Supreme Court rejects PIL to frame rules to regulate composition of benches

The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a PIL seeking the framing of rules to regulate the composition of benches, including constitution benches, and the allocation of work.

Junking the PIL by advocate Asok Pande, a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said that the CJI was the head of the institution and administrative authority is vested in him for the smooth functioning of the top court both on judicial and administrative matters.

Pronouncing the judgment, Justice Chandrachud said that as the head of the institution there cannot be a presumption of distrust in the Chief Justice.

Supreme Court refuses to order CBI probe into cases of fuel adulteration

The Supreme Court today refused to order a CBI probe into cases of fuel adulteration, saying that the law was already in place to enable the authorities to take action against such malpractices.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra noted that the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has filed an affidavit stating the steps taken by public sector oil companies to conduct regular checks on the quality and quantity of petrol and diesel being supplied by retail outlets to the public at large.

“It has been stated that the Motor Spirit and High Speed Diesel (Regulation of Supply, Distribution and Prevention of Malpractices) Order, 2005 and the Kerosene (Restriction on Use and Fixation of Ceiling Price) Order, 1993 have made provisions to enable the States and Union Territories to take action against malpractices.

“Moreover, it has been stated that the Ministry intends to implement the direct transfer scheme in kerosene in identified districts of different states on a pilot basis. These are essentially matters of policy. The Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas is seized of the issue. Steps have been taken from time to time, as elaborated in the affidavit filed in this Court,” the bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, said.

The apex court’s verdict came on a PIL filed by BSP leader Seema Upadhyay who had accused former Samajwadi Party MLA Devendra Agarwal of indulging in adulteration of diesel at petrol pumps owned or operated by him through ‘benami’ names.

On the allegation that Agarwal owns multiple outlets, the top court said that the issue has to be determined by the oil companies concerned and as none of the oil companies were impleaded in the proceedings, it would not be possible for it to make any “factual determination”.

“Whether an individual holds a dealership or outlet benami would turn on an appreciation of factual material which cannot be inquired into in the exercise of the jurisdiction under Article 32.

“Consequently all that we observe is that it would be open to the petitioner to bring such material as she has in her possession to the attention of the concerned oil companies for such action as is deemed necessary,” the bench said.

The top court also said it cannot be discarded that the PIL has been instituted for reasons other than a genuine effort to espouse an issue of public interest.

“A public interest litigation was filed before the High Court of Judicature at Allahabad in which, it has been submitted, the allegations were identical to those contained in the writ petition in the present case. The writ petition before the High Court was dismissed on April 6, 2011.

“From the averments contained in the counter affidavit, the defence that the petition has been instituted for reasons other than a genuine effort to espouse an issue of public interest cannot be discarded. Be that as it may, we are not inclined to keep the proceedings pending before this Court any further in view of what has been stated in the earlier part of this judgment. The petition shall, accordingly, stand disposed of,” the bench said.

Upadhyay, wife of BSP leader Ramveer Upadhyay, had claimed that there was a need for thorough probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into business activities of Agarwal.

The MLA’s counsel had refuted all allegations.

On how the “oil mafia” worked, the petition had alleged that subsidised kerosene, meant for persons residing in rural areas or below poverty line, has been long used for adulterating diesel and petrol, impacting those for whom the oil was meant, besides damaging vehicle engines.

It had alleged that subsidised kerosene was sold by oil refineries to wholesalers at Rs 14-15 per litre and further sold to the mafia and black marketeers at Rs 25 per litre.

Supreme Court acknowledges wife’s plea for justice of army man jailed for 27 years.

The Supreme Court has taken note of a woman’s plea that her husband, an Army man, has been languishing in jail for 27 years without a final decision on the death penalty awarded by a Court Martial for killing two of his colleagues.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice A M Khanwilkar took note of the plea of Mithilesh Rai, wife of the jailed Army man Lance Naik Devendra Nath Rai and issued notice to the Ministry of Defence, the Chief of Army Staff and others and asked them to respond within four weeks.

Rai, 60, whose mental health suffered due to the long incarceration, was awarded the death penatly by the General Court Martial (GCM) in 1991. The Centre confirmed the noose.

The Army man appealed in the Allahabad High Court which, in 2000, upheld the conviction, but set aside the death penalty saying no special reason was accorded by the GCM which also did not do balancing of mitigating and aggravating circumstances.

The Central government challenged the verdict in the Supreme court which, on January 10, 2006 remanded the case back to the High Court and asked it to decide it afresh.

