New Delhi: The year 2018 will be remembered in the history of judiciary as the year when the Supreme Court went beyond the usual norm of delivering a slew of progressive judgments to take the issue of bringing greater transparency in the functioning of the top court of the country to the public.
On January 12, four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court, including the current Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, called media persons at their official residence for an unprecedented press conference.
The four judges including-Justice Madan B Lokur, Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice J Chelameswar, all three retired since now-mounted a virtual revolt against then Chief Justice Dipak Misra over the way certain cases were assigned in the Apex Court.
While the appropriateness of four sitting judges of the Supreme Court holding a press conference is still being debated, it has brought in greater transparency in the functioning of the top court.
Decisions of the Supreme Court Collegium, a system in which judges appoint judges, are now uploaded on the official website more promptly. Earlier, the public had no excess to it. It also decided to broadcast live-streaming of certain Supreme Court proceedings in the larger public interest.
1. BEING GAY NOT A CRIME
The year also saw the Supreme Court ruling that homosexuality was not a crime, a progressive decision which brought tears of joy to lakhs of individual who had till then lived in fear of persecution. A Constitution bench of the Supreme Court unanimously decriminalised part of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalised consensual unnatural sex. The top court was of the view that any discrimination on the basis of sexuality amounts to the violation of fundamental rights.
"Consensual carnal intercourse among adults be it homosexual or heterosexual, in private space, does not in any way harm the public decency or morality," the apex court said.
2. AADHAAR VALID BUT NOT FOR EVERYTHING
Another Constitutional bench of the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the Aadhaar scheme but pointed out a host of services for which linking of Aadhaar was not mandatory. While Aadhaar was made necessary for PAN card, income tax returns and for availing welfare schemes and subsidies given by the government, the public were spared of the trouble of requiring it for opening a bank account, getting a new SIM card or admission in schools and to appear in CBSE, UGC and NEET examinations.
3. SABARIMALA TEMPLE FOR ALL
The top court allowed women's entry in Sabarimala temple, a break from age-old practice. The apex court held that "devotion cannot be subjected to gender discrimination."
4. ADULTERY NOT A CRIME
The Supreme Court also struck down a 158-year-old law under Section 497 of IPC which criminalised adultery. The provision punished a married man for the offence of adultery if he had sexual relations with a married woman "without the consent or connivance of her husband."
Striking down the colonial-era law, the top court said, "Making adultery a crime is retrograde and would mean punishing unhappy people." "Adultery cannot and should not be a crime," the top court said but clarified that adultery could continue to be a ground for divorce.
5. NO LAND FOR VIGILANTISM
During the course of the year, the Supreme Court issued a slew of guidelines to deal with mob violence and cow vigilantism. It directed the Centre and the states to start fast-tracked trials in such cases, victim compensation, deterrent punishment and disciplinary action against lax law-enforcing officials. "The horrendous acts of mobocracy cannot be permitted to inundate the law of the land," the top court observed.
6. LAWMAKERS CAN PRACTISE LAW
The Supreme Court dismissed a plea seeking to ban lawmakers from practicing as advocates. The top court ruled that there was no bar on a Member of Parliament, State Assembly or Legislative Council, from practicing as an advocate. The decision cleared the path for several eminent lawyers elected to Parliament and Assemblies to continue in the legal profession.
7. ALLOWED PASSIVE EUTHANASIA AND LIVING WILL
In yet another landmark judgment, the Supreme Court made passive euthanasia and a "living will" legally valid. The top court permitted "living will" by patients on withdrawing medical support if they slip into an irreversible coma. It was of the view that right to die with dignity is a fundamental right. It laid down some guidelines to be followed in such cases and said its directive shall remain in force till legislation is brought on the issue.
8. TWO-HOUR WINDOW TO BURST CRACKERS DURING FESTIVALS
Concerned over the rising pollution, the Supreme Court brought in a law giving a two-hour window to burst firecrackers on festive days while refusing to impose a complete ban on the sale of firecrackers. The top court conditionally allowed the sale of fireworks that met the standards of low emission and decibel. It allowed the sale of environment-friendly or green crackers only through licensed traders. E-commerce websites were banned from carrying out firecrackers' sale.
9. NO MISUSE OF SC/ST ACT
The Supreme Court removed a provision for automatic arrests and registration of cases for alleged harassment of SCs and STs under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The top court made it mandatory for the police to conduct preliminary inquiries within seven days of a complaint before filing an FIR and said the public servants can be arrested under this law only with the written permission of their public authority.