Privacy judgment impinges social media
A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, in a leading judgment of this year, declared that the right to privacy is the constitutional core of human dignity and a fundamental right. This judgment has deep implications on the validity of the Aadhaar scheme and the various social media vehicles. The court is going to take up these two issues next year. In this judgment, the court underlined that informational privacy is a facet of the right to privacy. The dangers to privacy in an age of information can originate not only from the state but from non-state actors as well. The court asked the central government to put into place a robust regime for data protection.
PAN-Aadhaar linking constitutional
The Supreme Court upheld the validity of Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act, introduced in the Finance Act, making it compulsory to link PAN with Aadhaar for filing tax returns. It held that the rule was “directly connected with the issue of duplicate/fake PANs”. The amendment did not affect the Right to practice any profession. Parliament was fully competent to enact the law and its authority to make this law was not diluted by the orders of the Supreme Court that Aadhaar was voluntary. The court further asserted there was no conflict between the provisions of the Aadhaar Act and Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act as they can be interpreted harmoniously and they operate in distinct fields. Meanwhile, the court extended the deadline to seed Aadhaar with bank accounts and other facilities till March 31.
Bureaucrats covet tribunal posts
The perennial complaint that the executive is nibbling at powers of the judiciary was again raised in a few writ petitions and the Supreme Court directed the Centre to submit the new draft of the Tribunals, Appellate Tribunals and Other Authorities (Qualification, Experience and Other Conditions of Service) Rules by January 4. The order came in the petitions challenging Sections 182, 183, 184 and 185 of the Finance Act of 2017 and the rules framed under it. According to the petitions, Section 184 and the rules leave the appointment, tenure and removal of the presiding officers and members of 18 tribunals at the behest of the executive. They also dilute the qualification criteria and take away the right of the judiciary to appoint the chairman and members of tribunals and commissions.
Real estate barons on the back foot
The government submitted before the Supreme Court that the order of the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) taking over the management of real estate firm Unitech Ltd was wrong and the court stayed the order pending further examination of the powers of the tribunal. Earlier, the court had imposed a heavy fine on the firm and denied bail to its Managing Director Sanjay Chandra and his brother Ajay Chandra, who could not deliver residential flats in the National Capital Region to the buyers. The court also asked the firm to deposit Rs 15 crore to be distributed to thousands of homebuyers who moved the court.
Fixed-dose medicines under scanner
The fate of the government ban on 344 fixed-dose combination drugs is still hanging in balance as the Supreme Court asked the Drug Testing Advisory Board to review the decision taking into consideration the safety and efficacy of such “cocktail” medicines flooding the market. The Delhi High Court last year quashed the ban on the ground that there was no consultation with statutory bodies before taking the decision. The central government and many pharmaceutical companies filed appeals. The Supreme Court wanted the board to analyse the issues involving risk to humans and animals in greater depth and submit its report to the government within six months.
Ironing out Bankruptcy Code
The Supreme Court passed two detailed judgments relating to the functioning of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code. In the case Mobilox Innovations vs Kirusa Software, it interpreted the term “existence of dispute” for initiation of the corporate insolvency resolution process. In another judgment, Innoventive Industries vs ICICI Bank, it declared that strict adherence of the timelines is of essence to both the triggering process and the insolvency resolution itself. The Code was meant to speed up the liquidation process and therefore the NCLT should try to help achieve the objective.
Dodging the long arm of the law
The court struggled throughout the year with the legal waltz of two business barons, Vijay Mallya of Kingfisher and Subrata Roy of Sahara. Mallya has been charged with contempt of court for not appearing before the court where a consortium of banks has demanded huge amounts, alleging defaults by him. In the Sahara case, Roy has been on parole for over a year and his prime asset, Aamby Valley near Pune, is up for auction by the receiver of the property appointed by the court. He is accused of not repaying the deposits made in his housing companies.
Concern over capital pollution
Dealing with air pollution in the National Capital Region, the Supreme Court first banned and then relaxed the use of petcoke for cement and lime industries and furnace oil for power generation as they were dirty fuels. However, the government wanted to ease the ban, pleading that their use was minuscule and alternatives could be found. The court, therefore, relaxed the rule and asked the government to put in place regulations. In another environment matter, the court refused to relax the rules on sale of firecrackers during the festival season, rejecting the prayer of the industry.
Payback time for illegal mining firms
The Supreme Court continued to pass orders on illegal mining in various states such as Odisha and Karnataka. In the case of Odisha, it ordered mining companies operating without environmental clearance to pay a 100 per cent penalty to the state on the price of illegally extracted iron and manganese ores with effect from 2000-01. It also directed setting up of an expert panel to identify the lapses over the years which enabled rampant illegal mining in the state and recommend measures to prevent its recurrence. In the case of Karnataka, the court eased the curbs on mining activities imposed a few years ago and allowed the state government to e-auction a section of mines which would help steel industries.
Court interferes in education business
Education has grown further as a crass business and along with it corruption. The court cancelled 634 medical degrees in the Vyapam scam. Medical Council of India teams have unearthed several fake colleges, some of them hiring bouncers to prevent inspection and some others filling beds with malingerers to showpiece the institution. Illegal admissions in a Lucknow medical college led to the arrest of a retired high court judge of the Orissa High Court. Owing to scores of complaints, the court has interfered in counselling and seat allotment of professional colleges by passing several orders.