SCO Explains: Summer Session Review

With the SC on summer vacation, its time to recap all the key developments at the top Court so far.

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Gauri: Hello everyone! Welcome to SCO Explains! I am Gauri Kashyap, 

Joyston: and I’m Joyston D’Souza

Gauri: And we’re doing a recap of the Supreme Court’s summer session. We’ll be looking into the top judgements, most important hearings, and the biggest developments in the Court during the Summer Session. To be clear, the Supreme Court does not officially follow a session calendar. But, for the sake of analysing performance, we’ve divided the annual calendar into 4 seasonal sessions. The Summer Session begins at the end of the SC’s Holi break mid-March, and concludes at the onset of the summer break, which started on 20th this month.

Alright, let’s begin. So the Supreme Court was really active during this summer session. After a long time, it delivered 6 Constitution Bench Judgments, right?

Joyston: Yeah! I think the most anticipated judgement of those was on the rebellion within the Shiv Sena. CJI Chandrachud’s Bench held that the events leading to Mr. Eknath Shinde’s rise to power was illegal. But the Court left the actual question of defection by shiv sena members, as per the tenth schedule, unanswered. It left all questions on disqualification up to the Speaker of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly to decide as per procedure. 

The Bench also came down heavily on Governor B.S. Koshyari for ordering a floor test based on intra-party disputes. They said that he had no objective material to decide that Mr. Uddhav Thackery had lost confidence. Just some dissatisfaction within a political party was not enough to call for a floor test. The Bench also upheld the Election Commission’s power to decide the outcome of political party splits but held that the ECI’s decision would only have a prospective effect.

So Mr. Mathew Idiculla who’s an independent researcher, wrote about this case, and said that the judgement was legally sound, but had no real impact on Maharastra’s politics. The SC could not reinstate Mr. Uddhav Thackeray as Chief Minister, because he resigned voluntarily. With Mr. Eknath Shinde having enjoyed the post of the CM for nearly a year, and disqualification proceedings nowhere in sight, the Judgement has hardly changed things on the ground. 

Gauri: I think the next big judgement was definitely in the tussle between the Delhi government and Union Government over control of services and administration in the capital city. Here the Court upheld the federal structure envisioned for Delhi under Art. 239AA, and ruled that the Delhi government must have control over its civil servants. 

But the Delhi government’s win was short-lived, because the Union nullified the judgement through an Ordinance. It returned the control of ‘services’ to the Union and granted the Lieutenant Governor, who is a representative of the Union ‘sole discretionary’ power over the appointment of civil servants in the NCT of Delhi. Its been interesting to see the power struggle between the Delhi government and the union which has actually been playing out for a while now. 

Joyston: I suppose the next big topic is the Jallikattu judgment, where 5-Judges unanimously upheld the practice of Jallikattu, Kambala, and Bailgada Sharyat, which are versions of bull taming, or bullockart racing in tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra. 

So back in 2014 the Supreme Court had banned Jallikattu in Animal Welfare Board of India v. A. Nagaraja . But these states brought in amendments to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, claiming that these sports would now be played with minimum cruelty. The Bench agreed and said that the amendments created sufficient precautions to ‘substantially minimise’ any cruelty against animals. They refused to ‘disrupt’ the Tamil Nadu government’s recognition of Jallikattu as a cultural practice. And at a broader level, they avoided extending fundamental rights to animals saying that they did not want to venture into ‘judicial adventurism’.

Animal Rights activist Mr. Alok Hisarwala Gupta, in an interview with SCO, told us that this judgement was a significant setback in securing basic rights against animal cruelty. 

Gauri: Three other constitution Bench Judgements were delivered this summer session—one on the SC’s Power to directly Grant Divorce Under Article 142, which gives it the power to pass any other towards “the ends of justice”; one on the union’s petition asking for more compensation for Bhopal gas tragedy victims, and on the validity of an arbitration agreement, if the stamp duty has not been paid. We’ve discussed these cases in our Summer Session Judgements review on our website. Do check it out! 

Moving on, the Supreme Court heard some cases of great public importance this session. The petition for queer marriage equality, or same sex marriage as it was popularly known is at the top of this list. A 5-Judge Bench heard this case for nearly 30 hours over 10 days and reserved the judgement. 

The other main Constitution bench hearing that was completed was the challenge to the extension of tenures for CBI and ED Directors. Mainly this case concerns the independence of the Central Bureau of investigation and the Enforcement directorate, which are both investigative bodies, often looking into the government iteslf. The petitioners expressed concern that if the Union could dangle tenure extensions to directors in return for Union-friendly behaviour, then these organisations would lose their independence. The Court reserved judgement in this case. 

Joyston: The Court also completed hearings on the validity of the ‘Group of Companies’ doctrine. Here the Bench will decide if non-signatory companies can be included in arbitration proceedings if they are closely related to signatories to an arbitration agreement. The decision to accept or reject this ‘Group of Companies’ doctrine will have far-reaching ramifications on arbitration law, which often involves corporate dispute resolution across international borders. This too was a 5-judge Bench case. 

Other big hearings that have happened in Court this summer session include petitions challenging the Early Release of Bilkis Bano Gangrape Convicts. The Court also heard the Challenge to WhatsApp’s Privacy Policy, and reviewed the latest report in the Adani-hindenburg controversy. These cases have been discussed in SCO’s Summer Session Review of important hearings. 

Lastly, we come to our institutional review Section. We know that there has been some apid collegium activity during the summer session, with two retirements and two swift appointments. Justices M.R. Shah and Dinesh Maheshwari Retired in May. 

Two new judges, Justices K.V. Viswanathan and P.K. Mishra, were elevated to the SC in May to fill the vacancies. The recommendations, made by the SC Collegium on May 16th, were approved just two days later by the Union. By the third day (May 19th), the two judges had already been sworn in. Previously, the Union notoriously ‘sat on’ recommendations for months, leaving vacancies across Courts. 

Justice K.V. Viswanathan is the 10th SC judge to be directly elevated from the Bar. If the seniority convention is followed, he will be the 4th direct Bar appointee to become the Chief Justice of India.

Gauri: The Union Cabinet saw a major change in its composition recently. Mr. Kiren Rijiju, who was the Union Law Minister for nearly 2 years, was replaced by Mr. Arjun Ram Meghwal. Mr. Rijiju was known for his bold and vocal criticism of the Collegium system and strongly advocated for Union representation in the judge appointment process. Many have speculated that the reshuffling came in context of the ongoing string of clashes between the Union and the Court. 

It seems the Supreme Court caught on the Artificial intelligence trend, and this summer session, it launched a project to record oral arguments during court proceedings with the help of AI and upload transcripts of courtroom exchanges on the Supreme Court website. Chief Justice Chandrachud said that the success of the live transcription project will make the Supreme Court a ‘true Court of Record’. However, since the initiative was launched, 25 Constitution Bench hearings have been held, and only 9 transcripts have been published so far. The SC recently put out a call for fresh bids for AI tools, so it appears they are working on making the system more efficient and consistent. 

This was our Summer Session review! Drop a comment and let us know what you thought was the highlight of this term, and what you’d like to see from the Supreme Court when it comes back from Vacation. 

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