Why no order yet to prohibit political ads on social media: The Bombay High Court

The Bombay High Court Thursday asked the Election Commission of India why it was hesitant to issue specific directions to prohibit political advertisements on social media 48 hours before election day.

A bench of Chief Justice Naresh Patil and Justice N M Jamdar posed the question after the poll panel submitted that it was deliberating on bringing in such a direction, and currently, consulting experts and stakeholders.

“But, how long will the deliberations go on? Why don’t you take a decision, say yes, we are going to issue specific orders (to the above effect)?” the bench said.

It was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by a lawyer, Sagar Suryavanshi, seeking directions to the Election Commission of India (ECI) to regulate fake news in the form of paid political ads on social media.

The PIL had also urged the court to direct the ECI to prohibit all persons, whether politicians or private individuals, from posting advertisements related to politics or the elections, or paid political content on social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, 48 hours before election day.

During the previous hearing, social media platform Facebook had told the court that it had introduced a strict “pre-verification processes” for all political ads and paid content of “national interest” on their websites in India ahead of the 2019 general elections.

The new system ensures that only bona fide individuals, who are citizens of India, and political organisations based in the country can place political ads.

Twitter and YouTube told the bench Thursday that they only permitted such political ads that had been verified by the ECI.

The social media sites, however, told the court that they could not voluntarily impose a 48-hour ban as sought by the petitioner.

The counsels for Facebook, Google, and YouTube said they could prohibit display of political ads on their websites 48 hours before polling day, if they are directed by the ECI to do so.

The Representation of the People Act already prohibits political campaigning 48 hours before polling day and a notification of the ECI regulating ads on TV and print media prohibits publication of political ads 48 hours before the polling day.

The court, therefore, asked why the ECI could not formulate a similar direction for political ads on social media.

Clear all hurdles for smooth trial in Malegaon case: Bombay High Court to NIA

The Bombay High Court on Tuesday directed the National Investigating Agency (NIA) to “clear all hurdles” in the 2008 Malegaon blast case and ensure that the trial proceeds “smoothly”.

A bench of Justices A S Oka and A S Gadkari noted that over 20 applications and appeals had been filed in the high court by various parties on varied grounds in the case.

As a result, the court had to sift through voluminous paperwork and over 4,000 exhibits, it said.

“How’s the court expected to clear these appeals in time if parties keep filing applications. We are certain most of these applications and pleas might even be frivolous,” the bench said.

“As a prosecuting agency, it is your (NIA) duty to ensure that all hurdles are removed and the trial in the case goes on smoothly,” it said.

The bench was hearing an appeal filed by Sameer Kulkarni, a co-accused in the case, challenging a 2017 order of a special NIA court, which permitted the use of photocopies of statements of witnesses and confessions of accused as secondary evidence in the case.

During a previous hearing, the bench led by Justice Oka had observed the special court should not have allowed the use of photocopies since there was no evidence to prove that they were authentic copies of the original, certified statements.

On Tuesday, the bench reiterated that the use of photocopies without any verification was wrong in law.

It told NIA counsel Sandesh Patil that the NIA should have pointed out the problem to the special court then and there and taken the correct legal stand by not relying upon the photocopies.

“You (NIA) are a premier agency. You have been constituted for a special purpose. Therefore, it was your duty to take the correct legal stand,” the bench said.

It is likely to hear the NIA’s justification, on use of photocopies as secondary evidence, in the next hearing on February 11.

In January 2017, the special court had permitted the use of photocopies after the NIA submitted that some files containing original witness statements and confessions of accused under section 164 of the Criminal Penal Code had gone missing and could not be traced.

The agency had pleaded at the time that since these statements could not be traceable and the proceedings of the case were conducted on a regular basis, the copies of the original be taken on record.

The case relates to a blast near a mosque in Malegaon, a town about 200 km from here in north Maharashtra, when an explosive device strapped to a motorcycle went off, killing six people and injuring over 100 on September 29, 2008.

Maratha quota : HC tells government to give whole report to petitioners.

