2021 in review: What made headlines in the Supreme Court? Top 40

  • Editor’s Desk
  • 07:02 PM, 31 Dec 2021

Top Judgments in Supreme Court - 2021

1. Decriminalising Politics - Directions to ECI

Brajesh Singh Vs. Sunil Arora & Ors.

Coram – Justices RF Nariman and BR Gavai

The Supreme Court issued various directions in furtherance of the Constitution bench judgment in Public Interest Foundation and Ors. v. Union of India, (2019) 3 SCC, in its attempt to decriminalise politics such as publication of criminal antecedents on political party websites, dedicated ECI mobile app creation for awareness & responsibility of the ECI for cross-checking whether political parties have not adhered to the norms.

The Bench observed that, "The nation continues to wait, and is losing patience. Cleansing the polluted stream of politics is obviously not one of the immediate pressing concerns of the legislative branch of government”

2. Guidelines drafted for Dowry Death Trial

Satbir Singh & Anr v. State of Haryana

Coram - CJI N.V. Ramana and Justice Aniruddha Bose

The Supreme Court of India in June, 2021 disposed of the appeals arising out of judgement passed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court dated 06.11.2008. It is to be noted that, the High Court dismissed the appeals preferred by the appellants and upheld the order of conviction and sentence passed by the Trial Court.The Court held that Section 304-B IPC must be interpreted keeping in mind the legislative intent to curb the social evil of bride burning and dowry demand. The Bench, therefore, laid down guidelines for Dowry Death trials in the lower courts.

3. Right To Life unconditionally supports even an undertrial

Kerala Union of Working Journalists v. Union of India

Coram -Chief Justice NV Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Justice AS Bopanna

While deciding a petition seeking release of Kerala journalist Sidique Kappan , the Supreme Court held that the fundamental right to life is available to undertrial prisoners as well.Kappan was allegedly COVID positive and was denied humane treatment by the hospital authorities.The Full Bench, while allowing to shift Siddique Kappan to AIIMS/RML or any other Government Hospital in Delhi.Earlier, the Supreme Court Bench of CJI Bobde had allowed Kappan’s plea to meet his ailing mother with appropriate safeguards.

4. Power of Court to order house arrest

Gautam Navlakha v. National Investigation Agency

Coram - Justices UU Lalit and KM Joseph

The major question for Court’s determination was, whether a period of 34 days when the petitioner was in custody by way of house arrest pursuant to orders of the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court modifying transit remand order dated 28.08.2018 of the CMM, Saket Court, New Delhi, would count as custody for the purpose of default bail under Section 167(2) CrPC.[st2] 

The Court held that under Section 167 of the CrPC, in appropriate cases, it will be open to courts to order house arrest as well. Further, in order to house arrest a person, courts can consider criteria like age, health condition and the antecedents of the accused, the nature of the crime, the need for other forms of custody and the ability to enforce the terms of the house arrest.

5. Tribunal Reforms Ordinance

Madras Bar Association v Union of India

Coram -Justices LN Rao and S Ravindra Bhat, dissenting view by Justice Hemant Gupta

By ratio of 2:1, Top Court struck down the provisions of the Tribunal Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021 (“Tribunals Reforms Ordinance, 2021”) which fixed the term of members of various tribunals as four years.The Bench observed that, “The term violates the express directions given earlier judgement”

6. Revocation of NSA charges against Manipuri activist 

L Raghumani Singh v. District Magistrate, Imphal West District, Manipur 

Coram - Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice MR Shah

In response to a petition moved by his father, the Supreme Court ordered the immediate release of Manipuri activist Erendro Leichombam who was booked under the National Security Act (NSA) for a Facebook post criticising Bharatiya Janata Party leaders for advocating cow-dung and cow-urine as cures for COVID-19.

7. Right to Professional Education

Farazana Batool vs Union of India

Coram- Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice M R Shah

The Court held that though the right to pursue higher education has not been spelt out as a fundamental right under Part III of the Constitution, it bears emphasis that access to professional education is not a governmental largesse, and that the State has an affirmative obligation to facilitate access to education at all levels.Article 26(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is a source of persuasive value, obligates every State Party to ensure that technical and professional education is made generally available and that higher education is equally accessible to all on the basis of merit

8. Maratha Community Reservation

Dr. Jaishri Laxmanrao Patil v. The Chief Minister 

Coram – Justices Ashok Bhushan,(for himself and S. Abdul Nazeer, J.), L.Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and S. Ravindra Bhat

