The Court heard important constitutional matters, including challenges to Maratha Reservations, Electoral Bonds and deportation of Rohingya refugees. They also issued an interim order in the case of the electoral bonds and affirmed multi-member wards for municipalities. In a progressive judgment, the Court highlighted the best practices judges should follow in gender violence cases.
On the personnel front, Indu Malhotra retired after 3 years. This leaves only one woman out of 29 judges on the bench. As CJI Bobde is set to retire next month, he has recommended Justice Ramana to take over.
In 2018, the Maharashtra Government introduced the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018 (SEBC Act). It granted Marathas reservations in public employment and higher education. In the last 2 weeks of the month, the Supreme Court heard arguments challenging the Act.
The petitioners relied on two main arguments. The 50% limit on reservations laid down in Indra Sawhney. And their interpretation of the 102nd Amendment. In their view, States did not have the power to identify SEBCs. The State of Maharashtra questioned the 50% rule and disagreed with this interpretation of the 102nd Amendment.
Considering the important constitutional issues raised, all States and the Union submitted a response. Several other petitions which would be affected by this issue, as well as intervenors, were also heard. After 10 days of hearings, the Court has reserved its judgment.
We covered the hearings here. To understand the background of the 50% rule, look at our desk posts here and here.
On 24 March, the Court took up Association for Democratic Reforms’ interim application to stay the next issue of the electoral bonds from April 2021. Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioner, urged that the electoral bonds pose a high risk of enabling money laundering, risk of forgery, corruption, bribery and kickbacks. For the Union of India, Attorney General KK Venugopal argued that electoral bonds in fact help curb black money from being pumped into the elections. A day later, the Court denied the stay.
On 7 March 2021, news reports indicated that 150-170 Rohingya refugees had been detained in ‘holding centres’ in Jammu. There were fears that they would be deported. A refugee from Delhi had filed a petition in 2017 to protect Rohingya refugees from deportation. Under this petition, a request for interim relief was filed for the 170 detainees. On 26 March the petitioners argued that the ‘principle of non-refoulement' did not allow the deportation of refugees. This was a part of the Indian Constitution. The Union of India argued against this. They raised national security concerns and argued for executive discretion.
The State of Gujarat provided for 4 councillors to be elected to municipalities from each ward. The petitioners challenged this. They argued that the Constitution did not envision multi-member wards. There was no provision for electing Chairpersons for Ward Committees in multi-member wards. The Supreme Court denied this and said State legislation could fill in the gap. The petitioners also argued multi-member wards made it difficult for SCs/STS/OBCs and women to effectively represent their cause. This too was refused.
Justice Ravindra Bhat, writing for a division bench, addressed the ‘entrenched paternalistic and misogynistic attitudes’ in judgments around sexual violence cases. The Court analysed a series of judgments from several courts around sexual assault that illustrate archaic gender beliefs, gender stereotyping and insensitiveness. And laid down dos and don’ts for progressive adjudication and judgment writing on sexual assault cases.
CJI Bobde’s bench pronounced an interim order on the request for a stay on 25 March. They refused a stay on the issue of bonds. They stated that an earlier interim order had decided the appropriate interim relief. There were sufficient safeguards and a stay was not necessary.
A three-judge bench led by Justice Nariman pronounced a judgment on the conduct of municipal elections in Goa. Justice Nariman strongly criticised the actions of the State Election Commissioner. He held that the Commissioner cannot be employed by the State and must be independent. The notification on the reservation of seats below the mandated amount was also struck down.
Justice Malhotra retired on 13 March 2021 bringing the strength of the Court to 29. To mark her retirement, we shed statistical light on her work at the Supreme Court. And also examine key judgments she authored and was a part of.