Judges expect informed criticism of judgments: SC

Supreme court on Friday upheld the Kerala High Court order holding former CPI(M) MLA M V Jayarajan guilty of contempt of court for using “abusive and pejorative” language to criticise a judgement but reduced the six months jail term awarded to him to four weeks.

“Judges expect, nay invite, an informed and genuine discussion or criticism of judgments, but to incite a relatively illiterate audience against the Judiciary, is not to be ignored,” a bench comprising justices Vikramajit Sen and C Nagappan said.

The bench affirmed the high court order to incarcerate Jayarajan for contempt of court, saying the right of free speech certainly does not extend to “inciting the public directly or insidiously to disobey court orders.”

The apex court said the CPI(M) leader, being an advocate and also a former legislator, was aware that the Constitution was premised on the separation of powers between executive, legislature and the judiciary to perform their duties within the constitutional framework.

“He is fully aware that while he has the right of freedom of speech of expression, this postulates a temperate and reasoned criticism and not a vitriolic, slanderous or abusive one; this right of free speech certainly does not extend to inciting the public directly or insidiously to disobey court orders,” the bench said.

The apex court in its 16-page order said “having perused the translations of his speech, we are left in no manner of doubt that he intended to lower the dignity of Court, to obstruct and impede its functioning and not merely to criticize its pronouncement which was not to his liking.”

The bench observed that since Jayarajan has shown no remorse or contrition for his conduct, his conduct leaves him unquestionably guilty of the offence of contempt of courts, calling for him to be punished for his illegal act.

 

Irretrievable breakdown of marriage ‘debatable’ ground for divorce: SC

: With the government set to reintroduce the marriage laws amendment bill in the Lok Sabha to amend thehindu marriageto make irretrievable breakdown of marriage a ground for divorce, the Supreme Court has urged a rethink if it was an expedient ground for untying the matrimonial knot.

“It is highly debatable whether, in the Indian situation, where there is rampant oppression of women, such a ground would at all be expedient,” said the bench of Justice Vikramajit Sen and Justice Prafulla C. Pant in a recent judgment.

The court hoped that this will be considered by the Lok Sabha.

The Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2013 that was passed by the Rajya Sabha lapsed before it could be considered by the Lok Sabha, as the lower house was dissolved upon completion of its term and general elections were held.

The court said this while restricting its examination of a divorce plea by K Srinivas on the ground of alleged cruelty by his wife K Sunita under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

Srinivas also raised the issue of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage as a ground for dissolution of the marriage.

Sunita had filed a criminal complaint against Srinivas and seven members of his family on charges of cruelty, attempt to murder, and other provisions of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. This resulted in their arrest.

Speaking for the bench, Justice Sen said: “… if this ground (cruelty) is successfully substantiated by the petitioner (Srinivas), we need not delve any further i.e. whether a marriage can be dissolved by the trial court or the high court on the premise that the marriage has irretrievably broken down…”

Restricting the examination of the divorce plea to cruelty only, the court said irretrievable breakdown of marriage as a ground for divorce “has not found statutory acceptance till date”.

“Under Article 142 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court has plenary powers to pass such decree or make such order as is necessary for doing complete justice in any case or order pending before it. This power has not been bestowed by our Constitution on any other Court.

“It is for these reasons that we have confined arguments only to the aspect of whether the filing of a false criminal complaint sufficiently proves matrimonial cruelty as would entitle the injured party to claim dissolution of marriage,” the court said.

It said the Law Commission in its reports in 1978 and 2009 recommended the introduction of irretrievable breakdown of marriage as a ground for its dissolution, and the amendment bill has received the assent of the Rajya Sabha.

In an apparent caution, the court said it was “highly debatable whether, in the Indian situation, where there is rampant oppression of women, such a ground would at all be expedient”.

However, in the instant case, the court granted divorce to Srinivas saying the complaint filed by Sunita was thrown out by the Hyderabad Mahila Court June 30, 2000 and the said order has attained finality.

Even before the complaint was declined by the Mahila Court, the Hyderabad Family Court had Dec 30, 1999 granted Srinivas divorce on the grounds of cruelty.

The court also said filing of a false complaint by either spouse amounted to matrimonial cruelty, and it would entitle the other spouse to claim divorce.

 

Don’t sterilize elephants to avoid train-elephant accidents

The Supreme Court Tuesday took serious view of a report that said the West Bengal government had decided to take “regressive” steps to reduce the elephant population by introducing contraceptives/sterilization to avoid train-elephant accidents.

 Taking note, a bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Vikramajit Sen said: “If it is so, it is absolutely impermissible and also condemnable.”