A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court struck down the Maratha reservation quota and held there were no exceptional circumstances justifying the grant of reservation to Maratha community in excess of 50 percent ceiling limit as laid down in the Indra Sawhney judgment.Top Court observed that the Constitution Bench judgment of this Court in Indra Sawhney neither needs to be revisited nor referred to a larger Bench for consideration. Top Court held that 102nd Constitution Amendment abrogated the power of states to identify "Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBCs)" by a 3:2 majority decision. The Bench also observed that, “Indra Sawhney binds us”

9. Compensation for late trains

Northern Western Railway and Another v. Sanjay Shukla

Coram -Justices MR Shah and Aniruddha Bose

Supreme Court held that if railways fail to provide evidence and explain late arrival of a train and that if it is unable to establish that delay occurred because of reasons beyond its control, they would be liable to pay compensation to the passenger. The Bench noted that, “Citizens cannot be left at mercy of administration”

10. Non-examination of independent witnesses not fatal to prosecution

Guru Dutt Pathak v. State of UP

Coram – Justice MR Shah

The Supreme Court upheld the Allahabad High Court’s observation that where there is clinching evidence of eyewitnesses, non-examination of some of the witnesses or absence of examination of any independent witnesses would not be fatal to the case of the prosecution.

11. Bail in UAPA after prolonged imprisonment

Union of India Vs. K.A. Najeeb

Coram - Justices NV Ramana, Surya Kant & Aniruddha Bose

The Supreme Court has held in the present case that the presence of statutory restrictions under like Section 43-D (5) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 shall not oust the ability of the Constitutional Courts to grant bail on the grounds of violations of Part III of the Constitution. Emphasising on the right to speedy trial under Article 21 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court allowed the grant of bail to an accused who had spent over 5 years in jail as undertrial in a case under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

12. Hindustan Zinc Disinvestment

National Confederation of Officers Association of Central Public Sector Enterprise & Ors v. Union of India & Ors
Coram –
Justices D Y Chandrachud and B V Nagarathna

Delivering judgment on a plea by the National Confederation of Officers' Associations, the Supreme Court ruled that the Union of India may disinvest its residual shareholding of 29.5% in Hindustan Zinc Limited (HZL). Court also directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to register a regular case as regards the “illegalities” in the disinvestment of 26% shares of HZL by the Union Government in March 2002.
The Bench observed that, “Full fledged investigation must be conducted by CBI”

13. Great Indian Bustard

M.K. Ranjitsinh & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors

Coram - Chief Justice SA Bobde, Justices AS Bopanna & Ramasubramaniun

Supreme Court in its judgment on undergrounding of power lines in priority areas of Great Indian Bustard, in the parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan, directed (i) undergrounding in the areas feasible (ii) installation of diverters pending consideration of undergrounding (iii) constituted a three member committee to evaluate the same. Top Court directed the respondents to proceed with undergrounding of power-lines in the areas possible and further allowed an interim relief of installation of diverters. A 3-member committee has been formed to evaluate the same.

14. Cooperative Societies

Union Of India V. Rajendra N. Shah And Another

Coram - Justices RF Nariman and BR Gavai; dissent by Justice KM Joseph

Supreme Court declared Part IX B of the Constitution of India as unconstitutional in as much as it curtailed State’s exclusive power to make laws with regard to the subject of co-operative societies operating within a state.

Justice RF Nariman and Justice BR Gavai while upholding the Gujarat High Court judgement and striking down Part IX B to the extent it curtailed state's power on cooperative societies within the state observed that,

“The judgment of the High Court is upheld except to the extent that it strikes down the entirety of Part IXB of the Constitution of India. As held by us above, it is declared that Part IXB of the Constitution of India is operative only insofar as it concerns multi-State co- operative societies both within the various States and in the Union territories of India.”

In his dissent, Justice KM Joseph observed that, “I regret my inability to concur with the view taken that the Doctrine of Severability will apply to sustain Article 243ZR and Article 243ZS to the multistate cooperative societies operating in the Union Territories, and that, it would not apply to cooperative societies confined to the territories of the Union Territories.”

15. Vaccination policy

In Re Distribution of Essential Supplies and Services during the Pandemic

Coram - Justices DY Chandrachud, Ravindra Bhat and Nageswara Rao

Supreme Court sought information from Centre on projected availability of vaccines until 31 December, 2021, Preparedness with respect to specific needs of Children, can State/UTs or Individual local bodies access vaccine supplies of Foreign Manufacturers, factoring in diversion/price difference into their subsequent allocation and disbursal of vaccines to the States, redistribution of vaccines if allotted quota is not picked up by the State/UT/Private Hospitals, etc.

