Supreme Court in 2022: Three CJIs, judicial appointments row and more – Top 10 developments from top court this year
The year 2022 has been special for the Supreme Court in more ways than one. While the apex court stood up for personal liberty while granting bail to P Varavara Rao and Anand Teltumbde and ordered a stay on the application of the archaic sedition law till a new law was put into place, it also made path-breaking strides as it began live streaming of proceedings of its Constitution bench and also opened up on RTI portal in a push towards greater transparency in its functioning.
This year was also only the second time in the history of the Indian judiciary that the Supreme Court saw three chief justices. The last time such changes were seen in the year 2002. After a 16-month tenure, Justice Nuthalapati Venkata Ramana retired as the 48th Chief Justice of India on August 26, 2022, to make way for Justice Uday Umesh Lalit as his successor. CJI Lalit, who assumed charge on August 27, 2022, retired on November 8 this year as the 49th CJI after a short tenure of a little over two months. He was succeeded by Justice Dhananjay Y Chandrachud as the 50th Chief Justice of India who took oath on November 9, 2022. His tenure is scheduled to end on November 10, 2024.
Besides the push for transparency and decision in crucial matters, the Supreme Court also saw its fair share of controversies over its face-off with the Center on the issue of appointments to the higher judiciary. The Supreme Court also responded strongly to the Law Minister Kiren Rijiju’s criticism of the top court for entertaining frivolous PILs and bail pleas amid the high pending of cases.
Big takeaways from the Supreme Court in 2022:
Row over judicial appointments
Union Minister for Law and Justice Kiren Rijiju speaks in the Rajya Sabha during Winter Session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022. (PTI Photo)
The year saw constant back and forth between the Center and the top court over names recommended by the SC Collegium. While the Center held its ground that it was well within its powers to review the recommendations by the Collegium, the apex court observed that the “method of keeping names on hold was becoming a device to compel persons recommended for appointments to withdraw their names”. The court further noted that there were at least 11 names that had been recommended and reiterated by the SC and were still pending approval by the central government.
Earlier, the Center had made a strong case against the Collegium system of appointments stating that the system was “alien” to the Constitution. The top court shot back saying that the Collegium system of appointments is the law of the country and comments against it are “not well taken”. The apex court also observed that any law declared by it is “binding” on all stakeholders and the Collegium system must be followed.
Three Chief Justices in a year
The year 2022 was also unique due to the three chief justices who helmed the Supreme Court within a year. This was only the second time in the history of the Indian judiciary that such frequent changes were seen at the CJI level. The three CJIs who helmed the top court during the year included Justice NV Ramana, Justice UU Lalit and CJI DY Chandrachud.
Push for transparency
A few decisions by the apex court stood out as significant steps towards transparency in the functioning of the highest level of judiciary in the country. The year 2022 saw the beginning of the live telecast of Supreme Court proceedings of the Constitution bench as well as a new system of listing matters.
The year also witnessed the launch and operationalization of the RTI portal of the Supreme Court besides the launch of an advanced version of its mobile app as well as the Advocate Appearance Portal.
Clean chit to PM Modi in Gujarat riots
Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (File Image)
In a significant verdict that finally brought down the curtains on allegations of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s involvement in the post-Godhra communal riots in Gujarat in 2002, the Supreme Court upheld the clean chit given to the then CM and 63 others by the SIT.
In another matter related to PM Modi, the Supreme Court also set up a panel to investigate the alleged security lapse in Punjab during the PM’s visit to the state ahead of the Assembly elections in the state. The issue had led to a massive war of words between the Center and the state government.
EWS reservation constitutionally valid
In a significant verdict, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the Centre’s reservation scheme for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS). The EWS reservation, launched by Prime Minister Modi just ahead of the 2019 elections, provides for a quota of 10 per cent to those earning less than Rs 10 lakh a year and excluded by the reservations provided to SCs, STs and OBCs.
In a 3:2 split verdict, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court upheld the validity of EWS reservations and stated that the provision does not violate the basic tenets of the Constitution of India.
PMLA: ED’s powers under money-laundering law upheld
The Enforcement Directorate received a big shot in the arm when the Supreme Court upheld its powers granted under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. The provisions upheld by the top court included its powers to search adn seize, and take possession of attached properties, among others.
The verdict was criticized by the opposition parties who have often accused the government of misusing central agencies to intimate and threaten leaders. A total of 16 opposition parties had issued a joint statement calling it a “dangerous verdict” which they hoped will be “short-lived”.
SC split verdict on Karnataka hijab row
The Karnataka High Court had on March 15 dismissed petitions filed by Muslims students seeking permission to wear hijab inside educational institutions. (Photo: PTI/File)
The row over the Karnataka hijab ban reached the doors of the Supreme Court earlier this year after the High Court’s verdict upheld the ban on the use of hijab inside educational institutions by the state government. However, the matter remained inconclusive as a division bench of the Supreme Court delivered a split verdict, with one judge upholding the HC’s order and the other dismissing it.
The matter remains pending with the Supreme Court and will be taken up after the CJI constitutes a fresh bench of judges to hear the matter.
SC to hear plea against release of Bilkis Bano case convicts
The Gujarat government’s decision to allow the release of 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano gang-rape case on August 15 this year came in for some harsh criticism from political quarters. Bilkis moved two pleas in the Supreme Court — one challenging the Gujarat government’s order allowing the release and the other seeking a review of the SC’s earlier order asking the Gujarat government to consider the petitions for remission of sentences of 11 convicts in the gang-rape case .
While the Supreme Court has dismissed the plea seeking review of its earlier order, the petition challenging the release by the Gujarat government is still pending. The top court has said that it will try to list the case for hearing soon.
SC stresses on need to uphold personal liberty
Stressing on the need to uphold the citizens’ right to personal liberty, the Supreme Court dealt with the matters pertaining to GN Saibaba, P Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde. While the SC ordered a stay on the Bombay HC’s order directing the release of GN Saibaba in a Maoist links case, it granted bail to Rao, 82, on grounds of his health and age in the Bhima-Koregaon violence case.
The court also dismissed the NIA’s plea challenging the grant of bail to Teltumbde by the Bombay HC in the Maoist links case. The court also allowed the transfer of Navlakha to house arrest in view of his deteriorating health condition in a similar case.
SC orders stay on sedition law
The Supreme Court ordered a stay on all the pending cases and proceedings with respect to charges framed under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code. The top court also said that those facing sedition charges can approach courts for bail and advised courts to dispose of them in a speedy manner.
The top court also asked the Center and States to restrain from registering fresh cases under the penal provision of the sedition law, till the re-examination of the colonial-era law is completed by the central government.
The Supreme Court ordered a stay on the application of the contentious sedition law till the time the law is not studied by an appropriate one.