Frowning at the reported decision, the court asked the West Bengal government counsel Avijit Bhattacharjee to take instructions in this regard and file an affidavit of the competent authority.

Pronouncing the order, Justice Misra said: “However, as advised at present, we restrain the authorities of the state of West Bengal from taking any steps to administer any kind of contraceptives or introducing any method of sterilization which hinders natural procreative process of the elephants or any wildlife.”

The court passed the order taking note of a statement made by t who appeared for Jharkhand in the course of hearing of Shakti Prasad Nayak’s PIL seeking directions to regulate the movement of the trains to prevent deaths of elephants on account of collisions.

Saying that the hearing in the matter could not take place in the absence of union environment and forest ministry (MoEF), the court expressed its displeasure over its absence in the course of the hearing and directed the presence of the environment and forest secretary on the next hearing (Sep 23).

“At this juncture, we must express our displeasure as the MOEF has not appeared today. The present case is one where the presence of MOEF, through its counsel, is absolutely necessary.

“The railways alone cannot determine about the safety of the elephants and other wildlife, for it is the obligation of the MOEF to do so and if required to advise and see that the advice is carried out, but unfortunately, the MOEF has started behaving like a Rip Van Winkle remaining in happy slumber in this matter,” the court said.

“We do not appreciate it and, therefore, it is directed that the secretary, MOEF shall remain personally present on the next date of hearing so that he may be in a position to assist the court. The secretary, MOEF shall file an affidavit on the aspects that we have mentioned today, clearly indicating what steps the MOEF has taken in this regard so far,” the court said.

Taking on record different suggestions for protecting elephants and other wildlife coming in the course of the hearing, the court modified its Dec 10, 2013, order to permit movement of goods train at night on 168 km stretch between Siliguri and Alipurduar to facilitate supply of essential goods to seven northeastern states.

However, the court said that the “trains shall move at the speed of 25 km per hour, as suggested by the MoEF vide letter dated Oct 17, 2007 in four identified sanctuaries so that the accidents do not occur”.

“We hasten to add that aforesaid suggestions are required to be considered by the MoEF, as the singular purpose is to avoid deaths of elephants in railway accidents.

“Be it stated, the depleting rate of elephants in the country has been a concern of everyone who has interest in the environment. Needless to say that it is a necessity to sustain the environment and ecological balance. In the present era, sustenance of species is a categorical imperative and neither MoEF nor the railways can treat it as a matter of non-concern by not taking steps or causing delay in taking steps,” said the court.

SC decries industry’s tendency to hold back dues & taxes

The Supreme Court Friday deprecated the tendency of some industrial houses not to pay the government dues and taxes while lavishly spending on celebrity actors for the advertising their products.

A bench of taxmade the observation as it refused to provide any interim relief to cement manufacturer Binani Cement Limited that has been asked by the Rajasthan government to pay sales tax dues of Rs.183.37 crore for the period 2008-2011.
As senior counsel P.P. Rao, appearing for Binani Cement, addressed the court on its plea, Justice Sen observed: “Everybody has to be paid except the state. This is the same (company) in which Amitabh Bachchan says ‘Sadiyon Ke Liye'”.
“How much you have paid? Industry does not pay (the government dues). They don’t pay taxes. Are they only for employment? How much you have spent on advertisement. It must be in crores. AGovernment don’t run without taxes,” he asked.
Asking Binani Cement to pay the taxes, Justice Sen said: “You pay your taxes. I don’t know why we pamper industry. They don’t pay (their) dues, taxes..”
The court said this while refusing to interfere with Rajasthan High Court order by which it had stayed operation of an order passed by the single judge, saying Binani Cement would pay its sales tax dues of Rs.184.12 crore (Rs.153.34 crore tax and Rs. 30.78 crore interest) by paying an upfront payment of Rs.50 crore and the balance in twelve instalments.
This order of the single judge came in the wake of Binani Cements’ challenging the April 7 order of Rajasthan’s commercial tax department by which the cement manufacturer was ordered to make an upfront payment of 50 percent of the sales tax dues of Rs.183.37 crore and balance in ten instalments.
As Binani Cement counsel Rao sought to make his submission on the financial stress that his client was facing, the court said that he could present these arguments before the division bench of the Rajasthan High court when it heard the matter.
The single judge order was challenged by the Rajasthan government before the division bench which had put it on hold.
(Source:IANS)

Supreme Court to hear Tejpal plea on Jun 27

supreme courtThe Supreme Court will hear the regular bail plea of Tehelka founder editor Tarun Tejpal in a sexual assault case on June 27, the day when his interim bail expires.

A bench of justices Vikramajit Sen and S K Singh posted the case for hearing on June 27 after senior advocate Salman Khurshid, appearing for Mr Tejpal, mentioned the matter and pleaded for early hearing.