The Bench observed that, The judiciary does not possess the authority or competence to assume the role of the executive, which is democratically accountable for its actions and has access to the resources which are instrumental to policy formulation. However, this separation of powers does not result in courts lacking jurisdiction in conducting a judicial review of these policies.”

16. UP’s policy on Age of Superannuation

New Okhla Industrial Development Authority v. BD Singhal

Coram – Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah

Supreme Court observed that date of implementation of a particular decision, application of increased age of superannuation in the present case, is a policy matter and the High Court ought not to have entered the same.
The Bench observed that, “Whether the age of superannuation should be enhanced is a matter of policy/ High Court trenched upon Executive domain”

17. Juvenile offender in b/w 16-18 yrs to be remitted to jurisdictional Juvenile Justice Board

Devilal v State of MP

Coram – Justice UU Lalit

In this case, the Court considered to what extent the benefit under the Juvenile Justice Act could be extended where the offender was above 16 years and less than 18 years of age on the day the offence was committed.The Court held that in such a case, even if the accused were guilty, the matter must be remitted to the jurisdictional Juvenile Justice Board.

18. Family Consent not needed if two adults decide to marry

Laxmibai Chandaragi v. The State of Karnataka 

Coram – Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul

The Court observed that educated younger boys and girls are choosing their life partners which is a departure from traditional norms of society. The consent of the family or the community or the clan is not necessary once two adult individuals agree to enter a wedlock and their consent has to be piously given primacy.

19. OBC reservation cannot exceed 50 percent

Vikas Kishan Rao Gawali v. State of Mahahrashtra

Coram – Justice AM Khanwilkar

The Supreme Court also laid down a triple test to be complied with by the State before reserving seats in local bodies for OBCs.

The three conditions prescribed are:

(1) to set up a dedicated Commission to conduct rigorous inquiry into the nature and implications of the backwardness of local bodies, within the State;

(2) to specify the proportion of reservation required to be provisioned local body wise in light of recommendations of the Commission; and

(3) in any case such reservation shall not exceed aggregate of 50% of the total seats reserved in favour of SCs/STs/OBCs taken together.

20. 40% disability criteria for appointment as civil judge, not binding

Vikash Kumar v. Union Public Service Commission & Ors.

Coram- Justice DY Chandracnud

The Court ruled that a person suffering from the neurological condition, writer's cramp, is entitled to have a scribe to write the Civil Service exam.

The Court also held that an earlier judgment in V Surendra Mohan v. State of Tamil Nadu which had upheld a ceiling of 40 percent disability for appointment as civil judge, is no longer good law.

Importantly, the Court also held that 'benchmark disability' as defined in the Act is not a precondition to obtaining a scribe.

21. Remitting Life Sentences

State of Haryana v. Raj Kumar

Coram: Justices Hemant Gupta and AS Bopanna

Supreme Court held that the State Government while exercising powers under Sections 432, 433, CrPC cannot remit or commute a sentence unless the convict has undergone a 14 years of minimum imprisonment.
the Bench observed that, "The action of commutation and release can thus be pursuant to a governmental decision and the order may be issued even without the Governor's approval. However, under the Rules of Business and as a matter of constitutional courtesy, it may seek approval of the Governor, if such release is under Article 161 of the Constitution."

22. Prohibit Illegal Adoption Of Children Orphaned By COVID

In Re Contagion of COVID Virus In Children Protection Homes

Coram - Justices L. Nageswara Rao and Aniruddha Bose

In this suo moto case initiated by the Court to deal with the problems of children affected by COVID the Bench observed that, "No adoption of affected children should be permitted contrary to the provisions of the JJ Act, 2015.Invitation to persons for adoption of orphans is contrary to law as no adoption of a child can be permitted without the involvement of CARA. Stringent action shall be taken by the State Governments/Union Territories against agencies/individuals who are responsible for indulging in this illegal activity."

The Bench also directed the State governments and Union Territories to prevent any NGO from collecting funds in the names of the affected children by disclosing their identity and inviting interested persons to adopt them.

