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An eventful year for the Supreme Court

Friday 29 December 2006, by VENKATESAN*J.

Its interventions left an indelible imprint in all walks of life

Judicial activism not new to India: Justice Sahbarwal The judiciary is highly respected by the people

New Delhi: It was an eventful year for both the Supreme Court and Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal, the court having passed orders on every facet of day-to-day life.

Certain judicial interventions - in the cases of Bihar Assembly dissolution, sealing operations in the capital, and notice to the office of the Speaker on expulsion of 10 Lok Sabha members - evoked strong reaction from the executive and politicians. A flashpoint was reached in the "forest matter" with the Centre saying, "The Supreme Court should not think it is the only institution that is protecting the environment as the Centre too has a responsibility."

But Mr. Justice Sabharwal refuted the criticism, saying judicial activism was not new to India. The judiciary intervened only when the executive or the legislature failed to perform its lawful duties. It was the only institution highly respected by the people, and it should reciprocate the confidence reposed in it, he said.

Quota for Muslims

The Andhra Pradesh Government and the Congress suffered a setbackafter the apex court refused to stay the operation of a full Bench judgment of the High Court, striking down legislation providing five per cent quota for Muslims in public appointments and admission to educational institutions.

Creamy layer

The court held that the "creamy layer" among the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes must be excluded from the purview of reservation in public employment and promotions, and that the total reservation for the SCs, the STs and the Other Backward Classes must not exceed 50 per cent. Faced with a predicament, the Centre sought Attorney-General Milon Banerjee’s opinion whether any Constitution amendment was required to protect the existing reservation. He said whatever the court said should be construed only as observations and not as a binding precedent.

OBC quota

The court is also examining the policy to provide 27 per cent reservation for the OBCs in institutions of higher learning. It is to give its verdict on the validity of inclusion in the Ninth Schedule of several legislation including the Tamil Nadu Reservation Act providing for 69 per cent quota, and laws on land reforms. The court is also to pronounce judgment in the "cash for query scam" cases on Parliament’s powers to terminate the tenure of an MP.

Bihar case

In the final verdict in the "Bihar dissolution case," the court pulled up Governor Buta Singh for recommending dissolution of the Assembly last year. (In October 2005, the court gave a brief order allowing the holding of polls in the State.)

It criticised the Centre for recommending dissolution, saying: "The Governor may be the main player, but the Council of Ministers [Union Cabinet] should have verified the facts stated in the report of the Governor before hurriedly accepting as a gospel truth what the Governor stated."

Students’ issues

On issues involving students, the court constituted a high-power committee, headed by R.K. Raghavan, former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, to look into ragging and suggest remedial measures. The court earlier gave its nod for implementing the suggestions given by the J.M. Lyngdoh Committee on the conduct of union elections in universities and affiliated colleges.

Dam controversy

The court asked Kerala to raise the water level in the Mullaperiyar dam from 136 to 142 feet, permitting further strengthening of the reservoir, as suggested by the Central Water Commission.

It said: "The apprehensions of Kerala have been found to be baseless. There is no report to suggest that the safety of the dam would be jeopardised if the water level is raised for the present to 142 ft." The petition filed subsequently by Tamil Nadu is still pending.

Relief to traders

The Centre and the Delhi Government were reprimanded on the issue of providing relief to traders. Earlier, the court ordered the closure of all illegal commercial complexes, showrooms and shops constructed in residential areas in violation of the master plan for Delhi. Finally, it gave relief to traders, asking them to continue until it decided on the validity of the law enacted by Parliament.

Taj corridor case

In the political arena, the court set aside a CBI status report for closing the case against the former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati in the Rs. 175-crore Taj Heritage project scam. It gave liberty to the CBI to file a charge sheet against her in the competent court.

The apex court is also examining the issue of tainted Ministers.

In significant judgment with far-reaching consequences, it held that no prior sanction from the competent authority was required to prosecute a public servant, including present and former Ministers, in corruption cases as taking a bribe or illegal gratification would not amount to discharge of official duty.

The court gave a series of directions to the Centre and the States to implement sweeping reforms to ensure complete autonomy of the police administration.

See online : The Hindu

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