Chief Justice NV Ramana's notable verdicts on his way to India's top judicial post

ILNS: Justice N.V. Ramana took the oath of office earlier on Saturday as the country's 48th Chief Justice in a solemn ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Justice Nuthalapati Venkata Ramana was elevated to the Supreme Court in February 2014. During his tenure, Justice Ramana has been proactively shaping jurisprudence. Justice Ramana’s multi-faceted journey can be seen through the gamut of judgments he has penned. His judgments are simple, clear and are balanced to cater to the needs of society. Justice Ramana has authored many judgments ranging a wide gamut of issues, during his tenure in the Supreme Court. 

We are re-publishing the judgments.

Constitutional Law

1. In Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India, Justice Ramana expounded on the nature of fundamental rights and declared that the right to freedom of speech and expression over the internet is a fundamental right. This judgment ensured the eventual return of the internet in the Kashmir Valley and acknowledged the ever-changing nature of fundamental rights. Additionally, the Court also laid down certain parameters with respect to curfews and held that “Section 144 CrPC cannot be used to suppress the legitimate expression of opinion or grievance or exercise of any democratic rights”.

2. In Foundation for Media Professionals v. State (UT OF J&K), the Supreme Court balanced the fundamental rights and the concerns of the State security and appointed a Special Committee to ensure that restrictions, if required, are narrowly tailored and not permanent in nature.

3. In Dr. Shah Faesal&Ors. etc. etc. Versus Union of India & Anr., the Supreme Court was faced with the issue of reference to a larger bench. The Court held that “[w]hen substantial judicial time and resources are spent on references, the same should not be made in a casual or cavalier manner”.

4. While sitting in a five-judge bench in the Supreme Court of India v. Subash Chandra Agarwal, Justice Ramana held that “…the right to information and right to privacy are at an equal footing. There is no requirement to take an a priori view that one right trumps other.

5. In Swaraj Abhiyan (V) v. Union of India, Justice Ramana expounded on the nature of federalism in a welfare state.  While dealing with the implementation of the National Food Security Act, he propounded the need for cooperative federalism. He has issued subsequent directions in order to ensure the right to food for all in India and to help India achieve its nutritional goal

6. In Jindal Stainless Ltd. v. the State of Haryana, he wrote a concurring opinion as a part of a Nine-Judge Bench to overrule the five-decade-old decisions in Atiabari Tea Case and Automobile Transport Case. He expounded on the taxing power of the State with respect to the right to trade and commerce. It may be noted that Supreme Court overruled a seven-decade-old decision to uphold the imposition of entry tax. Such measures were seen as beneficial for State Governments to increase their fiscal status.

7. Justice Ramana’s opinion in Shrimanth Balasaheb Patil v. Karnataka Legislative Assembly was seen as a decisive statement of the law on the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution which was riddled with confusion and contradicting opinions. He observed that for political functionaries, “…merely taking the oath to protect and uphold the Constitution may not be sufficient, rather imbibing the constitutional values in everyday functioning is required and expected by the glorious document that is our Constitution”.

8. In Shiv Sena v. Union of India, Justice Ramana highlighted the importance of floor tests to curtail unlawful practices such as horse-trading and to effectuate the smooth running of democracy. The direction to conduct an immediate floor test in the political logjam created post-election in Maharashtra led to quick and effective justice and was hailed for stopping horse-trading in the State.

Commercial Laws, Arbitration and Taxation

  • Justice Ramana has penned numerous judgments on commercial jurisprudence which have settled jurisprudence and had an impact on making commercial laws stable and predictable. Justice Ramana has authored multiple decisions concerning arbitration in India. In P. Radha Bai v. P. Ashok Kumar, while relying on the statement of objects of the Arbitration Act, the court emphasized the importance of resolving disputes in a time-bound manner.
  • In Bhaven Construction through Authorised Signatory Premjibhai K. Shah V/s Exe Engineer Sardar Sarovar NA. Nigam & Anr., the Court held that, in arbitral proceedings,the High Court should exercise its constitutional jurisdiction only in exceptional cases, especially when the statute itself provides for an alternative remedy.
  • In M/s Dyna Technologies Pvt. Ltd. vs M/s Crompton Greaves Ltd., the Court indicated that arbitral awards should not be set aside in a casual manner.
  • In M/s Alcon Electronics Pvt. Ltd. v Celem S.A., he paved the way for executing a foreign decree in India, even though the remedy granted under such decree, was barred in India. This judgment was hailed by the business community as the need of the hour for international trade and commerce.
  • In Vidya Drolia v. Durga Trading Corporation, his opinion has been cited as decreasing the burden on courts by making arbitration more efficient in India. This case settled the law concerning the extent of judicial intervention at the stage of the appointment of the arbitrator. As the interference was limited, the primacy of arbitration and the advantages thereof was expounded.
  • Justice Ramana has also given judgments in other fields of commercial law. In Excel Corp Care Ltd. v. CCI, he expounded on the formula to calculate penalties for violations of competition law. Justice Ramana held that penalties should integrate proportionality, a constitutional virtue. This area was not clear and the competition tribunal was imposing arbitrary penalties without a formula to impose the same. Justice Ramana provided a two-step formula to calculate the turnover relatable to the product in which anti-competitor practices were observed. This opinion brought the Indian jurisprudence in line with the modern jurisdictions such as South Africa, the European Union etc.
  • In Securities & Exchange Board of India Vs. Kanaiyalal Baldevbhai Patel, this case concerned the legality of insider trading in the security markets. Justice Nuthalapati Venkata Ramana examined various practices undertaken in the market such as hedging etc. to determine that use of price-sensitive confidential information to stock brokers pre-emptively buy or sell shares was illegal and damaging for the market. The law in this area was amended by SEBI in line with the suggestions made by Justice Nuthalapati Venkata Ramana.
  • In the case of Commissioner of Customs (Import) Vs. M/s Dilip Kumar, Justice Nuthalapati Venkata Ramana, while distinguishing between the interpretation of an exemption clause and an exemption notification, held that “in case of ambiguity in charging provisions, the benefit must necessarily go in favour of subject/assessee, but the same is not true for an exemption notification wherein the benefit of ambiguity must be strictly interpreted in favour of the Revenue/State.” It may be noted that Justice Ramana’s opinion is the only opinion of the Supreme Court of India on principles of interpretation applicable to tax statute as well as other laws.
  • In Bajarang Shyamsunder Agarwal Vs. Central Bank of India & Anr., the court held that a bonafide tenant’s possession, which was in existence prior to the creation of the mortgage, cannot be disturbed by the secured creditor by taking possession of the property under provisions of the SARFAESI Act.

