With the Supreme Court operating in a limited capacity due to the COVID-19 outbreak, SC Observer looks back at the top 5 judgments (and orders) delivered in 2020 so far. From adjudicating on the internet shutdown in Kashmir to lifting barriers against female Armed Forces officers, the Court has had a busy first few months of the year.
On 10 January, a Bench comprising Justices N.V. Ramana, Subhash Reddy and B.R. Gavai ordered the Union to review all restrictions on communications imposed in Jammu and Kashmir. In doing so, it observed, ‘the freedom of speech and expression and the freedom to practice any profession or carry on any trade, business or occupation over the medium of internet enjoys constitutional protection under Article 19(1)(a) and Article 19(1)(g)’. This judgment establishes that the internet serves as an important medium through which the fundamental rights to free expression and occupation is actualised.
On 2 March, the five-judge Article 370 Bench ruled out referring the case to a larger bench. With this order, the Bench put to rest the argument that two pivotal earlier Article 370 judgments – Prem Nath Kaul and Sampat Prakash – were in conflict with each other. The Court appears to have signaled its preference for the precedent set by Sampat Prakash - specifically on the issue of whether the President can issue orders under Article 370 after the dissolution of the J&K Constituent Assembly. Sampat Prakash held yes.
In an important judgment as to interaction between the 1804 and 2013 land acquisition legislation, a five-judge Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra clarified ambiguities around when acquisition proceedings can lapse on 4 March. Significantly, he held that the State's failure to deposit compensation in a landowner's account was not sufficient to lapse proceedings under Section 24(2) of the 2013 Act. This case had previously garnered public attention for the questions it raised about precedent and recusal.
On 4 March, the Supreme Court restricted the application of the Right to Information Act, 2005 to the Gujarat High Court. In particular, Justice Banumathi's three-judge Bench held that citizens cannot file RTI requests to obtain pleadings. Instead, citizens must resort to using the procedure established by the Gujarat High Court rules. As scholars such as Prashant Reddy have pointed out, this judgment is likely to set the precedent for all High Courts and the Supreme Court itself.
In a series of two judgments, the Bench comprising Justices Chandrachud and Rastogi cemented female Armed Forces officers' right to Permanent Commission (PC). On 17 February, the Bench held that women in the Army have the same right to PC as their male counterparts. Then on 20 March, it did the same for women in the Navy. Both judgments emphasised that the Armed Forces must strive to do away with discriminatory mind-sets about a woman's role in society.
Given that the Court has delivered over 300 judgments in 2020 so far, it was difficult to narrow down our list to only five judgments. Therefore, we've made an additional list of honourable mentions: