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What the Supreme Court told us this year

December 31, 2018 15:05 IST

From Rafale relief to heat on realtors, 10 landmark Supreme Court judgments in 2018.
M J Antony reports.

IMAGE: India's Supreme Court.

Rafale relief

On the last working day of the year, the Supreme Court delivered one of its most controversial judgments.

It ruled out an investigation into the deal for 36 Rafale fighter jets worth Rs 580 billion, dismissing a group of writ petitions.

It stated there was no reason to doubt the decision-making process and the necessity of fighter aircraft.

The judgment further stated it was not the job of the court to deal with comparative details of pricing.

The story is not over yet as the government has moved the court pointing out errors in the judgment while the Opposition has listed a number of contradictions in it.

 

Aadhaar valid, but not absolute

The Supreme Court upheld the validity of the Aadhaar card, but stated that private companies cannot ask for it.

Thus, it would not be mandatory for opening bank accounts, obtaining mobile phone connection and other facilities.

The court also rejected the argument that the scheme created a surveillance state.

It approved the Money Bill route to pass the law.

The judgment, however, asserted that the right to privacy is a fundamental right of every citizen.

 

No arbitration in consumer law

The Supreme Court upheld the National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission and emphasised that even if there were an arbitration clause in the contract of sale of goods or services, a consumer complaint cannot be referred to arbitration.

The Consumer Protection Act is a special law meant to benefit society and it should prevail over general law.

 

Mining lease renewals quashed

The Supreme Court cancelled the renewal of mining leases granted by the Goa government in an appeal moved by the Goa Foundation against Sesa Sterlite.

The renewal was 'unduly hasty, without taking all relevant material into consideration and ignoring available relevant material and, therefore, not in the interests of Mineral development.'

'The decision was taken only to augment the revenues of the State,' the judgment said.

 

No telecom cartelisation

The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal of the Competition Commission of India against the Bombay high court decision quashing allegation of cartelisation by Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular.

The probe against the firms was ordered by the CCI in 2017 after Reliance Jio Infocomm complained that the rivals formed a cartel and were not providing it with enough points of interconnection.

 

Trademarks and reputation

A foreign company suing an Indian firm for violating its trademark by 'passing off' goods in the domestic market must prove that it had sufficient goodwill, reputation and market here.

This 'territorial principle' was accepted globally, and the Supreme Court also adopted it in its judgment, Toyota Jidosha vs Prius Auto Industries Ltd.

 

Independence of arbitrator

Independence and impartiality of arbitrator are still being challenged in courts despite recent amendments to the Arbitration and Conciliation Act.

However, the Supreme Court ruled in SP Singla Constructions Ltd vs State Of HP that 'the fact that an arbitrator is an employee of one of the parties is not by itself a ground to raise a presumption of bias or lack of independence on his part.'

Arbitration agreements in government contracts providing that an employee of the department or a higher official unconnected with the work or the contract will be the arbitrator are neither void nor unenforceable.

In another judgment, it said that an arbitration agreement need not necessarily be in writing or signed.

 

Heat on realtors

Real estate firms had an excruciating time this year as several of their top executives were sent to jail for breach of agreement with aspirants of residential flats.

In another aspect of real estate bungling, the Supreme Court quashed all the allotments made by the Maharashtra Housing Authority to co-operative housing societies as they were 'unreasonable and arbitrary'.

In yet another decision relating to the Real Estate Regulation Act, the court stated that the details of a development plan must be disclosed if a person demands them from an information officer of a sanctioning authority.

It cannot be resisted on the grounds of commercial confidence, trade secret or intellectual property rights.

Even a rival business firm can get the details under the RTI.

 

IBC: Personal guarantors in soup

In one of the notable judgments on the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, the Supreme Court ruled that banks can act against guarantors even as proceedings under the code are on.

Setting aside the ruling of the NCLAT, the judgment said as far as individual personal guarantors are concerned, they will continue to be proceeded against.

 

Some boost for daily wagers

Keeping workers on a daily wage basis for decades to deny them labour law benefits has become normal in both private and public sectors.

The Supreme Court has frowned at this practice in several appeals.

In one such, it assailed the conduct of the Chhattisgarh government which kept an employee for 22 years as a daily wager on a salary of Rs 2,776 per month and denied gratuity after regularising him in the last three years.

The high court upheld the government stand.

In its judgment, Netram Sahu vs State, the apex court said: 'It is the duty of the state to voluntarily pay the gratuity rather than to force the employee to approach the court to get his genuine claim.'

'It is really unfortunate that the genuine claim was being denied at every stage of the proceedings up to this court and dragged him in fruitless litigation for all these years.'

M J Antony
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