Chief Justice has a plan for expeditious disposal of pending cases
The year 2011 saw the highest number of cases disposed of in recent years, with more than 79,000 cases cleared under the leadership of Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia.
In his Law Day address, Justice Kapadia rejected the allegation made in certain quarters about the huge pendency of cases and said: “There is a backlog of cases. However, it is not as big as is sought to be projected.” Seventy-four per cent of the cases were less than five years old, he said. He has worked out a plan for expeditious disposal of the pending cases.
Pointing to the increase in institution of cases over the years, Justice Kapadia said: “Citizens approach the court only when there is confidence in the system and faith in the wisdom of the judges. The institution stands on public trust. The judiciary has performed a commendable job.”
In 2011, eight judges retired and five judges were appointed. Five vacancies still remain to be filled.
The Supreme Court faced a stiff challenge — protecting the environment from further degradation vis-à-vis protecting the employment of thousands of workers in various mines in Bellary and other districts of Karnataka.
Holding that the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution would include a pollution-free environment, the court ordered the suspension of all mining operations and transport of minerals in Bellary and other districts. But it allowed export of the existing stocks. “We are satisfied that, on account of over-exploitation, considerable damage has been done to the environment. We are taking a holistic view of the matter. We have suspended these operations keeping in mind the precautionary principle, which is the essence of Article 21 of the Constitution.”
The court also ordered a CBI probe into the illegal mining in the border areas of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, covering the alleged illegal mining activities of the former Karnataka Minister, G. Janardhana Reddy, at Obulapuram in Andhra Pradesh.
Coming to the rescue of air passengers, the court said that if there was a delay in the departure of a flight with passengers on board for more than three hours for lack of clearance from the Air Traffic Control (due to fog or for other operational reasons), the passengers should be permitted to get back to the airport lounge, and the airlines should provide them with food and water.
Making it clear to the outside world that India followed the rule of law even in the case of a foreign national, the Supreme Court stayed the execution of Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani national awarded the death penalty in the 26/11 terror attacks case.
The court stayed the release on bail of Pune-based racehorse owner Hasan Ali, detained under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act and other laws. It came down heavily on the Centre for its lacklustre response to tackling the menace of black money. In the Salwa Judum case, it declared illegal the employment of youth to counter Maoists.
Following widespread criticism of the collegium system of appointment of judges to the higher judiciary, the Supreme Court decided to have a larger Bench consider 10 questions relating to the review of the 1993 and 1998 judgments giving primacy to the judiciary on appointment of judges.
While agreeing to consider the legality of the nuclear bill, the court made it clear that it would not go into the policy aspects relating to the safety of all nuclear plants in the country as it was the domain of Parliament.
The court directed the Special Investigation Team, headed by the former CBI Director, R.K. Raghavan, to submit its final report, under Section 173 (2) of the Cr.PC to the trial court, on the further investigation it had done on the complaint of Zakia Jeffrey against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and 61 others for their alleged role in the 2002 communal riots.
The court did not allow the opening of Kallara (locker) B at the Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram, though it ordered full protection to the temple and documentation of the artefacts found in the other five chambers.
Justice P.D. Dinakaran's attempts to quash the inquiry against him by the committee set up under the Judges (Inquiry) Act backfired, with the court having rejected all the petitions. He ultimately resigned, forcing the committee to wind up the proceedings. Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court, who faced removal proceedings, resigned even before the Rajya Sabha took up the motion after the Lok Sabha passed it. The court dismissed a public interest litigation petition filed on his behalf, questioning the removal procedure.
By quashing the Uttar Pradesh government's order suspending the screening of the Hindi film Aarakshan for two months, the Supreme Court once again underlined the importance of freedom of speech and expression.
The court also came to the rescue to thousands of students writing competitive examinations by making it clear that students could seek a photo copy of the answer sheets of an examination conducted by any agency under the Right to Information Act.
The Supreme Court stayed the Allahabad High Court's verdict dividing the disputed site of the Ramajanmaboomi at Ayodhya into three parts and apportioning them among the parties to the dispute.
In a setback to the Jayalalithaa government's decision to defer the implementation of the Uniform System of School Education (Samacheer Kalvi), the Supreme Court directed the Tamil Nadu government to implement it for Classes 2 to 5 and 7 to 10. The Court, however, declined to interfere with a Madras High Court judgment upholding the abolition of the Common Entrance Test for admission to professional courses in Tamil Nadu, giving relief to lakhs of students in the State.
Observing that the right to life is of paramount consideration, the Supreme Court banned the manufacture, sale and use of Endosulfan. But it allowed the existing stocks and formulations.
The court dismissed as “fallacious” the curative petitions filed by the CBI to recall the 1996 judgment dropping the charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder against the former Chairman of Union Carbide India, Keshub Mahindra, and other accused in the 1984 Bhopal gas leak case.
The court extended its jurisdiction beyond the Indian border by making an emotional appeal to the Pakistan government to release an Indian prisoner languishing in a Pakistani jail for more than 26 years after he inadvertently crossed the border. Interestingly, the Pakistan government accepted the appeal and freed the prisoner.
The court allowed passive mercy killing of a patient in a permanent vegetative state by withdrawing the life support system with the approval of a medical board and on the directions of the High Court concerned. It, however, did not accept the plea of Pinky Virani of Mumbai for permission to withdraw the life support extended to Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug, who has been in a permanent vegetative state at KEM Hospital in Mumbai for 37years.
In a setback to Times Now television channel, the Supreme Court declined to interfere with an interim order of the Bombay High Court, directing Times Global Broadcasting Co. Limited to deposit Rs. 20 crore in cash and Rs. 80 crore as bank guarantee in the court in a defamation suit filed by the former Supreme Court judge, P.B. Sawant, claiming Rs.100 crore in damages.