 The Bombay High Court on Monday directed the Maharashtra government to give copies of the entire report of the Backward Class Commission on Maratha reservation to petitioners challenging the quota decision.

A division bench of Justices Ranjit More and Bharati Dangre quelled fears of the state government that certain portions of the report would create communal tension and law and order problems, saying “there is nothing worrisome”.

In November 2018, the commission had submitted an exhaustive report on the issue of Maratha reservation.

On the basis of the report, the state legislature had on November 30 passed a Bill proposing 16 per cent reservation in government jobs and education for Marathas, declared as a socially and educationally backward class by the government.

Several petitions were then filed in the HC challenging the reservation and the petitioners had sought a copy of the backward class commission’s report.

On previous hearings, Maharashtra’s Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni had told the court that the state was ready to submit the entire report to the court but would give a truncated version to petitioners.

“Around 20 pages of the report will have to be masked before giving to the petitioners. These pages are about the history of the Maratha community and the state feels that it may create communal tension and law and order problems,” he had said.

Last week, the government submitted the entire report to the bench which said it would peruse and decide.

“We have gone through the entire report. We feel everything should be given to the petitioners without any masking or deletion. There is nothing worrisome according to us,” Justice More said on Monday.

The bench then directed the government to give copies of the entire report to the petitioners on Tuesday.

The court said it would commence final hearing in the petitions on February 6.

While few of the petitions challenged the government’s decision to provide 16 per cent reservation in government jobs and educational institutions to the Maratha community, several others were filed in support of it.

The government had earlier this month filed its affidavit in the petitions and justified its decision to grant reservation to Marathas, saying it was meant to alleviate the community from its social and economic backwardness.

Marathas, a politically-influential community constituting around 30 per cent of the state’s population, have been demanding reservation in jobs and education.

By delaying new court building plot, state denying litigants’ justice: Bombay HC

The Bombay High Court Tuesday said the state government was “essentially denying justice to litigants” by delaying a decision on allocation of a new building for the high court.

This, the court said, was forcing litigants and judicial staff to continue work from the current 138-year-old building which has inadequate space.

A bench of justices AS Oka and MS Sonak directed the Maharashtra government to take a decision within the next six months on allocating space for a new, spacious high court building with all requisite infrastructure.

The court gave the above direction in its verdict on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by lawyer Ahmad Abdi that highlighted the need to shift the court premises to a new, more spacious building.

The bench noted that the current building was meant to house just around six to seven courts.

However, the Bombay High Court has a sanctioned strength of 94 judges and, at any given time, there are around 35 to 50 judges serving in court.

The current building doesn’t have adequate space for as many court rooms, chambers for the judges and lawyers, as well as for thousands of litigants who come each day.

It said the state had not disputed the fact that the current building was inadequate to accommodate the above.

“Even the state is not disputing the fact that there is a need for more space. By continuing the functioning of the high court from the current building, the state government is effectively denying access to justice to litigants,” the bench said.

It then directed the state to take a final decision on the allotment of new land, and construction of the new building and requisite amenities.

The state has proposed allocation of around six hectares of land in Bandra East for the new building.

The bench, however, directed the state to consider allocating an additional 11.68 hectares.

Bombay High Court asks BEST workers’ union to decide on withdrawal of strike

The Bombay High Court has directed the BEST workers’ union to take a final decision on the withdrawal of its ongoing strike by Tuesday evening and inform the court on Wednesday.

The direction came after the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) told a bench of Chief Justice Naresh Patil and Justice N M Jamdar that it was willing to implement the redressal measure suggested by a high-powered committee on granting an interim pay hike to its employees.

The counsel for BEST, M P Rao, told the bench that the corporation was “open to implementing a 10-step increment” for its employees with effect from February this year.

The increase, however, will be implemented subject to the fact that the strike was called off this (Tuesday) evening, Rao told the bench.

As per the previous submissions made by the BEST workers’ union and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in the court, a ‘one-step’ increase in pay for BEST workers amounts to around Rs 330 per person per month.

