Monthly Review: May 2021

In May 2021 the Supreme Court struck down the reservations provided to Maratha's and continued to hear multiple COVID cases.

May started with the Covid crisis at a peak. There were only five full working days this month. However, an important verdict was delivered on the Maratha Reservations. Covid cases also continued to be heard on urgent priority.


Look back at our coverage of the Supreme Court in May.


Maratha Reservations Struck Down; States Don’t Have Power to Identify SEBCs

The Constitution Bench in the Maratha Reservations case pronounced their judgment on May 5th. This comes after a history of more than seven years of legislation and litigation, attempting to grant reservations for Marathas. We have covered this history here.


The Bench unanimously held that the 50% limit on reservations need not be revisited. One of the authorities they referred to was Dr. Ambedkar’s speech in the Constituent Assembly. In this post, we have looked back at his speech. Further, the Marathas did not fall within the limited exceptions to this rule. So, reservation for Marathas was unconstitutional.


On the 102nd Constitutional Amendment Act, 2018, Justices BhatRao and Gupta in the majority ruled that the Amendment did take away States’ powers to identify socially and educationally backward classes (SEBCs). The Centre was ordered to expeditiously notify a new list of SEBCs.  Justices Bhushan and Nazeer, dissented.


We have summarised the judgment in plain English. We have created a simplified matrix of each judge’s opinion on issues.


Covid Cases: Prisoners, Abandoned Children, Migrant Labourers, Board Exams and a National Policy

Cases on issues arising out of Covid have been some of the few cases taken up despite the vacation. Look at a list of cases we have covered here.


Due to the rise of cases in the second wave, the Court mandated that the High Powered Committees that were set up during the first wave should meet again. Inmates who had been released earlier and brought back should be released again. Read the about the suo moto prisons case to date here.


The amicus in the suo moto case on vulnerable children raised the issue of abandoned children, due to the death of parents and guardians during the pandemic. The Court has ordered that the established procedure should be followed in taking care of these children. We have covered this case here.


Advocate Prashant Bhushan raised the plight of migrant labourers during the second wave. The Court has ordered measures similar to last year: to provide dry rations and to set up community kitchens. Follow the case to date here.


A new petition has been filed to cancel board exams by CBSE and ICSE for Class 12. It asks for marks to be evaluated on alternative objective criteria. The Court has allowed CBSE and ICSE to decide. However, if they are departing from last year’s decision, they must provide good reason. Look at our report on cases dealing with board exams.


Benches led by Justice Chandrachud have been hearing the suo moto case on developing a ‘National Policy’. They have questioned the government on their plan to deal with the supply of oxygen, essential drugs and the administration and pricing of vaccines. Read more on the case here.


The Supreme Court’s Limited Functioning; Media Provided Virtual Access

The Court has been hearing only urgent cases since April 22nd. On the request of members of the Bar, it also advanced its Summer Vacation from May 14th to May 10th.  Look at our coverage of the Court’s administrative functioning here.


On May 13th, the Court announced that members of the media would be provided virtual access to Court proceedings. CJI Ramana launched the update to the app. At the event, they also announced ‘Indicative Notes’, a section on the Supreme Court website with summaries of important judgments.


Tracking: Constitutionality of Sedition and Election Commission Appointments

On April 30th, the Court admitted a petition by two journalists challenging the constitutionality of sedition. The petitioners argue that sedition should no longer be an exception to the right to free speech. They have also relied on the reasons for its repeal in other democracies like the UK and the US. We have looked at the history of sedition in these jurisdictions and in India here. We are also tracking the case here and have summarised the petition in plain English.


The Association for Democratic Reforms, on May 17th, filed a challenge to the constitutionality of the Executive appointing members of the Election Commission. They argue that this harms the independence of the Commission. Instead, an independent collegium should appoint its members. We are tracking this case here.