Welfare Legislations

1. In Kirti vs Oriental Insurance, his opinion was instrumental in providing homemakers an equal status with the earning member of the family to recognize their contribution to the family. This judgment was hailed as a powerful statement by various women organizations and as an effective measure to empower women in India.

2. In Brahampal @ Sammay and Anr. Vs. National Insurance Company, the Court held that the chapter of the Motor Vehicles Act regarding compensation, being beneficial in nature, must be given liberal interpretation to serve its object. Keeping in view the substantive rights of the parties, undue emphasis should not be given to technicalities such as those relating to delay in filing.

3. In PUDA Vs. Vidya Chetal, the Court held that even services rendered by statutory authorities can be brought under the ambit of the Consumer Protection Act, and can therefore be adjudicated upon by consumer forums.

4. Justice Ramana in M/s Fortune Infrastructure (Now Known as M/s Hicon Infrastructure) &Anr. Vs Trevor D’Lima&Ors held that a consumer must be given the delivery of their flat within a reasonable time even in the absence of a specified contractual clause. He further held that a consumer is entitled to a refund and compensation upon the developer’s failure to deliver in such cases.

Criminal Law

  • In Accused X v. State of Maharashtra, Justice Nuthalapati Venkata Ramana penned an opinion sparing an accused with acute mental illness from the gallows. Justice Ramana believes in reformative theory and this judgment can be seen laying down clear jurisprudence for courts to consider mental condition of the accused post-conviction. The Court stressed upon the importance of mental health of convicts sentenced to death penalty and held that post-conviction mental health disorders can be a ground for commutation of death sentence. While asserting that even prisoners cannot be deprived of dignity, Justice Ramana, “[t]he dignity of human being inheres a capacity for understanding, rational choice, and free will inherent in human nature, etc. The right to dignity of an accused does not dry out with the Judges’ ink, rather, it subsists well beyond the prison gates and operates until his last breath. In the context of mentally ill prisoners, it is pertinent to mention that Section 20(1) of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, explicitly provides that “every person with mental illness shall have a right to live with dignity”.” Justice Ramana also stressed upon the importance of pre-sentence hearing and called upon the courts to provide real and effective hearing to the accused persons so as to present the mitigating factors in their favor.
  • In Sheila Sebastian Vs. R. Jawaharaj, the Court clarified the scope of Section 463, IPC relating to forgery. It held that a charge of forgery cannot be imposed on a person who is not the maker of the forged document. The Court further held that the making of a document is different than causing it to be made. The court stressed upon the golden principle of strict interpretation applicable for interpreting criminal statute.
  •  In Mansukhbhai Kanjibhai Shah vs. The State of Gujarat, the Court held that the officers of a Deemed University also perform public duties and are therefore public servants under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Justice Nuthalapati Venkata Ramana highlighted the fact that India is being engrossed in corruption which has spread like a malignant cancer. He interpreted law so as to reduce corruption in India. This judgment was hailed as a progressive step in stopping corruption and such malpractices prevalent in the Government. This judgment also had an effect in making education system more transparent in India.
  • In State of Madhya Pradesh Vs. Udham&Ors., the Court laid down guidelines to be followed during sentencing. The Court held that “[s]entencing for crimes has to be analysed on the touchstone of three tests viz. crime test, criminal test and comparative proportionality test.” This judgment was a conclusive elucidation of steps to be followed by a criminal court before convicting any accused. The detailed steps provided would be crucial in upholding rule of law and ensuring uniformity in sentencing process.
  • The Court, while dealing with the issue of inordinate delays in criminal investigations and trials relating to elected politicians (MPs and MLAs)in the case of Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay v. Union of India, has passed numerous directions to streamline and expedite the same. The Court observed that such measures were necessary as “legislators are the repositories of the faith and trust of their electorate, there is a necessity to be aware of the antecedents of the person that is/was elected. Ensuring the purity of democratically elected institutions is thus the hallmark of the present proceedings”.

Justice Ramana’s notable judgments show his consistent and unflinching approach when it comes to civil liberties, fundamental rights and their protection.