The high court dismissed the plea of Rai on May 8, 2007 due to non-prosecution as the lawyer could not appear.

The plea for restoration was filed compounding the woes of Rai and his wife as the case files remained untraceable in the High Court Registry from 2007 and 2013 and finally, the case got revived.

However, the high court, despite the specific order of the top court, transferred the case to the Armed Force Tribunal (AFT) to decide the case of Rai by scrutinising the 1991 findings arrived at by the General Court Martial (GCM), the plea said.

The AFT, which adjourned hearing on four occasions, dismissed the plea of Rai for non-prosecution in 2015.

Ultimately, the wife of the jailed Army man moved the top court through senior lawyer Shekhar Naphade and advocate Amartya Kanjilal seeking enforcement of the fundamental right to life. The top court has issued notice to the Centre and others recently.

The Lance Naik was allegedly involved in the murder of two Army personnel on June 15, 1991 and was immediately taken into custody.

His wife alleged that during last 27 years of incarceration, Rai has not been released even once either on bail, parole or furlough.

The plea has sought quashing of the order of the sentence passed by the General Court Martial way back in 1991.

Alternatively, the plea has sought Rai’s release after awarding the jail term already undergone by him.

Supreme Court extends protection to Karti Chidambaram till April 2.

The Supreme Court today extended the interim protection against arrest to Karti Chidambaram, granted by the Delhi High Court in the INX Media money laundering case, till April 2.

The order came as the Enforcement Directorate sought an authoritative pronouncement from the top court in view of several conflicting orders of different high courts on the probe agency’s power of arrest under section 19 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud was told by Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that the ED has been armed with the power of arrest under the statute, keeping in mind the several international conventions underlining the need to curb money laundering generated from drugs smuggling, terror financing and blackmoney routing.

Mehta referred to the 1988 UN convention and said the member countries felt the need to have a law to deal with the offence money laundering.

The advent of e-commerce has made investigation into money laundering more difficult as ill-gotten wealth have been transferred to all corners of the world very conveniently after the globalisation, he said.

The bench said the interim order of March 15 granting protection of arrest to Karti, son of former Union Minister P Chidambaram, till today, is extended till April 2. The hearing, which remained inconclusive, would also continue on April 2.

On March 15, the apex court had given the interim relief to Karti in the INX media money laundering case and said it would clear the “confusion” which has crept in due to the divergent views of different high courts on ED’s power to arrest.

The apex court had also transferred to itself the matters pending before the Delhi High Court relating to the power of Enforcement Directorate (ED) to arrest in money laundering cases and also a plea filed by Karti seeking protection from arrest in ED’s case.

The top court had said it would answer the question about interpretation of section 19 of the PMLA relating to ED’s power to arrest and also deal with the issue whether high courts can grant protection from arrest on a plea under Article 226 of the Constitution which deals with high court’s power to issue writs and orders.

Karti was on March 23 granted bail by the Delhi High Court in connection with the INX Media corruption case lodged by the CBI. He was arrested by the CBI on February 28 in Chennai immediately after he returned from abroad.

In his plea before the high court, Karti has sought striking down of ED’s power of arrest under section 19 of the PMLA, besides seeking quashing of the enforcement case information report (ECIR) and the probe being carried out by the agency.

He has also sought striking down the presumption codified in section 24 of the PMLA which says that when a person is accused of having committed an offence under section 3 (money laundering), the burden of proving that proceeds of the crime are untainted property, shall be on the accused.

An FIR by CBI, filed on May 15 last year, had alleged irregularities in the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance to INX Media for receiving Rs 305 crore in overseas funds in 2007 when P Chidambaram was union finance minister.

 The Supreme Court closes proceedings against Tej Pratap in murder case.

 The Supreme Court today closed proceedings against former Bihar minister Tej Pratap, son of jailed RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav, in the murder case of a Siwan-based journalist.

The Supreme Court had asked the CBI to investigate allegations relating to media reports featuring photographs and videos that showed Pratap, former Bihar health minister, along with two absconding accused, Mohd Kaif and Javed, who are presently in judicial custody in the Rajdeo Ranjan murder case.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud considered the submission of Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi that CBI has not found any incriminating material against the RJD leader.

The bench ordered closure of proceedings against Tej Pratap and gave the slain journalist’s widow the liberty to get her plea revised if some incriminating material surfaces in the future.

Supreme Court asks all High Courts to give details on setting up of children’s courts

 The Supreme Court today directed all High Courts in the country to give details on whether special courts to ensure speedy trial of offences against children have been set up in each district.