The court had on May 19 granted him interim bail for three weeks to enable him to attend the cremation of his mother, who had died on May 18, and subsequent rituals.
It had on June 3 further extended the interim bail till June 27.

50-year-old Tejpal has been charge sheeted for allegedly raping, sexually harassing and outraging the modesty of a junior colleague during an event held at a hotel in Goa in November last year. Mr Tejpal was arrested on November 30, 2013 and is presently out on interim bail.

He has been accused of sexually assaulting the victim on November 7 and repeating the offence the next day.

Before being released on interim bail, he was lodged at Sada sub-jail in Goa’s Vasco town.

(Source: PTI)

Registered NRI voters overseas will have to wait for future elections

supreme courtNRIs who are registered voters in India will not be able to vote from their foreign locations as the Supreme Court on Friday accepted that the Election Commission faced statutory and logistic impediments in extending overseas voting facilities to them.

Noting that election for some phases has already been completed, a bench of Justice KS Radhakrishnan and Justice Vikramajit Sen said that permitting the NRIs to vote in the remaining six phases would open a “Pandora box” that in some cases, some NRIs have been allowed and not the others.

Taking note of the practical problems that confronted the poll panel even though it was in the favour of extending voting facilities to NRIs from their overseas locations, Justice Radhakrishnsan told petitioner Shamsheer VP that the “point you have raised is favoured by them (Election Commission) but they have some practical difficulties”.

Shamsheer VP has sought the reading down of Section 20A of the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act 2010 that mandates the presence of the listed voter at the polling station to cast his vote.

He had contended that any distinction between those physically present at polling booth and those overseas would be violative of article 19(1) as well as article 21 of the constitution.

The court noted that the Election Commission has already decided to constitute a committee to examine the feasibility of different options that can be considered for facilitating voting by overseas NRI electors as it adjourned the hearing till August end for the committee to complete its work and report to the court.

Allowing the application by Shamsheer to amend his petition, the court in its order said: “The respondents (Union of India and the Election Commission) are permitted to file a comprehensive counter affidavit within a period of two months.”

“Report of the Committee be also filed before the court,” the order said.

Pointing to the paucity of time in putting in place arrangements for facilitating the NRIs to exercise their votes from their overseas locations, the Election Commission said even for permitting that amendment will have be made to electoral laws to expand the special category voters.

Under the acts, defence personnel, central government staff and staff at the diplomatic missions abroad come under special category of voters.

Senior counsel Meenakshi Arora who appeared for the Election Commission said that under the circumstances it would not be possible for the Commission to make any “interim/time gap arrangements to enable the NRI voters to vote through proxy or through ballot papers, more particularly when the election process is already ongoing” and some phases of the election are already over.

Seeking recognition of the right to external voting, the PIL says that existing provisions creates distinct two categories of haves and have nots amongst 1,00,37,761 NRIs (as on May, 2012 as per the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs) residing abroad as only 11,000 have enrolled themselves as voters in the electoral rolls.

(Source: IANS)

Ascertain accused’s rehabilitation before sentencing: SC

supreme courtThe Supreme Court has directed trial courts to determine before pronouncing sentence whether a person convicted of murder or other heinous crimes could be reformed or rehabilitated.

“Many a times, while determining the sentence, the courts take it for granted, looking into the facts of a particular case, that the accused would be a menace to the society and there is no possibility of reformation and rehabilitation,” the bench said.

Justice K S Radhakrishnan and Justice Vikramajit Sen in their judgment delivered Thursday said that while it was the duty of the court to ascertain the factors, the state was obliged to furnish material “for and against the possibility of reformation and rehabilitation of the accused”.

(Source: IANS)

SC notice on telecom operators’ plea against CAG audit

supreme courtThe Supreme Court Monday issued notice to the central government and the Comptroller and Auditor General on a plea by the telecom companies challenging the auditing of their account books by the official auditor.

Issuing notice to the government and the CAG, a bench of Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice Vikramajit Sen declined to put on hold the Delhi High Court verdict that had rejected the telecom companies’ plea challenging the department of telecommunications’ decision to audit their accounts.

Appearing for the telecom companies, senior counsel Harish Salve told the court that the high court verdict was wrong as it was not the mandate of the CAG to audit the accounts of the telcos.

“We will have to consider this,” the court said as Salve told the court that the high court has said that under the revenue sharing model, the telecom companies are account keeper for the government.

“We have no problem with the DoT or special audit but the division bench raises one notch. It says it shall be the duty of the the CAG (to audit telecom companies accounts),” Salve told the court.

As the court declined to stay the operation of the high court’s January order, Salve urged the court to tell the government not to take any coercive steps against the telecom companies.

