From the corridors of judiciary: Supreme Court verdicts that held nation's attention in 2019

New Delhi, India Updated: Dec 25, 2019, 10:22 PM(IST)

File photo: Supreme Court of India. Photograph:( ANI )

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As the year draws to a close, let's have a look at the court verdict that gripped nation's attention through this year.

Country's apex court - the Supreme Court of India pronounced a series of landmark judgments in 2019, which not only will remain embedded in history but also in our minds in times to come.

Many of these verdicts were passed during the tenure of former chief justice of India Ranjan Gogoi's who also brought an end to, inarguably one of the most talked-about court cases in the history of India - Ayodhya Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute case.

As the year draws to a close, let's have a look at the court verdict that gripped nation's attention through this year.

Ayodhya verdict

In November, the country waited with bated breath to know whether the disputed site in Uttar Pradesh's Ayodhya, belonged to Hindus or Muslims. As the day inched closers, prohibitory orders were imposed in different parts of the country as people stayed glued to their TV sets and social media sites to know all details of the verdict in real-time.

On November 9, a five-judge bench of the apex court unanimously ruled in favour of Ram Lalla and handed over the entire disputed land which was spread over 2.7 acres to a trust, which would be formed by the government. The trust is now tasked to monitor the construction of a temple at the site.

Calling the demolition of Babri Masjid an "egregious violation of the rule of law", the top court gave alternative five acres of land for the construction of a mosque at a prominent location in the same city. Not happy with the allotment of a separate land, a batch of petitions were filed against the judgment which was all later dismissed.

Rafale verdict

Rafale jet fighter deal not only remained a discussed topic in the defence circle but also made its way to the electoral battle before the issue was settled by the top court orders.

A three-judge bench presided by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and comprising Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and K M Joseph dismissed a batch of review petitions filed against the court's December 14, 2018 verdict which had upheld purchase of 36 Rafale jets by Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government from France. The petitioners had sought registration of FIR and CBI probe into their complaint against Rafale purchase.

In 2018, the court had dismissed petitions seeking court-monitored probe into alleged irregularities in the procurement of jets. The court also said that it was not their job to go into the issue of pricing of the fighter planes.

On the outset, the bench also closed a contempt petition filed against Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for wrongly attributing his "chowkidar chor hai" slogan against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Rafale case to the top court.

Sabarimala case

In a 3:2 split verdict, the Supreme Court referred to a larger constitution bench a batch of review petitions against its September 2018 verdict allowing entry of women of all age groups into the Sabarimala temple.

The 2018 judgement of the court had sparked a series of protest across the state. This had lead to the filing of petitions seeking review of the top court's order. The petitions challenged the authority of the court to intervene in a belief of the people.

The review plea which was allowed by the court and will be heard in the time to come also argued that the Sabarimala deity is a "Brahmachari" [celibate] and "centuries-old beliefs" should not be disturbed by the entry of menstruating women worshippers. Now, it is to be seen what the seven-judge bench rules in the matter.

Dismissal of Nirbhaya rapist's review petition

One of the death-row convicts in the Nirbhaya rape case, Akshay Kumar Singh, availed one of his legal remedies and moved the Supreme Court seeking review of its order which had convicted him and three others in the case.

Nirbhaya's mother also moved an application opposing his petition and at the same time pressing that they be hanged soon.

Giving relief to her, the top court rejected Akshay's petition. The review petition of the other three convicts was already rejected by the court last year. Now, the convicts who are facing the gallows will file curative and mercy petitions as a last resort. They are raped and murdered a 23-year-old girl in a moving bus in December 2012. The case shook the conscience of the entire nation and also helped in shaping the rape laws.

Chief Justice of India under Right to Information

In an unusual case, the Supreme Court approached itself as one of the litigants. The case in question was whether the office of Chief Justice of India comes under the ambit of Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005.

The issue arose from an appeal filed by the secretary-general and central public information officer of the apex court against the January 2010 judgment of the Delhi High Court which declared the CJI's office a "public authority" under the RTI Act.

