NEW DELHI (TIP): Judgements giving a body blow to the government in the highprofile Vodafone tax case and scrapping of 2G spectrum licences hogged the limelight in the Supreme Court which in 2012 also brought the curtains down on the 26/11 case by sending the lone surviving Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab to the gallows.
The 25-year-old Kasab’s nearly four-yearlong legal battle for life ended on August 29 and 84 days after the verdict he was hanged on November 21 for the crime of “unprecedented enormity” planned in Pakistan. While the day-to-day hearing in Kasab’s case was being watched, the then Army Chief V K Singh in an unprecedented move dragged the government to the top court where he lost his battle on the age row, forcing him to withdraw his petition.
The apex court told Gen Singh that he cannot resile on his commitment that he would abide by the government decision to treat his date of birth as May 10, 1950 and rejected the contention of “prejudice” and “perversity”. However, before the age row, the year began on a bad note for the government which lost its tax case of Rs 11,000 crore against telecom major Vodafone and the apex court scrapping the 2G spectrum licences allocated during the tenure of A Raja as telecom minister. The government’s woes did not end here as its pleas for review of the Vodafone and 2G verdict fell flat.
After failing to get any relief in the spectrum case, the Centre came out with Presidential Reference to overcome the direction in the 2G verdict that all natural resources have to be allotted through the route of “auction”. There was some solace for the government when on September 29, a fivejudge Constitution Bench came out with the opinion that auction is not the only method for allocating natural resources to private companies and made it clear that its 2G verdict was confined to spectrum and not to other resources.
The 2G spectrum case also gave some anxious moments to Union Minister P Chidambaram after Janata Party chief Subramanian Swamy dragged him for his alleged involvement in the multi-crore rupee scam. Chidambaram finally got a clean chit from the apex court which also rejected the review petition against its verdict. The scam in the coal block allocation and government’s decision allowing FDI in retail were also dragged to the apex court which, though refused to interfere with the policy matter, put some searching questions to government on FDI and asked it to take corrective steps to remove legal hassles. However, the petitions alleging large scale irregularities in coal block allocation are pending in the apex court. Amid these developments, the UPA-II government survived a scare when the Supreme Court by a majority verdict of 3 to 2 dismissed the petition filed by former Lok Sabha Speaker P A Sangma challenging the election of senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee as the President.
However, there was another reason for the Rashtrapati Bhavan to worry as President’s Secretary Omita Paul, who was advisor to Mukherjee when he was the Finance Minister, was impleaded as respondent in the petition seeking CBI probe into the appointment of U K Sinha as the chairman of SEBI. Market regulator SEBI was making news throughout the year by acting tough against the Sahara Group of companies which received a major setback when the Supreme Court directed two of its companies to refund around Rs 24,000 crore to their investors in three months with 15 per cent annual interest. However, desperate efforts brought some relief to the companies — Sahara India Real Estate Corporation (SIREC) and Sahara Housing Investment Corporation (SHIC) — as a Bench headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir modified the directions of another Bench by allowing them to comply with the August 31 order by first week of February. While the hearing was on in the SEBISahara matter, an unprecedented turn of event took place when the apex court decided to lay down guidelines for media for reporting the sub-judice matter following the alleged leakage of documents relating to the case.
The then Chief Justice of India S H Kapadia’s decision was opposed by media houses which argued that such exercise would lead to infringement of fundamental right to freedom of expression and tantamount to encroaching the legislative domain. After a marathon hearing, a five-judge Constitution Bench refrained itself from laying down broad guidelines and evolved a principle of postponement for reporting the sub-judice matter which could be considered if any of the aggrieved parties sought such direction. The infringement of fundamental right to expression was well manifested when the apex court severely criticised Mumbai Police for booking two young girls under the controversial provision of cyber law for their posts on Facebook against the bandh after the death of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray. Among the political heavy weights who hogged the limelight in the apex court in the year gone by were two former chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh.
While BSP chief Mayawati got a relief in the assets case, her rival and Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav was not so lucky as in the fag end of the year, the court gave a body blow to him and his Chief Minister son Akhilesh Yadav by asking the CBI to continue with its probe against them in the wealth case. So was the case of former Karnataka chief minister B S Yeddyuruppa, who has been subjected to CBI probe along with his some former colleague in the illegal mining cases in Bellary, Tumkur and Chitradurga districts of the state. Some of the big business houses like companies associated with the Jindal Group and Adani’s are also under the CBI scanner.
In Andhra Pradesh, rebel Congress leader Jagan Mohan Reddy, facing CBI probe in several cases including the disproportionate assets case failed to get relief from the Supreme Court which rejected his bail plea. However, as Gujarat went to the polls, CBI and NGO headed by social activist Teesta Setalvad left no stone unturned to vigorously pursue some of the cases arising out of the 2002 riots and encounter killings in the state involving Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s close aide and former minister Amit Shah. While there was no direct case against Modi in the apex court, the probe into the Tulsiram Prajapati murder case, an offshoot of the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case involving Shah, was handed over to the CBI and trial shifted outside the state but with a relief to Modi’s aide, who was allowed to enter the state after two years to campaign and contest the polls which he eventually won.
Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi also had to battle in the Supreme Court which provided him relief by throwing out a petition by a former Samajwadi Party MLA from Madhya Pradesh, who had dragged him in a false rape case. Among the terror cases, while the apex court concluded the marathon hearing on the Mumbai blasts case of 1993 involving Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt, it also granted bail to Syed Mohammed Kazmi, the lone arrested accused for the terror attack on Israeli diplomat here in February.
Besides Kasab and Israeli diplomat terror case, other matter which had the international ramification was the acquittal of Pakistani microbiologist Mohammed Khalil Chishti of the murder charge in a 20-year-old criminal case with a direction to the authorities to complete all the “formalities” for his “smooth return” to his country.
The case relating to the murder of fishermen in Kerala by Italian marines also reached the Supreme Court which reserved its verdict to quash the case against them. An inter-state legal battle which kept the apex court busy was the Cauvery water dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in which only interim orders were passed from time-to-time and the matter is still pending.
Other matters which hogged the limelight in the apex court was its direction to the government to lift the subsidy in a phased manner granted for Haj pilgrimage and restrict the number of VIPs in it. The dwindling tiger population also drew the attention of the top court which after totally banning tourism in the core sector of tiger sanctuaries modified its order by allowing it in 20 per cent area in accordance with the guidelines prepared by the National Tiger Conservation Authority.