In compliance with the court’s previous orders, the state government through Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, submitted a list of measures recommended by the committee to address the demands raised by the workers’ union.

The committee, headed by the Chief Secretary, was constituted by the state last week.

The committee in its report, has recommended among other things, that subject to the strike being called off, as an interim measure, workers be granted a ’10-step increase’ in salary for about 15,000 employees in a time-bound manner.

This amount of increment, however, will be subsumed in the final agreement.

It also recommended that upgradation and modernisation measures be implemented within the BEST, but no existing employees should be retrenched.

The bench has been hearing since last week a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by lawyer Datta Mane, urging the court to pass interim orders directing the BEST workers to call off the strike immediately.

Around 38,000 BEST employees have been on strike since the last eight days now.

Some of their demands include a pay hike, revision of pay grade for junior level employees, and the merger of BEST’s budget with that of the BMC.

Inclusion of castes in OBC group: Bombay High Court

The Bombay High Court Wednesday sought to know if the Maharashtra government had conducted any study or survey before issuing a notification in 1967 inducting several castes in the OBC category for reservation.

A division bench of Chief Justice N H Patil and Justice N M Jamdar was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by activist B A Sarate challenging the inclusion of several castes in the Other Backward Class (OBC) group.

Sarate’s counsel V M Thorat told the HC that out of the 96 castes included in the OBC category, nearly 40 per cent were not even eligible for reservation.

“Inclusion of these castes is unconstitutional. There is a procedure laid down while deciding which caste should be included in a particular category for reservation. The government is not following this procedure,” Thorat said.

The bench then sought to know if the government had carried out any study or survey before issuing the Government Resolution (GR) in 1967 inducting a particular caste in the OBC category.

The petitioner has challenged the GR enlisting 180 castes and sub-castes for inclusion in the OBC category, and also another GR, dated March 1994, which increased the OBC quota percentage from 14 per cent to 32 per cent.

The petition claimed that various castes or communities were included in the OBC category without any survey, quantifiable data, investigation to determine the social, educational and economic backwardness.

“There has to be a comprehensive commission to carry out study and collect data. This is what the petition also seeks,” Chief Justice Patil said.

The bench then directed that the petition be placed for hearing before an appropriate bench next week.

Rules for online sale of medicines will be finalised by Jan 31

The Union government informed the Bombay High Court Friday that it was likely to finalise draft rules for regulation of online sale of medicines by January end.

Union government’s lawyer D P Singh told a bench of Chief Justice Naresh Patil and Justice N M Jamdar that in compliance with an order of the Madras High Court, the government has “already framed draft rules, and conducted a series of meetings with experts”.

The Union government is in the process of finalising the draft rules under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, and they will be notified soon, Singh added.

The bench was hearing a Public Interest Litigation filed by a college professor from the city in 2015, demanding that online sale of medicines, including ‘schedule H’ drugs which can not be sold without doctor’s prescription, be regulated.

The bench noted the issue was “crucial” as it concerns public health, and asked the Centre and the Maharashtra government about the steps being taken to ensure that medicines are sold only through licensed chemist shops.

In 2017, another bench of the Bombay High Court had appointed an amicus curiae (an expert to assist the court) in the matter.

The bench asked the amicus, advocate Zal Andhyarujina, for suggestions.

Advocate Singh then informed the judges that the Madras High Court had directed the Union government in December 2018 to notify the rules regarding online sale of medicines by January 31.

The judges said they will wait for the Union government to take appropriate action, and adjourned the hearing to February 4.

HC seeks Centre’s reply on plea of visually impaired man who lost out on Railway job

The Bombay High Court has taken suo motu (on its own) notice of an incident where a sessions court judge was allegedly assaulted by an assistant public prosecutor on the court premises.

Vacation judge Justice R K Deshpande of the high court’s Nagpur bench said Wednesday that such incidents are a “threat to independence of the judiciary”.