Observing that transparency strengthens judicial independence, the Supreme Court last month ruled that the Chief Justice of India's Office is a "public authority" and comes under the ambit of RTI Act. It, however, contended that the Act cannot be used as a means of surveillance.

Maharashtra government formation

The government formed by BJP's Devendra Fadnavis and NCP's Ajit Pawar came crumbing down after the Supreme Court ordered for a floor test to be conducted.

Observing that there is a possibility of horse-trading if the floor test is delayed, the court ordered it to be conducted through an open ballot and be telecasted live to determine the strength of the BJP-led Maharashtra government.

Within hours, Fadnavis resigned from the post of chief minister thus paving a way for Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena to form the government.

Sexual harassment charges against Ranjan Gogoi

The Supreme Court's in-house committee gave a clean chit to former CJI Ranjan Gogoi after allegations of sexual harassment were levelled against him by a former woman staffer earlier this year.

Feeling dejected, the woman said that she is on the verge of losing faith in the idea of justice. The clean chit was given to the CJI also received widespread criticism after the report of the committee was not made public.

Maradu flat demolition

The Supreme Court in May this year ordered the Kerala government to demolish four high-rise buildings in Maradu area of Kerala's Kochi city for violation of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules. As many as four hundred flats are set to be razed down by a controlled explosion on January 11 and 12 next year.

The apex court also ordered the state government to give interim compensation of Rs 25 lakh to the disgruntled flat owners.

P Chidambaram bail petition 

Former finance minister P Chidambaram, who was put under lock and key in a matter pertaining to a Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance given to INX Media during his tenure in 2007, sought bail from the Supreme Court.

Chidambaram was lodged in Tihar Jail in both corruption and money laundering case being probed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), respectively. The bail plea was allowed by the Supreme Court in both cases.

The court observed that he was not a flight risk and that there was no possibility of him tampering with the evidence.

Reservation to Maratha community

The Supreme Court refused to stay the judgment passed by Bombay High Court and upheld the reservation given to the Maratha community in educational institutions and government jobs.

The order had come days after the Bombay High Court directed to cap the reservation for the community at 12 per cent for admission in educational institutions and 13 per cent for government jobs.

Cancellation of Amrapali's RERA registration

In a major relief to the disgruntled homebuyers, the top court cancelled Amrapali's Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act registration. The court directed the National Buildings Construction Corporation (NBCC) to complete the unfinished housing projects of Amrapali in Noida and Greater Noida areas and handover them to the homebuyers as soon as possible.

The bench also directed the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to conduct a detailed investigation against the group for diverting homebuyers' money.

Jammu and Kashmir Habeas Corpus petition

After the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was abrogated and various politicians were put under detention, CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury approached the court challenging the detention of his party leader Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami.

He moved a Habeas Corpus petition which seeks the person under arrest to be brought before a court, especially to secure their release.

The Supreme Court then allowed Yechury to meet his friend in Srinagar and filed an affidavit. On its basis, Tarigami was shifted to All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) for treatment. In another case, the court refused to pass any order on Habeas Corpus petition seeking production of former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah, who is under detention, before it.

Dilution of SC/ST Act

The Supreme Court allowed Centre's petition seeking review of the court's earlier judgment which had diluted the stringent provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

The Centre had sought review of judgment which stated that there will be no automatic arrest on a complaint filed under the Act and arrest of public servants can only be made after approval of the appointing authority and of a non-public servant after approval by the SSP.

Karnataka MLA disqualification

The Supreme Court upheld the decision of former Karnataka Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar to disqualify 17 rebel Congress-JDS MLAs under the anti-defection law and allowed them to contest the by-elections in the state.

The verdict cleared the air around the relation between resignation and disqualification of a legislator. The rebel legislators were disqualified after they tendered their resignation. The move had led to the fall of the Congress-JD (S) coalition government, paving way for BJP to stake claim to form a new government in the state. 

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