The court considered Section 25 and 26 of the Commissions for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005 which provide that there has to be a children’s court for speedy trial of offences against them and the cases of child rights’ abuses, besides appointment of public prosecutors to deal with them.

“Keeping in view the provisions, it is directed that the Registrar Generals of the High Courts would submit a report as regards Sections 25 and 26 of the Act. After receipt of the report, the issue shall be addressed.

“The Registry of this court is directed to forward the earlier order and the present order to the Registrars General of the High Courts with the stipulation that the reports shall be submitted within two weeks from the date of receipt of the orders,” a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud said.

The court also made it clear that the pendency of the case before it shall not be construed “as any kind of impediment for establishment of courts and appointment of Special Public Prosecutors if steps in that direction have already been taken.”

Earlier, the court had sought response from all states on the running of orphanages, the mode of adoption and the treatment meted out to children there.

It had also expressed concern over alleged trafficking of orphans in West Bengal in the name of adoption and had said “nothing can be more disastrous than selling of children in the name of adoption”.

A bench was hearing an appeal of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) against a Calcutta High Court order staying NCPCR’s proceedings in a case related to alleged gross violation of rights of orphaned children in West Bengal.

The NCPCR had alleged that the West Bengal government had illegally formed ad hoc committees for adoption and giving away orphans for adoption in gross violation of law and rules.

The top court, while issuing notice on the plea of the child rights body, had expanded the scope of the plea and ordered that all states, besides West Bengal, be made parties through their chief secretaries and sought their response within two weeks.

The apex court had asked the states to respond with details about orphanages and the facilities being given to orphan children at those centres and also the procedures followed in giving children on adoption.

“It is necessary to have a comprehensive view of the entire country pertaining to running of orphanages, the mode and method of adoption, the care given and the treatment meted out to the children. For the said purpose, it is necessary that all the states shall be added as respondents in the matter,” the bench had ordered.

It had considered the submission of the NCPCR that orphans were being sold in West Bengal and had stayed the proceedings and the order of the Calcutta High Court.

The High Court had on August 29 last year stayed the proceedings initiated by the NCPCR after taking note of the plea filed by Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), CID, State of West Bengal.

It was alleged by the ADGP before the High Court that NCPCR had no jurisdiction as the West Bengal State Commission for Protection of Child Rights was seized of the matter.

In the High Court, the national child rights body and the West Bengal government were at loggerheads over the alleged trafficking of 17 children from an orphanage in Jalpaiguri.

The NCPCR had blamed the local administration for the thriving of the trafficking racket but the state government questioned the jurisdiction of the apex child rights body.

Supreme Court asks Centre for report on conditions in Rohingya camps

The Supreme Court today directed the Centre to file a “comprehensive status report” giving details of conditions in Rohingya refugee camps in various states.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud considered the submission of senior advocate Colin Gonsalves that conditions at the camps are unhygienic and “filthiest to say the least”.

The senior lawyer, appearing for the petitioner Zaffar Ullah, said the Centre and states like Haryana, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir should be asked to provide better hygienic facilities at these camps.

The plea alleged that poor and unhygienic conditions at these camps have led to several deaths recently.

The Rohingyas, who fled to India after violence in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, are settled in Jammu, Hyderabad, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi-NCR and Rajasthan.

Supreme Court to hear pleas against Karnataka High Court order on warnings on tobacco products

 The Supreme Court today said it would hear all 45 petitions together including the one filed by the Centre against a Karnataka High Court order quashing the 2014 government regulation that packets of tobacco products must carry pictorial warning covering 85 per cent of the packaging space.

The bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud allowed various interim applications, seeking to be made as parties to the main petitions and posted the matters for final hearing on May 8.

“Let all the matters be listed for hearing on May 8,” the bench said.

Attorney General K K Venugopal told the apex court that the Centre has also filed an appeal against the high court order.

The top court court had on January 8 stayed the Karnataka High Court order quashing the 2014 government regulation that packets of tobacco products must carry pictorial warning covering 85 per cent of the packaging space, saying that “health of a citizen has primacy”.

The apex court bench was “unimpressed” with the submissions of the Tobacco Institute of India (TII) that the interim stay would harm the fundamental right to do business of tobacco manufacturers.

The Centre had argued that the high court judgement needed to be stayed and 85 per cent pictorial warning on packaging space of tobacco products be allowed to remain as a large section of the population is not educated.

The high court, on December 15, last year had struck down the 2014 amendment rules that mandated pictorial health warnings to cover 85 per cent of packaging space of tobacco products, holding that they were unconstitutional as they violated fundamental rights like the right to equality and the right to trade.