Assistant public prosecutor Dinesh Parate allegedly slapped senior civil judge K R Deshpande outside a lift on the seventh floor of the Nagpur District and Sessions court around noon Wednesday.

According to the police, the lawyer was miffed over the judge’s decision in a case.

Parate tried to run away after the incident but was caught by the police personnel present there.

Justice Deshpande of the high court noted in his order that it was a serious matter where personal security of a judge was under threat.

“It is a threat to independence of the judiciary. The rule of law is being undermined. Such outrageous conduct needs no tolerance,” the high court said.

“It causes or tends to cause obstruction or interference in the administration of justice, as it is the result of adjudication by the judge which has gone against Dinesh Parate,” Justice Deshpande said.

The high court issued a notice to Parate, seeking response from him within six weeks as to why action for criminal contempt of court should not be taken against him.

Father can seek visitation rights to child under Domestic Voilence Act: HC

A father can seek visitation rights to his child under the Domestic Violence Act if the child is in the mother’s custody, the Bombay High Court has ruled.

Justice Prakash Naik dismissed an application last Friday filed by a woman challenging a sessions court order granting visitation rights to her estranged husband.

The woman in her plea claimed that the sessions court had erred in passing such an order as under section 21 of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, only an aggrieved woman can seek custody or visitation of her child.

The woman claimed that a man has no right to independently prefer an application under section 21 of the Act for custody orders.

The petition also claimed that a man can seek custody of his child only under section 26 of the Hindu Marriage Act.

The woman’s husband opposed the plea, saying he was not seeking permanent custody of the child at this stage but was only seeking visitation rights.

Justice Prakash Naik in his order said if the interpretation advanced by the wife is accepted, then it would defeat the whole purpose of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act.

The court noted that the Act aims to prevent occurrence of domestic violence in society and keeping that in view, protection orders for the safety of aggrieved persons, which include children, will have to be passed.

It also said the applicant’s interpretation of section 21 of the Act cannot be accepted as there may also be a situation where a child is in custody of the mother.

“…in cases where the child is in custody of the mother, then the father can avail remedy under the said section of the DV Act,” the court observed.

It noted that child visitation guidelines are to ensure that the child gets to spend equal or substantial time with both parents.

“The paramount consideration shall be welfare of the child. The court’s endeavour should be to ensure that the child gets love and affection of both parents. A smooth and proper development of the child requires affection from both parents,” the HC said.

It further noted that children face a traumatic phase when their parents are engaged in a legal battle and it is worse when the “war” is extended by laying claims on the children’s custody.

The couple in this case got married in 2008 and had a son in 2012.

In July 2017, the wife lodged a complaint against her husband under the Protection to Women from Domestic Violence Act and started living separately with her child.

In December 2017, the husband filed an application before a magistrate court under section 21 of the Act seeking visitation rights to his son.

The magistrate court allowed the application and ordered for the son to be with his father during weekends, twice a month.

The wife challenged the order in the sessions court which upheld the magistrate court’s order. Following this, she moved the high court.

Six Tata Trusts withdraw pleas against I-T dept notices

Six Tata Trusts have withdrawn their petitions filed in the Bombay High Court challenging the show cause notices issued against them by the Income Tax department as to why their registrations should not be cancelled.

The Income Tax commissioner (Exemptions) had issued notices to these six trusts on March 8 this year for alleged non-compliance of rules governing the trust funds.

The notices sought to know why their registrations under Section 12A of the Income Tax Act should not be cancelled for non-compliance.

Following this, the trusts, including the Navajbai Ratan Tata Trust, Jamsetji Tata Trust and the Tata Education Trust, had petitioned the high court challenging the notices.

The trusts had already surrendered their tax registrations in 2015, the petitions said.

In April this year, the high court had granted an interim stay on the notices and said it would hear the petitions.

When the petitions came up for hearing on Monday before a division bench of Justices S C Dharmadhikari and B P Colabawalla, the trusts’ lawyers sought to withdraw the pleas without assigning any reason.

The request to withdraw was allowed and the petitions now stand disposed of.