MP Jairam Ramesh who has challenged the Constitutional validity of the 2019 amendments made to the Right to Information Act (RTI) giving the Centre authority to decide the tenure, salaries and service terms of the Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioner. The court has issued a notice last year. In the debate in the Rajya sabha on the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, the leader had cited five reasons behind the government’s move to “dilute” the Act. He also raised questions on the timing of bringing the amendments to the Bill, which mandates timely response to citizen’s requests for government information. The five cases he mentioned to strengthen the case included the Central Information Commission’s (CIC) order on disclosure of Prime Minister’s educational qualification, allegedly false claims made by the Prime Minister on bogus ration cards, the CIC’s revelation that the RBI had disapproved demonetization, that the then RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan had given a list of top NPA defaulters and the value of black money brought back from abroad.
- Petition challenging the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) reservation: The Petition challenges the Constitution 103rd Amendment Act, which introduced a 10% reservation for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS). The Centre has defended its new law on the grounds that the amendments are intended to bring about “social equality”. The Case is pending and the five-judge Constitution Bench will decide the matter.
- Plea challenging the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code Provisions: The petition has been filed in the apex court which challenges the provisions of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) that allowed initiation of insolvency proceedings against personal guarantors is also pending before the court.In the year 2019 in the month of November, the Centre published the IBBI (Insolvency Resolution Process for Personal Guarantors to Corporate Debtors) Regulations, 2019 with effect from December 1, that allows the lenders to simultaneously haul companies and personal guarantors before the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT). This means, if an individual has executed a deed as a personal guarantor to avail a loan for a company, the lender can now recover dues from both parties.
- Constitutionality validity of Farm Acts 2020: 8 petition has been filed in the apex court challenging the 3 acts on the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Agriculture and Promotion) Act, 2020, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020. It is one of the important recent cases as the farmers are protesting the above-mentioned law must be repealed and the matter is pending in court.
- The constitutional validity of Electoral Bonds scheme: Petition challenges the Electoral Bonds scheme and the matter is scheduled to be heard by the bench of chief Justice of India SA Bobde.In the month of January 2020, the court rejected to stay the scheme and adjourned the matter till further orders. With the COVID-19 pandemic comes, the case did not make any headway in 2020. The petition has filed in the year 2017 which challenges the five amendments brought to various legislations in order to facilitate the implementation of the scheme for electoral bonds. The Centre has opposed the challenge, asserting that this ‘alternate system’ would promote transparency and accountability in funding and donations received by political parties in India. The Election Commission of India, however, registered its disagreement, contends that the scheme would affect the transparency of political funding. The bench consisting of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi at that time reserved the orders till April 2019, after Attorney General supported the Central government’s stance, contending in open Court that “voters don’t need to know where the money of political parties comes from.”Further after somedays, the Court directed all the political parties to disclose details of the donations received by them through electoral bonds to the Election Commission of India. The Bench opined that the petition gave rise to “weighty issues” which need an in-depth hearing and which cannot be concluded in the limited time that was available before the Court. Thus, an interim order was passed, keeping in mind that the interim arrangement does not tilt the balance in favour of either party and the case is still pending before the court.
- RBI Loan Moratorium Case: The bench of Justice Ashok Bhushan will deliver its verdict on a batch of petition pertaining to the banks’ decision to charge interest on EMIs that remained unpaid by borrowers after they availed the Reserve Bank of India’s loan moratorium scheme introduced between March 1 to August 31 in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic.
- TATA Vs. Mistry: Second most awaited verdict to be pronounced, the corporate battle between TATA sons and Cyrus Mistry, wherein the December 2019 National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) decision reinstating Shapoorji Pallonji heir Cyrus Mistry to Tata Sons has been challenged. The bench of CJI SA Bobde will deliver the verdict.