Allaying the apprehension that government might take any coercive steps, Additional Solicitor General Paras Kuhad told the court that it would take four to five months before report on the auditing of the telecom companies account was finalized and tabled in parliament.

The court directed the listing of the matter Feb 11.

The high court held that CAG can audit that part of telecom companies account from which money goes to the consolidated fund of India under revenue sharing arrangement.

(Source: IANS)

SC seeks details of production, sale of synthetic milk from states

supreme courtThe Supreme Court Thursday asked all states and union territories to file affidavits on the steps taken by them on curbing the production and sale of synthetic milk and prosecution of the offenders.A bench of Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice Vikramajit Sen also inquired about the steps taken by Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Delhi to make provision for life imprisonment under the Indian Penal Code’s section 272 for producing and selling synthetic milk and other adulterated food.

Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Odisha were the only states which have amended the section to provide for life imprisonment for food adulteration. At present, under the section, punishment for the sale of adulterated food or drink items attracts maximum imprisonment of six months, or a fine which may extend to Rs.1,000, or both.

Apparently displeased with the responses of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana and highlighting the seriousness of the issue, Justice Radhakrishnan said that for the last two years, he was taking black coffee.The court asked Uttar Pradesh to furnish the details of the prosecutions it had launched under the amended section 272 for those found involved in adulterating food articles, including manufacturing and selling synthetic milk.

The court’s direction came after counsel Anurag Tomar, appearing for petitioner Swami Achyutanand Tirath of Haridwar-based Bhuma Niketan Ashram, told the court that though there were 52 and 22 cases of synthetic milk in the state during 2012-13 and 2013-14 respectively, but in none was prosecution launched under the section. He said it was an admitted position in the Uttar Pradesh government’s affidavit.

Tomar contended that ‘apathy and inaction’ of the central and the state governments in taking ‘effective and necessary’ measures in curbing the sale of synthetic (chemically prepared) and adulterated milk was violative of the fundamental right to life guaranteed under article 21 of the constitution.Noting that three states have amended section 272 to increase sentence for food adulteration to life imprisonment, the court, in the last hearing on Dec 5, 2013, had said: ‘Considering the seriousness of the offence, it is important that similar amendments are to be made in other states as well.’

The court impleaded all the states in the matter after Additional Solicitor General Rakesh Khanna told it that the central government has received responses from 27 states and was awaiting response from four to five others.The court by its Dec 5 order had asked the central government as well as the Food Safety Authority to also file a detailed affidavit of the number of cases they have come across with regard to adding synthetic materials to milk and milk products and ‘what action various states have taken after they have detected such adulteration’.

Giving three weeks time to the central and state government to file their replies, the court directed the listing of the matter Feb 20.

(Source: IANS)

Decide on deemed varsity status of 44 institutions, SC to UGC

bbThe Supreme Court has asked the UGC to examine a report on 44 institutions recommended to be deprived of their deemed university status after their academic standard was found to be far from what was expected and decide their fate.

A bench of Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice Vikramajit Sen said it was only concerned with the legality of the continuance of deemed university status with respect to the 44 institutions.

It said in its order passed Tuesday that there was “some conflict” between the report prepared by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and that of the Prof. P.N. Tandon committee.

Noting that there were three reports – one by the Tandon committee, another by the UGC and still another by the committee of officers, the court said the UGC “had no occasion to examine” the Tandon report and the other report has not been placed before the UGC.

The court said the UGC (Institutions Deemed to be Universities) Regulations, 2010, enables both the central government and the UGC to inspect the institutions which are deficient in terms of academic standards and infrastructure.

It directed the UGC to examine both Tandon’s and the other report.

The court said institutions were “free to raise their objections against the reports” and the UGC has to consider the same and take a decision in accordance with the law.

After examining the reports and hearing the 44 institutions, the court said the “UGC has then to tender its advice to the central government with its report”.

It, however, noted the UGC’s advice was not binding on the government “but has to be given due weight since the UGC is an expert statutory authority”.

The court also made it clear that it has not given its “stamp of approval to any of the reports and it is for the UGC to consider all the reports, with notice to the 44 institutions, in accordance with law”.

Tandon headed a committee set up to review existing institutions deemed to be universities. The committee in its report submitted in October 2009 divided the institutions into three categories.

In the first category, the report found their working satisfactory and recommended their continued status as deemed university.

In the second category, the committee found them deficient in some respect but recommended giving them three years time to graduate to the first category.

However, it said 44 institutions faced the prospect of being denotified as deemed universities, as they “neither on past performance nor on their promise for the future, have the attributes, in our considered opinion, to retain their status as universities”.

(Source: IANS)