23. Right Against Sexual Harassment Part Of Right To Life & Dignity U/A 21

Union of India & Ors v. Mudrika Singh

Coram - Justices D.Y Chandrachud and A.S Bopanna

The Bench observed that the right against sexual harassment is vested in all persons as a part of their right to life and right to dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution. They stressed that it is important that that the spirit of this right is upheld instead of rejecting sexual harassment complaints on "hyper-technical" grounds.

The Bench further highlighted that the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013 which is a transformative legislation will fail to come to the aid of aggrieved persons if proceedings inquiring into sexual misconduct are invalidated on 'hyper-technical' interpretations of the applicable service rules.

24. Kanwar Yatra

In Re : Alarming Newspaper Report Regarding Kanwar Yatra in State of UP

Coram - Justices RF Nariman and BR Gavai

The Supreme Court has observed that religious sentiments are subservient to the fundamental right to life and health while adjudicating in the suo motu case taken against the decision of the Uttar Pradesh government to allow the Kanwar Yatra pilgrimage amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Bench observed that the State of Uttar Pradesh cannot go ahead with the Kanwar Yatra, especially so when the Union Government has taken a stand against holding the same.

25. Governor’s Pardon Power

State of Haryana v. Rajkumar @ Bittu

Coram - Justices Hemant Gupta and AS Bopanna

The Supreme Court has observed that the power of Governor under Article 161 of the Constitution to commute sentence or to pardon will override the restrictions imposed under Section 433-A of the Criminal Procedure Code.

The Bench observed that, even if the prisoner has not undergone 14 years or more of actual imprisonment, the Governor has a power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites and remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person.

26. Kerala Assembly Ruckus Case

State of Kerala v. K.Ajith

Coram - Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah

While refusing to allow the withdrawal of criminal prosecution against six LDF members in the Kerala assembly ruckus case of 2015, the Supreme Court made certain significant observations on the scope of legislative privileges and immunities.

The Bench observed that, "Privileges and immunities are not gateways to claim exemptions from the general law of the land, particularly as in this case, the criminal law which governs the action of every citizen. To claim an exemption from the application of criminal law would be to betray the trust which is impressed on the character of elected representatives as the makers and enactors of the law."

27. Delhi Assembly Summons

Ajit Mohan & Others v. Legislative Assembly, National Capital Territory of Delhi and others

Coram - Justice S.K. Kaul, Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice Hrishikesh Roy

The Supreme Court refused to quash the summons issued to Facebook India Managing Director Ajit Mohan by the Peace and Harmony committee of the Delhi Assembly Committee seeking his appearance in an enquiry related to Delhi Riots.

The Bench observed that the Delhi Assembly's enquiry cannot encroach into "prohibited domains" of law and order and criminal prosecution, as they are subjects under the domain of the Union Government. Therefore, the Court held that any representative of the petitioner can deny answering any question by the committee if it falls within the prohibited domains.

28. Petition against 'Shaheen Bagh' Judgment

Kaniz Fatima v. Commissioner of Police

Coram - Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari

The court dismissed the review petition filed against the Shaheen Bagh Judgment in which it is held that the demonstrations expressing dissent have to be in designated places alone.

While dismissing the review petition, the bench held that the right to protest cannot be anytime and everywhere.

29. “Larger Conspiracy" against Ex-CJI Gogoi

In Re: Matter Of Great Public Importance Touching Upon The Independence Of Judiciary

Coram- Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, AS Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian

A bench closed the suo moto proceedings which were instituted to examine if there was a "larger conspiracy" behind the allegations of sexual harassment against the then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.

The bench observed that, Justice A K Patnaik committee report has said a conspiracy to level sexual harassment charges against former CJI Ranjan Gogoi in April 2019 cannot be ruled out. The report said it could have been because of tough stand taken by then CJI on judicial & administrative side.”

30. Probation Act & IPC

Lakhvir Singh v. State of Punjab

Coram - Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hrishikesh Roy

The Bench observed that the benefit of probation under Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 is not excluded by the provisions of the mandatory minimum sentence prescribed for offences under IPC.


31. Appointment of Director Of Enforcement

Common Cause (Registered Society) v. Union of India

Coram- Justices L. Nageswara Rao and BR Gavai

The Supreme Court has held that a Director of Enforcement can be appointed for a period of more than two years by following the procedure prescribed Section 25 of the Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003.

The bench also upheld the power of the Union of India to extend the tenure of Director of Enforcement beyond the period of two years. It clarified that extension of tenure granted to officers who have attained the age of superannuation should be done only in rare and exceptional cases.

