Stories from the first day of a Supreme Court back from vacation

The CJI’s court was business as usual with housekeeping announcements, a “path breaking judgement”, and the NEET issue stealing the show

After a seven-week long summer vacation, the Supreme Court corridors were bustling with advocates in black and white, again. Numerous cases were heard on this miscellaneous day in Court Room 1, presided over by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, and joined by Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra

While we expected CJI Chandrachud to begin what we call the Monsoon Session of the Court with announcements on technology, new initiatives and projects, the Chief saved them for later. He welcomed the bar and began the day with a judgement pertaining to representation of Persons with Disabilities (PwD) in films. 

Landmark Guidelines for portraying persons with disabilities

In February 2024, disability rights activist Nipun Malhotra challenged the portrayal of persons with disabilities in the film ‘Aankh Micholi’ for being derogatory to PwDs. 

In the judgement, described as “path breaking” by Justice Pardiwala, the Bench held that stereotypical representation of PwDs in films is discriminatory. CJI Chandrachud, who authored the judgement, stated that such portrayal is “disabling humour” which demeans and disparages PwDs. 

The Court framed guidelines for the appropriate representation of PwDs in films. Film makers and visual creators were discouraged from using words such as “cripple”, “spastic”, “afflicted”, “victim” that carries a “devalued meaning” and promotes a “negative self image” of PwDs. They also stated that creators must accurately represent PwDs. To ensure better and more authentic representation, the Court suggested adopting the “nothing about us without us” principle where PwDs are included in discussions and in portrayal of the group. 

Films, the Court said, must reflect the “diverse realities” of PwDs. This must include not only their challenges but also their “success, talents, and contributions” to society. “They should neither be lampooned based on myths such as blind people bump into objects in their path, nor presented as ‘super-cripples’ with extraordinary abilities,” the guidelines stated. 

An Indian Sign Language interpreter joined the virtual hearing throughout the pronouncement of the judgement.The interpreter signed the pronouncement of the decision and later the arguments, submissions, and questions by the Bench throughout the first-half of the day. Last year, CJI Chandrachud had expressed his intention to appoint a full time interpreter after hearing-impaired lawyer Sara Sunny was joined by an ISL interpreter in October 2023. 

Mentioning influx 

After the judgement was pronounced, advocates began the mentioning process. This is where advocates make a representation for a case to be heard urgently due to pressing circumstances. Senior Advocate Abhisek Manu Singhvi approached the Bench first, requesting a revival of Aam Aadmi Party leader and former Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia’s bail petition. Singhvi stated that Sisodia was in prison for over 16 months with no developments on his trial in the Delhi Excise Policy case. CJI Chandrachud assured that he will look into it. Last month, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had said that the final charge sheet will be prepared in Sisodia’s case by 3 July 2024. The Court had disposed of Sisodia’s bail petition after that assurance. 

Next, a lawyer from Kerala mentioned that the state was struggling with floods and heavy rains. CJI Chandrachud stated that the registrar will take stock of the situation. He assured that the matter will be listed if there was any urgency. Another advocate mentioned a plea for planting a tree, prompting CJI Chandrachud to say, “How many trees will I plant?” and dismissed the case. 

As per the Supreme Court website, there was only one mentioning matter listed for that day. However, the Bench patiently heard anyone who wanted to speak. 

Lunch rooms, Cubicles, and Air-Conditioning

The Chief announced that the Court had begun 42 projects during the seven-week summer break that were coming to fruition within the next few weeks. 

He announced that they were installing air conditioners outside Courts one to five. The Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi and the Delhi Opens Arts Commission are assisting the Court to install the units to ensure the heritage building is protected.

Next, he announced that the two rooms next to the grand staircase of the Court, which were being used as a waiting room by lawyers during Covid-19, were restored in a manner to match the “facade of the Supreme Court.” He requested the members of the bar to make full use of it.

The Chief also stated that a separate lunch room was inaugurated for senior advocates. Further, he stated that a Bar room for women lawyers will be ready within the next two or three days. Lastly, he stated that cubicles for lawyers will be ready by Thursday (11 July). 

He then announced that a full time registrar court would be active during court hours from Monday to Friday. 

After the housekeeping announcements, the Bench started hearing the matters listed for the day. One of them was a Public Interest Litigation barring national parties from participating in local body and panchayat elections. That petition was promptly withdrawn after the Bench expressed its dismay. 

Notable Hearings that you should know about

The Court heard a petition seeking a uniform implementation of a Model builder-buyer agreement under the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016. The Bench observed that a uniform agreement will ensure that buyers are not defrauded by builders. According to Senior Advocate Devashish Bharuka, 12 state governments had responded to the suggestion for a uniform agreement. Their responses were included in a status report. However, Nagaland expressed its reservations stating that RERA would not apply to it due to Article 371A. Article 371A was inserted as a special provision which states that “no act of Parliament” which deals with “ownership and transfer of land and its resources” will apply in Nagaland unless the legislative assembly decides by a resolution. 

Next, the Bench heard a case relating to a National Policy on menstrual hygiene for adolescent girls. The petition was filed by Congress party leader Dr. Jaya Thakur. The Union, appearing through Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhatti, stated that they needed about two months to collect rectified data from different states. Further, it stated that the National Policy was at an advanced stage of consideration at the Ministry of Women and Child Development. The case was listed for hearings in September 2024. 

The hearing everyone was waiting for was the petitions concerning the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for undergraduate medical seats. The Chief’s court was filled to the brim as the Bench began hearing 24 petitions challenging the 2024 UG NEET examination. CJI Chandrachud took charge, conscious that every counsel would want to make a submission. He began by narrowing down the issue of the case. Should there be a retest of the NEET examination? 

The Chief stated that the retest would be a last resort. It can only be justified if the paper leak occurred on a systemic level. If the leak was limited to a smaller group of students a retest for all 24 lakh candidates for the NEET UG would be unlikely. The Bench directed the National Testing Agency and the Union to identify “beneficiaries” of the leak. They also directed the NTA to use data analytics to detect suspicious trends in the process to prevent any future faults in the NEET examination. The matter will be heard on 11 July 2024 where petitioners will argue in favour of the retest for the NEET exam.