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Seat v Venue: Which one is the lex arbitri of an arbitration?

Kritika Sethi

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Arbitration was introduced as an alternative dispute resolution method to the court. Fundamentally, the concept’s foundation lies in ‘party autonomy’, ‘confidentiality’, and ‘speedy and efficient resolution’. Owing to this flexible and convenient nature, it has gained popularity among multinational companies and businesses in this globalised world and has become one of the preferred modes of dispute resolution. It provides autonomy to the parties to choose the law applicable on the contractual agreement, place where they want to conduct proceedings, or court to approach when any dispute arises. Parties agree on the substantive law (i.e. law applicable to the dispute between the parties), lex arbitri or the curial law (i.e. the law which governs the procedure to be followed in the arbitration etc. In essence, ‘lex arbitri’ refers to the law of the seat of the arbitration. In light of the significance of the same, as elucidated below, the distinction between seat and venue gains significance.

SEAT V VENUE: WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

In any arbitration, be it domestic or international; parties may approach a court for, inter alia, an interim relief, taking directions to seek evidence, for appointment of arbitrator et al. The seat, all in all, determines “the law that governs the procedural aspect of arbitration” and “the court that would exercise supervisory jurisdiction over the arbitral proceedings”. Venue, however, is a place/location chosen by parties for conducting arbitration hearings. It may vary based on the convenience of the parties. To clarify, let’s say two companies A and B, incorporated in England and India respectively, entered into an agreement to construct hotels in China. They chose New Delhi as the seat of arbitration and Russia as the venue of arbitration in their agreement. It means that the Indian Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (“A&C Act”) will be applicable to procedural matters and Indian courts would have the supervisory jurisdiction when any dispute arises between them. Russia, herein, is merely a place chosen by the parties for the purpose of arbitration proceedings as per the convenience of the parties.

The seat and venue of the arbitration play a significant role in legal framework of any arbitration proceedings. Even though the A&C Act does not define the term ‘seat’ and ‘venue’ but its essence is evident in the principles laid down in precedents by the Hon’ble Supreme Court and Hon’ble High Courts. Several disputes concerning ‘seat’ and ‘venue’ have arisen before the Indian Courts. The main reason behind this confusion lies within Section 20 of the A&C Act. The provision refers to ‘place’ which is misinterpreted with ‘seat’ and ‘venue’. The said misinterpretation happens due to the manner in which dispute resolution clauses are drafted by parties in their agreements. Vague clauses create ambiguity in relation to interpretation of designated seat of arbitration, as intended by the parties. For instance, ‘the Arbitration shall be administered in New Delhi and the ‘place’ of arbitration is New Delhi while the disputes arising shall decide before the Bombay High Court’. This is a clear example of ‘vaguely drafted clause’ where there is no clarity between ‘seat’ and ‘venue’. When the courts are faced with an interpretation of such clauses, they have to interpret the agreement and determine the ‘seat’ by interpreting the intention of parties through other clauses and language used in the contract. However, in the process of interpreting such vague clauses, the courts have created conflicting precedents and interchangeably used seat and venue creating additional confusion.

PRECEDENTS INTERPRETING SEAT AND VENUE IN AN ARBITRATION

In the Bharat Aluminum Co. v. Kaiser Aluminum Technical Services Inc. (“BALCO Case”), the Court first time differentiated between ‘seat’ and ‘venue’ in Section 20 of the A&C Act. The Court approved the Shashoua principle as per which once the parties have selected the ‘place’ as the venue of the arbitration without mentioning about the seat, it can be inferred that the ‘venue’ is the seat of the arbitration provided that there exists no indication to the contrary and a certain supranational body of rules has been selected for arbitration.

However, the controversy began in 2018, in the case of Union of India v. Hardy Exploration and Production Inc. (“Hardy Case”) The Court deviating from the landmark BALCO Case and Shashoua principle stated that the “venue” can be “seat” only if there exists some other concomitant factor supporting it as seat. Herein, the “Kuala Lumpur” was designated as venue but there exists no indication substantiating it as the “seat”. Thus, Kuala Lumpur was not declared as the seat of the arbitration.

In 2019, another three-judge bench BGS SGS Soma Jv v. NHPC Ltd. (“BGS Soma Case”), diverged from the Hardy Case and upheld the Shashoua principle. It held that the Hardy Case was not good law. The Hon’ble court held that when the particular place has been expressly specified as “venue” of arbitration, then the same should be considered as the “seat” of the arbitration subject to any contrary indication that venue is not the seat of the arbitration.

Later, in 2020, the Supreme Court faced a similar issue in Mankashu Impex Pvt. Ltd. v. Airvisual Ltd. (“Mankanshu Case”)., i.e. whether the ‘venue’ of the arbitration is the ‘seat’ of the arbitration. In this case, the Agreement mentions that ‘the arbitration would be administered in Hong Kong and the place of the arbitration was Hong Kong’. It also stated that the courts of New Delhi shall have the jurisdiction over the matter. It took a different approach and declared Hong Kong as the seat of the arbitration because the agreement clearly states that the arbitration should be administered in Hong Kong. It was held that by only mentioning place of arbitration, one cannot presume it as the seat of the arbitration. Other factors like clauses of the agreement and the intention of the parties while entering into the contract are guiding factors which aid in ascertaining the seat of the arbitration.

