As 2018 draws to a close, we reflect back on some of the landmark verdicts delivered by the Supreme Court this year. From Aadhaar to Section 377, the apex court pronounced several important verdicts with far-reaching implications for the country.
Supreme Court upholds Aadhaar law
In a landmark majority ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the Constitutional validity of the Aadhaar Act but it struck down the requirement of linking Aadhaar to bank accounts and mobile phone numbers, and on its insistence for pension and school admissions.
The five-judge bench headed by then Chief Justice Dipak Misra declared as unconstitutional a part of Section 57 of the Act which permitted private body corporates and individuals to seek Aadhaar authentication, saying this “would impinge upon the right to privacy of such individuals”.
The top court, however, upheld the linking of the permanent account number (PAN) to the unique Aadhaar number and the notifications allowing people to avail subsidies and benefits provided by the government.
While it upheld the Constitutional validity of the Act on the ground that it “struck a fair balance between the right of privacy of the individual with right to life of the same individual as a beneficiary”, the Supreme Court ring-fenced the law from possible misuse by the State and private entities. Read more
Section 377 struck down
Underlining the supremacy of “constitutional morality” over “societal morality”, the Supreme Court had scrapped a 158-year-old British-era law that banned same-sex relations between consenting adults in private and punished them with jail terms for life or up to ten years.
Decriminalising a part of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a five-judge Constitution Bench headed by the then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said the section violated the identity of an individual, the right to equality and the right to privacy. The provision, however, continues to apply to cases of bestiality, carnal intercourse with minors and in cases of no consent. Read more
‘Adultery law arbitrary’
Describing as “unconstitutional” Indian Penal Code Section 497, which made adultery a punishable offence only for men, the Supreme Court had struck down the law criminalising adultery. The top court termed the law as arbitrary, which treats the wife as chattel and deprives women of her sexual autonomy and dignity. However, adultery continues to be a ground for any civil wrong, including a ground for divorce.
In four separate but concurring judgments, a five-judge Constitution Bench headed by then CJI Dipak Misra said the colonial-era provision violated Articles 14 (right to equality); 15(1) (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth); and, 21 (protection of life and personal liberty). Read more
Women of all ages can enter Sabarimala
In a 4-1 verdict, the Supreme Court had thrown open the doors of the Sabarimala temple in Kerala to women of all ages by ending the entry ban on women of menstruating age. While pronouncing its verdict, the apex court said the centuries-old custom at the shrine was not an essential religious practice and “the attribute of devotion to divinity cannot be subjected to the rigidity and stereotypes of gender”.
Four of the five judges on the Constitution Bench — the then CJI Dipak Misra, Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud — ruled against the restriction on women while Justice Indu Malhotra gave a dissenting opinion, saying “the religious practice of restricting the entry of women between the ages of 10 to 50 years is in pursuance of an ‘essential religious practice’” and “notions of rationality cannot be invoked in matters of religion by courts”. Read more
SC permits passive euthanasia
Making it legal for a terminally ill individual to decline use of life support measures, the Supreme Court had permitted passive euthanasia. The court allowed families of those in incurable coma to withdraw such measures to reduce the period of suffering. It also recognised the right to an “advance directive” (also called living will), spelling out views and wishes regarding medical treatment in terminally ill situations.
A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, headed by then CJI Dipak Misra, ruled that “smoothening” the process of death for terminally ill patients with no chance of recovery was integral to life with dignity. Read more
Live-streaming of court proceedings
With an aim to usher in more transparency in the judiciary’s work, the Supreme Court had given its nod to live-streaming of court proceedings, saying this will bring more accountability and enhance the rule of law.
A three bench headed by then CJI Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud said: “We hold that the cause brought before this court by the protagonists in larger public interest deserves acceptance so as to uphold the constitutional rights of the public, and the litigants in particular.” Read more
SC delivers Cauvery dispute verdict
Pronouncing its verdict on the decades-old Cauvery dispute, the Supreme Court had increased Karnataka’s share of the Cauvery waters by 14.75 thousand million cubic feet, raising it from 270 tmc ft awarded by the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal in February 2007 to 284.75 tmc ft.
It meant that Tamil Nadu’s share was reduced to 404.25 tmc ft, as against 419 tmc ft awarded by the Tribunal. But Tamil Nadu was compensated by being allowed extraction of 10 tmc ft groundwater. The share of the other two states, Kerala and Puducherry, remained unchanged at 30 tmc ft and 7 tmc ft respectively. Read more
Setting aside a 2017 order of the Kerala High Court which annulled the marriage of Kerala Muslim convert girl Hadiya and Shefin Jahan, the Supreme Court had underlined that “the right to marry a person of one’s choice is integral to Article 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Constitution”.
The court also allowed the NIA to continue its investigation in respect of any criminality with the rider that it should not encroach upon their marital status.
Hadiya embraced Islam in January 2016. Months later, she married Jahan, triggering allegations of forced conversion. Claiming that her daughter had been “brainwashed”, Hadiya’s father K M Ashokan moved the Kerala High Court which annulled the marriage and sent Hadiya to her parents’ custody last May. On appeal by Jahan, the top court summoned Hadiya, interacted with her in open court and then sent her to continue her studies in a Salem college. Read more
National anthem cinema halls
Modifying its earlier order, the Supreme Court had said it is no longer mandatory for cinema halls to play the national anthem before screening a film.
A bench headed by then CJI Dipak Misra modified the November 30, 2016 order which had made the playing of national anthem in cinema halls mandatory. Under the modified order, it will now be up to cinema hall owners whether or not to play the national anthem. The bench, however, made it clear that movie-goers will have to show respect to the anthem in case it is played, and they will have to stand.
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