The Desk

Monthly Review: June 2022

One month into summer vacation, the SC continued to pass important judgments in 'urgent' and pending matters

The Supreme Court has been on vacation since May 23rd 2022 and is set to resume normal functioning on July 11th. Vacation Benches, however, have continued to sit during this period of respite for Judges, passing decisions on important and ‘urgent’ matters. SCO reports on the most notable activities in June.

Retirements at the Court

On June 6th 2022, Justice L. Nageswara Rao formally retired after a six year tenure at the Supreme Court. Justice Rao was the 7th Judge to be directly elevated to the SC from the Bar. His tenure exceeds the average expected tenure of SC judges of 5.37 years by almost six months. During his retirement speech Justice Rao stated that judges in the SC should have tenures of at least 7-8 years to get accustomed to the functioning of the Court. 

SCO tracked Justice Rao’s impact in numbers and his notable Judgments at the SC. 

Agnipath Recruitment Scheme: 3 Petitions Filed at the SC

On June 14th 2022, the Union Government announced the ‘Agnipath’ recruitment scheme for the armed forces. Aimed at recruiting young candidates between the ages of 17 and 23 years in 2022, the scheme offers candidates a 4-year period of service after which 25% of them will be retained. The Scheme is meant to be the sole route for recruitment into the armed forces. However, detractors have pointed out multiple causes for concern. The Scheme does not include pensions for the ‘Agniveers’—the title given to the recruits. Former army officers have questioned the lack of a pilot project to assess the effects of the Scheme and Opposition parties have criticised its implementation with no discussion beforehand in Parliament. 

In the days following the announcement of the Scheme protests erupted across the country. On June 16th the protests began to turn violent and destructive—train burning being a particular concern, resulting in nearly 500 train services cancelled as of June 19th. 

Three petitions regarding the Agnipath scheme were filed at the SC by three different advocates between June 18th and 20th. The first petition was filed by Vishal Tiwari on June 18th and requested the creation of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to examine the violence and destruction caused during the protests. He further sought the creation of a judicial committee headed by a retired SC Judge to examine the scheme. 

The other two petitions were filed on June 20th. Advocate M.L. Sharma challenged the Scheme on the grounds that it is unconstitutional and was implemented without parliamentary approval. Advocate Harsh Ajay Singh requested the Court to direct the Union to reconsider the Scheme. 

A Vacation Bench of the SC comprising Justices C.T. Ravikumar and Sudhanshu Dhulia heard the petition. They stated that the decision on whether to list the matter will be left up to the Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana after the summer vacation. 

Gujarat Riots and Zakia Jafri: Court Upholds ‘Clean Chit’ Granted to 63 Accused

On June 24th, the Bench comprising Justices A.M. Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and C.T. Ravikumar upheld the clean chit granted by the Magistrate’s Court and the 2012 SIT Report to the 63 people accused of conspiracy during the 2002 Gujarat riots. In 2018, Zakia Jafri, wife of Congress M.P. Ehsaan Jafri who was killed during the Gulberg Society massacre, challenged the SIT report at the SC, claiming it was biased and ignored crucial evidence. She further challenged the decision of the Magistrate to uphold the SIT’s report, stating that her submissions about a larger conspiracy by the police and public officials were not considered. 

The Judgment that marked the end of Zakia Jafri’s arduous journey through the Judicial system has had significant public fallout. Co-petitioner and co-founder of the NGO ‘Citizens for Justice and Peace’ Teesta Setalvad, and former Gujarat Director General of Police and 2002 Gujarat riots whistleblower R.B. Sreekumar were arrested on June 25th, hours after the Judgment was delivered. An FIR was filed against former IPS Officer Sanjiv Bhatt as well, who is already in jail as he was convicted in a custodial violence case in 2019. The FIRs rely on extracts of the Judgment which stated that certain parties had ‘ulterior motives’ to ‘keep the pot boiling’ with this issue.

Maharashtra Political Crisis: SC Refused to Stay Floor Test

On June 29th 2022, the Supreme Court refused to stay the Maharashtra Governor’s call for a floor test, hammering the final nail in the coffin for the Uddhav Thackarey-led Maha Vikas Anganwadi (MVA) government. Starting on June 21st,  39 Shiv Sena MLAs led by Mr. Eknath Shinde split from the party citing lack of confidence in the Chief Minister. The Deputy Speaker, Narhari Zirwal, had earlier issued notice for defection against 16 rebel MLAs. Soon after, the Maharashtra Governor announced the floor test. 

On June 29th, Shiv Sena whip, Sunil Prabhu, approached the Court seeking an urgent hearing against the floor test scheduled for June 30th. The petitioner argued that conducting a floor test before the disqualifications proceedings against the 16 rebel MLAs were completed, would not represent the ‘true majority’ of the House. The SC heard the matter on urgent basis on the same day and issued an Order at 9PM. The SC refused to intervene with the floor test, but clarified that the outcome of the floor test would be subject to the outcome of the disqualification hearings. 

Soon after the Order was passed, Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray announced his resignation. On June 30th Mr. Eknath Shinde was sworn in as Chief Minister of Maharashtra.

Pendency at the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court added another 613 cases to its perpetually growing backlog between January 1st 2022 and June 1st 2022. While the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have greatly abated in 2022, the drastic impact it had on the Court in the previous two years continues to affect its pendency crisis. Notably, the Supreme Court has been on vacation since May 24th and will resume normal functioning on July 11th 2022—further stalling efforts to tackle the pendency problem. However, Vacation Benches have continued to hear ‘urgent’ matters. 

However, pendency in 2022 is less drastic compared to the COVID years during the corresponding period.

Looking Ahead

The challenge to Rakesh Asthana’s appointment as Delhi Police Commissioner runs the risk of becoming infructuous as his retirement, July 31st 2022, looms closer. The SC is currently on summer vacation and will reopen only on 11th July.  

Justice A.M. Khanwilkar is set to retire on July 29th 2022 after serving a six year tenure on the Bench. He has left his mark on many notable Judgments such as the Gujarat Riots case, FCRA Amendment case and the Sabarimala entry case among others. Justice Khanwilkar is also on the three Judge Bench in the challenge to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, whose Judgment is expected in the coming month.