1 Shreya Singhal v. Union of India (Free speech online)
Supreme Court decision: The Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional section 66A of Information Technology Act, which made it an offence for a person to transmit any information online which he knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will.
Impact: This was a major victory for free speech since the overly broad section, which among other things even criminalised causing annoyance to others, had been used by state governments and the police for politically motivated arrests and harassment of ordinary citizens posting critical comments online, especially on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Little-known fact: Though it struck down section 66A and put an end to arbitrary arrests, the Supreme Court in the same judgement upheld section 69A, which provides for blocking of websites. The blocking can take place only on grounds mentioned in Article 19(2) of the Constitution [pertaining to freedom of speech] and the order to block must be a reasoned order, which can then be challenged in court.
2 Rajbala v. State of Haryana (Educational criteria for contesting polls)
Supreme Court decision: The Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of the Haryana Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Act, which stipulates that individuals contesting panchayat elections must have at least passed Class 10 (Class 8 for Dalit candidates), should have a toilet in their house, and should not have outstanding electricity bills or loans.
Impact: The judgement has been criticised for its lack of sound reasoning in upholding a law that disqualifies thousands of people from contesting elections. The judgement effectively validates a similar law in place in Rajasthan.
Little-known Fact: Though the laws in Rajasthan and Haryana have imposed an educational qualification for contesting panchayat polls, there are no such minimum educational qualifications for becoming an MP or an MLA. More than 20 MPs in the present parliament have only studied till Class 8.
3 Ram Singh v. Union of India (Jat quota case)
Supreme Court decision: The Supreme Court overturned and set aside a Union government circular that granted reservations to the Jat community in central government jobs in nine states by including them in the Central list of Other Backward Classes.
The Supreme Court held that the central government had inexplicably ignored the National Commission for Backward Classes report, which specifically stated that the Jat Community need not be included in the Central OBC list.
Impact: The judgement shows that reservation can be extended only to those who genuinely fall in the backward class category as per the National Commission for Backward Classes. The court specifically criticised the competitive demands for being recognised as backward.
Little-known fact: The Supreme Court decision only set aside the inclusion of Jats in the Central list of Other Backward Classes. As for state government matters, the Jats have been included in State OBC lists of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Haryana.
4 Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association v. Union of India (Proposed body for judicial appointments)
Supreme Court decision: A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court decided by a 4-1 majority that the National Judicial Appointments Commission and the Constitutional Amendment enabling the proposed body was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court held that the independence of the judiciary was likely to be compromised in a system of appointment of judges by the NJAC, since the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act allowed for the non-judicial members of the proposed body to come together to veto a candidate favoured by the judicial members.
Impact: The judgement restores the previously existing “collegium system” developed over the first three judges cases. This means that a committee of the chief justice and the four senior most judges of the Supreme Court shall continue appointing judges of the top court. This system of judges exclusively appointing judges is unique to India.
Little-known fact: All the five judges wrote a separate opinion on the case and at 1,030 pages, it is the longest judgement in Supreme Court’s history. The judgement is significant for its detailed discussion about the circumstances in which judges should recuse themselves from a case.
5 Yakub A R Memon v. State of Maharashtra (Midnight hearing)
Supreme Court decision: Lawyers for 1993 Mumbai serial blasts convict Yakub Memon had room number four of the Supreme Court opened at 2 am and urged the court to stay the execution of Memon, who was scheduled to be executed at 7 am. However, the contention that 14 days had not passed since the rejection of Yakub’s mercy petition did not find favour with the bench. He was hanged the next morning.
Impact: This high profile hearing at midnight is likely to encourage more litigants needing urgent relief to approach the Supreme Court post working hours. The Delhi Commission for Women earlier this month approached the court late at night in a last-ditch effort to prevent the release of the juvenile convict in the December 16 gang-rape case.
Little-known fact: Though Yakub Memon’s case received the most media attention, such midnight hearings have previously taken place for death row convicts such as Surinder Koli and Maganlal Barela as well.
Sagar Godbole is a student at the Gujarat National Law University.
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