Benchmark rulings galore in 2009
By Rana Ajit, IANS
New Delhi : Whether it was Justice Markandey Katju’s obey-your-wife remark or Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan’s polluters-must-pay ruling, the Supreme Court continued to hog the limelight in 2009. Topping them was the repeated order that stopped the statue installation spree of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati.
Justice B.N. Agrawal had to even threaten the state chief secretary with contempt of court proceedings to have his order obeyed. Another bench headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan later suspended Mayawati’s bid to create another statue gallery for herself and her mentor Kanshi Ram on the outskirts of Delhi in the state’s showpiece town Noida.
In yet another significant ruling, the apex court tried to stop the mushrooming of religious structures by encroaching upon public land. On July 31, a bench of Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Justice Mukundkam Sharma ordered the central and all state governments to ensure that no new place of worship is built illegally on public land anywhere.
Justice Katju had been in the news earlier too, on April 28, when he asked the central government to form a panel of scientists to “take up research on a war footing” to tackle the country’s water problem.
On Nov 11, the same judge issued an order to ascertain the apex court’s legislative and executive powers. Expressing reservation over an earlier apex court order framing guidelines for the conduct of students union elections in colleges and universities across the country, the bench referred the crucial issue for examination by a constitution bench.
The year also saw the apex court ordering a record compensation for a victim of medical negligence on May 14, when Hyderabad-based Nizam Medical Institute was asked to pay Rs.10 million to Bangalore-based Infosys engineer Prashanth S. Dhananka, who had been paralysed from the waist down after a botched up surgery.
Chief Justice Balakrishnan imposed a steep Rs.556 million fine on industrialists engaged in dyeing and bleaching work at Hirpur in Tamil Nadu for polluting the Noyyal river virtually beyond redemption.
The country’s top court was also in the news when a group of defendants threw footwear at a judge. Justice Altmas Kabir held that convicting summarily and punishing instantly an obvious contemnor was just and fair, while jailing four women officials of a Mumbai-based music school for throwing footwear March 20 this year at erstwhile Justice Arijit Pasayat in the courtroom.
The year also saw the apex court devising the concept of life-long jail term to meet the need of a punishment milder than the death penalty but harsher than the normal 14-year term.
Justice B.N. Agrawal came with the concept to meet “the end of justice” in the case of a diabolical murder committed by a so-called god man Swamy Shraddananda.
The year subsequently saw the apex court catching up with the global trend of decades-long jailing for murders most foul in several cases.
On Oct 9, it jailed for the rest of his life 28-year-old Sebastian alias Chevithiyan from Kerala, for stealing a two-year-old girl from her sleeping mother’s side and bludgeoning her to death after raping her.
In keeping with this new principle, another bench on Aug 27 imposed a 35-year-long jail term on a West Bengal youth, Haru Ghosh, for murdering a 30-year-old woman and her 12-year-old son in May 2005.
(Rana Ajit can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)