The Supreme Court reserved orders in 2012 on five important cases — the Kudankulam nuclear plant issue; gay sex, mercy petitions; the Mumbai blasts cases and freebies as poll promises. The judgments are expected this month once the court re-opens after the winter vacation.
In the Kudankulam case, the argument was that the plant could not be commissioned without resolving the issue of the Russian government’s liability in case of a nuclear accident and without putting in place 17 safety measures. The state contended these safety measures were only additional steps to be implemented over a period of time. The commissioning of the plant depends on the court verdict.
In the gay matter, the court reserved verdict in March after a marathon hearing on a batch of appeals that challenged the Delhi High Court’s ruling that decriminalised gay sex between consenting adults. The hearing drew widespread media attention in India and abroad. The Centre came in for criticism from the court as it did not file any appeal against the judgment. Several parents and relatives of sexual minorities testified in court, asking that the original verdict not be overturned as it would interfere with their right to life and liberty guaranteed by the Constitution.
As for the mercy petitions, the court said it would lay down guidelines and fix a time limit for the President and the Governor to dispose of pleas, which are more often than not disposed of on political considerations by the party in power.
In the blast cases, it is dealing with several death and life sentences and varying terms of imprisonment to the accused, including Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt, who was convicted under the Arms Act.
In the freebies case, the petitioner who had earlier questioned the free colour TV scheme of the DMK government in Tamil Nadu submitted that the present government had also announced freebies and no guidelines had been issued. He said public spending on these goods of about Rs. 9,000 crore “far outweighs any public benefits that might arise from such distribution.”
Though the court initially indicated it wanted to frame guidelines to the media for court reporting, in its judgment it refused to do so but gave the higher judiciary option to pass orders to postpone certain events.
It said: “They [orders of postponement] should be passed only when necessary to prevent real and substantial risk to the fairness of the trial [court proceedings], if reasonable alternative measures such as change of venue or postponement of trial will not prevent the said risk and when the salutary effects of such orders outweigh the deleterious effects to free expression.”
Evolving the ‘Doctrine of Postponement’ to balance the right of an accused to be presumed innocent till completion of trial with the media’s right to freedom of expression, the Supreme Court said the media had a right to appeal against postponement orders.
Setting at rest the controversy on the safety of the 116-year-old Mullaperiyar dam, the Empowered Committee, headed by the former Chief Justice of India A.S. Anand said “the dam is structurally and hydrologically safe and Tamil Nadu can raise the water level from 136 ft to 142 ft. after carrying out certain repairs. The dam is also seismically safe and the earth tremors in that region last year did not have any impact on the Mullaperiyar dam and the Idukki reservoir and there was no danger to the safety of the two dams.”
The court had appointed the expert panel to go into the safety of the dam and the panel took two years to conduct various studies to come to the conclusion that the dam was safe. The court will have final hearing of the case in February this year.
In the Cauvery river case, the court directed Karnataka to release water to Tamil Nadu to save the samba crop. On the directions of the court, the Centre also agreed to notify the final decision of the Cauvery water disputes given by the tribunal on February 5, 2007.
The court gave a clean chit to BSP leader Mayawati in the disproportionate assets case holding that the CBI could not continue with the proceedings against her. However, on a review petition from the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, the court issued notice to the CBI and Ms. Mayawati seeking their response.
“The Supreme Court is not a theatre for farcical plays” observed the court while rejecting a public interest petition for initiating criminal action against the Presidential candidate Pranab Mukherjee under the Prevention of Corruption Act for resorting to alleged corruption in soliciting votes in the Presidential poll. The court in December upheld Mr. Pranab’s election as President.
The court rejected the bail plea of the President of YSR Congress Jagan Mohan Reddy seeking bail in the cases registered against him by the Central Bureau of Investigation. The court granted time to the CBI to complete probe in seven cases before he could seek bail.
The court, while confirming the death sentence on Ajmal Kasab, slammed the electronic media for its live coverage of the Mumbai terror attack and said by doing so the Indian TV channels did not serve any national interest or social cause.
“The reckless coverage of the terrorist attack by the channels gave rise to a situation where on the one hand the terrorists were completely hidden from the security forces and they had no means to know their exact position or even the kind of firearms and explosives they possessed and on the other hand the positions of the security forces, their weapons and all their operational movements were being watched by the collaborators across the border on TV screens and being communicated to the terrorists.”
The court held that Indian courts had no jurisdiction to pass interim orders in foreign arbitration awards between an Indian company and a foreign company under the provisions of the Indian Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996.