The Supreme Court stood out in 2017 for protecting and advancing the rights of citizens in more ways than one, but primarily by empowering them against any intrusion of their privacy by the State or the private sector as it elevated the right to privacy as a fundamental right.
The Supreme Court will be quoted not just for its verdict expanding the scope of the Right to Life by including within its ambit the sacrosanct Right to Privacy, but it will also be counted for its pronouncements that instant triple talaq was unconstitutional and sex with a minor wife in a child marriage amounted to rape.
The Year 2017 also saw the top court’s collegium finally putting in the public domain its deliberations on the appointment, transfer and elevation of High Court and Supreme Court judges with an explanation as to why a particular name was recommended or not.
This was viewed by some as the collegium throwing down the gauntlet for the executive, which is insisting on a provision in the Memorandum of Procedure (on appointments) that it can block a recommendation on the ground of national security but without elaborating on this.
The apex court did make serious efforts in making the government act on curbing advertisements and information on sex determination techniques available on the Internet but did not succeed to the extent that was expected.
In the end, virtually nothing was achieved in the matter as, even after a decade, says senior counsel Sanjay Parikh, and despite several court directions, the offending advertisements continue to appear on the Internet in violation of PNDT Act, resulting in a skewed girlchild ratio in some northern states.
All this apart, there is hardly an area impacting the life of the common people that escaped the top court’s scanner, be it clean air to breathe, making politics free of tainted politicians, baring the chilling insensitivity of the powers that be denying relief to the farmers faced with drought or not getting a just and reasonable minimum support price for their agriculture produce — leading to suicides.
Describing the 2017 as an “eventful year” with top court “standing up to the challenge” in addressing the issues of “great promise”, senior counsel C.A. Sundram said that Supreme Court has reaffirmed itself as the “final guardian” on any matter that affects the public at large.
“The court has also clearly established that with regards to any matter that affects the public at large they are the final guardians and have acted as a sentinel to protect the fundamental rights of the citizens,” Sundram told IANS.
“The decision in right to privacy is a sterling example,” said Sundram, a view also shared by activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan and senior counsel Colin Gonsalves, well-known for espousing social causes.
“I think the Supreme Court has done extraordinarily well on social issues — but only up to a point,” said Gonsalves.
The top court’s pronouncements to cleanse the legislatures of tainted law makers that started nearly a decade-and-a-half ago and mandating the disclosure of the assets and criminal antecedents continued in 2017 when it proposed setting up of courts to exclusively try criminal cases against the law makers and politicians.
It approved the setting of 12 exclusive courts to fast-track the trial of 1,571 pending cases against lawmakers. “Let us not get bogged down… let them set up 12 courts… It is not an end of it. Starting something is difficult.”
Recognised the world over for its role in protecting the environment, the Supreme Court acted decisively as it prohibited the registration of vehicles that do not meet BS-IV emission standards from April 1, 2017, banned the use of pet-coke and furnace oil in the National Capital Region and, above all, stopped the sale of fire crackers during Diwali celebrations — a step which earned it both laurels — for relatively less polluted post Diwali morning — and brickbats, with some equating the ban on the sale of fire crackers as an assault on the Hindu religion.
The top court also came to the rescue of home buyers who have been deprived of their rightful dwellings years beyond the due date by the big real estate companies.
Besides achievements, the top court had its troubled spots too — its tussle with the executive on one hand and with a section of bar on the other.
However, when the government sought to criticise the top court for its pro-active approach and stepping into its policy-making domain, Chief Justice Dipak Misra was more than candid saying that the “protections of the fundamental rights of every citizen was a sacrosanct duty of the judiciary conferred by the Constitution”.
The apex court seemingly succeeded in taming a section of the the bar seeking an SIT probe into the allegations of graft vis-a-vis a medical college involving a retired judge of the Orissa High Court, but not without its image taking a blow as it observed that its image has been damaged as “unnecessary doubts about the integrity of the institution have been created”.