32. Right to apply for Bail Implicit under Art 14, 19 & 21

High Court of Judicature for Rajasthan v. State of Rajasthan and Another

Coram - Justices L Nageswara Rao and Aniruddha Bose

Disapproving the blanket orders passed by a single judge of the Rajasthan High Court to not list applications for bail and suspension of sentence as urgent matters during the lockdown, the Supreme Court has observed that the right to apply for bail is an individual right implicit in Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.

The Court has observed that such blanket bans would suspend Fundamental Rights of individuals and block access for seekers of liberty to apply for bail.

33. National Green Tribunal

Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai v. Ankita Sinha

Coram – Justices AM Khanwilkar, Hrishikesh Roy and CT Ravikumar

The Supreme Court declared that the National Green Tribunal is vested with suo motu powers to take cognizance on the basis of letters, representations and media reports.

The judgment is on the batch of petitions which raised the issue whether NGT has suo motu jurisdiction

The Court held that the NGT must be seen as a sui generis institution as the National Green Tribunals Act, 2010 (NGT Act) provides the Tribunal with wide ranging powers beyond that of a mere adjudicatory body.

34. Illegal summons and detentions

M.A Khaliq v. Ashok Kumar

Coram - Justices UU Lalit, S. Ravindra Bhat and Bela M. Trivedi

The Supreme Court observed that summoning and detaining a person without there being any crime registered against him would be violative of basic principles. The directions issued in Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar (2014) 8 SCC 273, would be applicable even if no crime was registered.

35. Extension of Limitation Period

In Re Cognizance for Extension of Limitation

Coram - Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justices L Nageswara Rao and Surya Kant

The Supreme Court has recalled the suo motu order of April 27, 2021, which had extended with effect from March 14, 2021 the limitation period for filing of cases in view of the COVID second wave. The Court said that the suo motu extension of limitation period will stand withdrawn with effect from October 2, 2021.


36. Total Ban of Firecrackers in West Bengal

Goutom Roy and Anr v. State of West Bengal

Coram - Justices AM Khanwilkar and Ajay Rastogi

The Supreme Court set aside the Calcutta High Court order imposing a blanket ban on the buying and selling of the firecrackers while allowing usage of Green Crackers while reiterating its order passed on October 29, 2021.

The Court observed that the High Court ought to have given opportunities to the authorities to place on record if any mechanism was in place to ensure that only "green crackers", as permitted by the Supreme Court, are being used.

37. Salary to Legally Serving Doctors

North Delhi Municipal Corporation v. Dr. Ram Naresh Sharma and others

Coram - Justices Hrishikesh Roy and L. Nageswara Rao

The Supreme Court has observed that the state cannot be allowed to plead financial burden to deny salary to legally serving doctors. Allowing such an excuse raised by the state would amount to violation of fundamental rights under Articles 14, 21 and 23 of the Constitution.

38. NCLT jurisdiction

Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam v. Mr. Amit Gupta

Coram- Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice M.R. Shah

The Supreme Court observed that, NCLT has jurisdiction over contractual disputes arising solely out of Insolvency Proceedings against the Corporate Debtor.

The Bench held, “Residuary jurisdiction of NCLT under Section 60(5)(c) of the IBC provides it a wide discretion to adjudicate questions of law or fact arising from or in relation to the insolvency resolution proceedings. If the jurisdiction of NCLT were to be confined to actions prohibited by Section 14 of the IBC, there would have been no requirement for the legislature to enact Section 60(5)(c) of the IBC.”

39. Bail under Section 43D(5) UAPA

Thwaha Fasal vs. Union of India

Coram - Justices Ajay Rastogi and Abhay S Oka

The Supreme Court observed that the embargo for grant of bail under sub-section (5) of Section 43D, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 will apply when after perusing charge sheet, the Court is of the opinion that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the accusation against such person is prima facie true.

40. UPSC

Union of India and Anr. v. Ms. A. Shainamol, IAS and Anr.

Coram - Justices Hemant Gupta and V. Ramasubramanian

Relying on a three judge bench judgment in Union of India and Ors. v. Rajiv Yadav, IAS and Ors., the Supreme Court has held that allocation of cadre in the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) is not a matter of right. 

The court noted that the bench in Rajiv Yadav held that a selected candidate has a right to be considered for appointment to the IAS but he has no such right to be allocated to a cadre of his choice or to his home state

Read More: A quick look at Court developments that hit national headlines in 2021 - Top 10