For the Supreme Court, 2013 will go down as a watershed year as it put an end to criminalisation of politics, disqualifying convicted MPs/MLAs, ordered electoral reforms and asserted its supremacy and authority in all spheres.
On July 19, Justice P. Sathasivam made his Kadappanallur village in Erode district proud by becoming the 40th Chief Justice of India. Born on April 27, 1949, Justice Sathasivam was the first graduate in his agricultural family. It was after 60 years that someone from Tamil Nadu became CJI. Justice Patanjali Sastri, who was the CJI from 1951 to 1954, had represented the undivided Madras Presidency.
The former Union Law Minister, Ashwini Kumar, had to resign after the court said the CBI was acting like a “caged parrot,” dancing to the tunes of its masters. It criticised the Minister when he accessed the CBI’s status report in the coal scam case, despite the specific order that the report not be shown to anyone, including the Law Officer.
When reports emerged about the involvement of a retired Supreme Court judge in an incident of sexual harassment of a law intern, the CJI ordered a fact-finding probe immediately. It prima facie came to light that Justice A.K Ganguly, who retired in February 2012, had made unwelcome sexual advances to the intern. It has now snowballed into a controversy, with the Centre deciding to seek a Presidential Reference to the Supreme Court for removing Justice Ganguly as Chairperson of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission.
The year started on a bad note for Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the Supreme Court upheld the appointment of Justice R.A. Mehta as Gujarat Lokayukta by Governor Kamla Beniwal, who bypassed the government. But Justice Mehta did not take charge.
The court rejected a plea for revisiting the nine-judge ruling in 1993, giving primacy to the Collegium in appointment of Supreme Court and High Court judges. A two-judge Bench had referred the issue to a three-judge Bench, which however, found no merit in the petition.
The court struck down as unconstitutional Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act that allowed convicted lawmakers a three-month period for appealing in a higher court. The court made it clear that the ruling would be prospective, and those who had already gone on appeal in the High Courts or the Supreme Court against their convictions would be exempt from it. As a result, RJD leader Lalu Prasad lost his membership of Parliament, after he was sentenced to five years in a fodder scam case.
To bring about purity in elections, the court ruled that a voter can exercise the option of negative voting and reject all the candidates as unworthy of election. The court said he/she could press the ‘None of the Above’ button in the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) and decide not to vote for any of the candidates.
The court allowed the Election Commission to use Viable Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail in the EVMs in phases to ensure transparency in the voting process.
Observing that the right to know about the candidate is a natural right in a democracy, it held that non-disclosure of information by a candidate in his/her affidavit by keeping the columns blank would result in rejection of his nominations by the EC. At present, the EC has no power to reject nominations if candidates either leave some columns in the affidavit blank or gives false information. However, a case can be registered under the Indian Penal Code for giving false information.
The court upheld the ban the Tamil Nadu government imposed on the screening of Dam 999 in the State as the film highlighted the damage being caused to a dam.
The AIADMK government got a major boost when the court refused to interfere with its policy decision to convert the new Tamil Nadu Secretariat complex into a super-speciality hospital. Such a policy could not be termed illegal, it said.
In a relief to two Italian marines, the court said Kerala had no jurisdiction to investigate the incident of shooting on February 15, 2012, in which two fishermen were killed. Only the Union of India had the jurisdiction to proceed with the probe and trial of the two marines, it said. The court asked the Centre to set up a special court to try Massimilano Latorre and Salvatore Girone. But till now, there is no substantial progress in the trial before the special court.
Tamil Nadu scored a major victory when the court directed the Centre to notify the final award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, dated February 5, 2007. It criticised the Centre for abdicating its responsibility of notifying the award as per the mandate of the Inter State Water Disputes Act. The award was notified on February 19.
Novartis AG, a multinational pharmaceutical company, suffered a setback when the court held that it was not entitled to a patent in India for the beta crystalline form of its cancer drug marketed as ‘Glivec’ or ‘Gleevec.’ Novartis said this drug deserved a patent because there was a 30 per cent increase in the bioavailability of the medicine in its new form.
In a major relief to the Centre, the court upheld the FDI policy in multi-brand retail, stating that it did not suffer from any unconstitutionality, illegality, arbitrariness or irrationality. “The policy aimed at throwing out the middlemen, who are a curse to Indian economy and who are sucking it, has to be welcomed.”
The court commuted into life imprisonment the death sentence awarded to Mahendra Nath Das, whose mercy petition was rejected by the President after 12 years. But it declined a similar relief to Bhullar, saying such a plea could not be entertained in cases of terrorist activities.
In a major setback to gay activists, the court held that homosexuality or unnatural sex between two consenting adults was illegal under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and amounted to an offence, and the provision did not suffer from any constitutional infirmity. This forced the Centre and Naz Foundation to file review petitions.
(To be concluded)