The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Amendment Rules, 2014 (COTPA) had come into effect from April 1, 2016. It came into being based on the recommendations of experts committee, the NGO had said.

The bench was hearing appeals including those filed by NGO ‘Health for Millions Trust’ and Umesh Narain, a senior advocate, against the high court verdict.

The high court had, however, made it clear that the 40 per cent pictorial health warning rule, which existed prior to the amendment rules, would remain in force.

In May last year, the Supreme Court had transferred all petitions against the 85 per cent rule filed in various high courts to the Karnataka High Court and asked it to hear and dispose them of.

The Jammu and Kashmir government says Major Aditya not named as accused in Shopian case

The Jammu and Kashmir government on Monday told the Supreme Court that Major Aditya Kumar was not named as an accused in the FIR of the January 27 Shopian firing incident in which three civilians were killed.

Taking on record the statement of the state government, the apex court said there should be no investigation till April 24 in the case.

“Let the matter be listed for final disposal on April 24. In the meantime, there shall be no investigation on the basis of FIR till then,” a bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud said.

The apex court had on February 12 restrained the Jammu and Kashmir police from taking any “coercive steps” against Army officers, including Major Aditya Kumar, who was earlier reportedly named as accused in the case.

Three civilians were killed when Army personnel fired at a stone-pelting mob in Ganovpora village of Shopian on January 27 this year, prompting the chief minister to order an inquiry into the incident.

The FIR was registered against personnel of 10 Garhwal Rifles under sections 302 (murder) and 307 (attempt to murder) of the Ranbir Penal Code (the penal code applicable in Jammu and Kashmir).

The apex court was hearing the plea of Lieutenant Colonel Karamveer Singh, the father of Major Aditya Kumar, seeking to quash the FIR against his son.

Singh had said in his petition that his son, a major in 10 Garhwal Rifles, was “wrongly and arbitrarily” named in the FIR as the incident relates to an Army convoy that was on bona fide military duty in an area under AFSPA and was isolated by an “unruly and deranged” mob pelting stones, causing damage to military vehicles.

During the hearing today, the counsel representing Jammu and Kashmir told the bench that Major Aditya was not named as accused anywhere in the FIR.

PNB fraud: Centre opposes plea for SIT probe

The Centre today opposed in the Supreme Court a PIL seeking an independent probe and deportation of billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi in the over Rs 11,000 crore PNB fraud case, saying an FIR has been lodged and a probe was on.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud said it would not say anything on the matter now and listed the PIL filed by lawyer Vineet Dhanda for further hearing on March 16.

Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, said he was opposing the PIL on various grounds, including that an inquiry has started after the FIR was registered.

The PIL has made Punjab National Bank, Reserve Bank of India and the ministries of finance and law and justice as parties. It has sought a direction for initiation of deportation proceedings against Nirav Modi and others allegedly involved in the banking fraud, preferably within two months.

The plea has asked for a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the banking fraud, allegedly involving billionaire jewellers Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi. It has also sought a probe into the role of the top management of the Punjab National Bank (PNB).

The CBI has already registered two FIRs — one on January 31 and another a few days ago — against Nirav Modi, his relative Mehul Choksi of Gitanjali Gems and others for allegedly defrauding the PNB of about Rs 11,400 crore.

The plea has sought a direction to the finance ministry to frame guidelines on the grant and disbursal of loans involving big amounts.

“Issue an appropriate writ, order or direction directing the Finance Ministry and the RBI to frame guidelines in granting of the loan of the 10 Crores and above to ensure safety and recovery of such loans,” the PIL has said.

It has also sought the setting up of an experts’ body to deal with cases of bad banking debts in the country. Besides, the petition seeks framing of rules for the recovery of loans from the defaulters within a stipulated period, even by attaching their properties and auctioning them in the open market.

In his PIL, Dhanda has asked for a direction to fasten liabilities on the employees of a bank for sanctioning loans on the basis of deficient documents and said loans should also be recovered by attaching the properties of such bank officials even after their retirement.

Another plea filed by Sharma on a similar issue has not come up for hearing yet.

Sharma, in his plea, has said the SIT should consist of retired judges of the apex court and said that the banking fraud has caused serious injury to the general public and the state’s treasury. It should be investigated not by an agency “being controlled by the political leaders/authorities”, he has said.

The plea has alleged that loans were issued in the case without following RBI’s financial rules and regular systems.

Source : PTI