Recently, in S.P. Singla Constructions Pvt. Ltd. v. Construction and Design Services, UPJL (“SP Singla Case”), the Hon’ble Delhi High Court followed the principle laid down in BGS SOMA Case. In this case, the agreement between the parties provided for “Lucknow” as the venue of the arbitration and the application of ICADR Rules, New Delhi to the dispute. It was held that the ICADR Rules would be applicable only after the constitution of arbitral tribunal. Hence, ‘Lucknow’ was declared as the seat of the arbitration and the courts therein were held to have the exclusive jurisdiction.

WHAT IS THE ISSUE?

While the decisions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the Hardy Case and Mankashu Case may have been held to not be good law, the same have not been overruled by a larger bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court as all are three-judge bench rulings.

From the afore-mentioned precedents, it may be appreciated that a need for such interpretation arises from vague dispute resolution clause, terminological inconsistency et al. Arbitration is preferred over litigation because of its features including, inter alia, confidentiality, speedy dispute resolution, and minimum court interference. However, such vaguely drafted clauses have increased court interference and delayed the dispute resolution process, defeating the fundamental objectives of arbitration.

Further, in the SP Singla Case, the Hon’ble Delhi High Court interpreted the rules of ICADR, an arbitration institution, and held that the same provided for the seat of the dispute to be governed by the agreement between the parties. WeVaad, an online dispute resolution platform, strikes a balance between providing a seat of arbitration and allowing autonomy to the parties to govern the same. Firstly, it provides a draft dispute resolution clause to the parties to be incorporated in their agreement. The said dispute resolution clause clearly enlists the seat and venue of the arbitration and thereby, avoids any misinterpretation of the dispute resolution clause in the future. Secondly, the Rules provide for the seat of the arbitration, which may be distinguished, as per the agreement between the parties at the first hearing of the arbitration.

How to avoid such confusion after disputes have arisen between the parties

It will be beneficial for the parties to ensure that the dispute resolution clauses, specifically the arbitration agreements are drafted to clearly provide for substantive law and seat of the arbitration. The principles laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court are the guiding principles in how such clauses must be drafted to clearly enlist seat and venue/place of the arbitration.

A ruling by a larger bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court/legislative amendment in this regard would be a welcome step. Until then, it is important that the aforementioned principles are kept in mind while drafting such clauses to avoid any ambiguity that may require court intervention for interpretation.

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KARNATAKA HC ISSUES GUIDELINES FOR TRIAL COURTS ON EXAMINATION OF ACCUSED UNDER SECTION 313 CRPC

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In a very significant development, we see that the Karnataka High Court has as recently as on September 21, 2021 in a learned, latest, laudable and landmark judgment titled Meenakshi and anr vs State of Karnataka in Criminal Petition No. 2170 of 2021 has issued a slew of significant guidelines which are to be followed by the trial courts while examining the accused and recording their statements under Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. It must be mentioned that the Court among other things said that the questions to the accused must be framed in simple language and only incriminatory evidence must be picked out from oral and documentary evidence. It is worth mentioning that this notable judgment was delivered by Justice Sreenivas Harish Kumar while hearing a petition by two persons, Meenakshi and Thrinethra challenging the refusal by the Sessions Judge to record statements and mandating that they answer in a single word, i.e., “true or false”.

First and foremost, it is mentioned that, “This Criminal Petition is filed under Section 482 Cr.P.C., praying to quash the 313 statement recorded by order dated 22.02.2021 (Annexure-A) passed in S.C.No.10/2018 which is pending on the file of the Hon’ble II Additional District and Sessions Judge at Mysuru and consequently allow the petition to record fresh 313 statement against the petitions as sought for. This Criminal Petition having been heard and reserved on 30.08.2021, came on for pronouncement on this day.”

To start with, the ball is set rolling in para 1 of this cogent, commendable and convincing order authored by a single Judge Bench of Hon’ble Justice Mr Sreenivas Harish Kumar of Karnataka High Court wherein it is put forth that, “The petitioners are accused No.1 and 2 in Sessions Case No.10/2018 on the file of II Addl. District and Sessions Judge, Mysuru, facing trial for the offences punishable under Sections 302 and 201 r/w Section 34 of IPC. They have invoked jurisdiction of this court under Section 482 Cr.P.C. for quashing the statements under Section 313 Cr.P.C. recorded by the Sessions Judge.”

Going forward, the Bench then points out in para 2 that, “Sri. N. Tejas, learned counsel for the petitioners, taking me through the questions framed by the Sessions Judge argued that the Sessions Judge has totally overlooked the importance of examining the accused under Section 313 Cr.P.C. His argument was that Section 313 Cr.P.C. is an important stage during criminal trial, and since it affords an opportunity to the accused to give an explanation to the incriminating circumstances spoken to by the prosecution witnesses, the questions to be put to the accused must be specifically directed to the incriminating circumstances only and they should not be mere mechanical reproduction of evidence in examination-in-chief. He argued that in the case on hand, there are two sets of questionnaires which almost contain same questions. Many a question do not contain incriminating evidence against the accused. The questions are not properly articulated and they are framed in complex sentences rendering it difficult for the accused to understand them. He also submitted that although the accused offered explanation for some of the questions, the Sessions Judge refused to record them and insisted on giving the answer in a single word – either ‘false’ or ‘true’. His another submission was that the defence counsel was ready to assist the court in framing the questions as it is permitted now in view of amendment brought to Cr.P.C by Act 5 of 2009 (w.e.f.31.12.2009). Therefore it was his submission that the statements recorded under Section 313 Cr.P.C are to be set aside, and a direction may be given to the Sessions Judge for examining the accused once again properly and record their explanations that they want to give.”

As we see, the Bench then observes in para 3 that, “I have gone through the questions framed by the Sessions Judge. He has prepared two sets of questionnaires as there are two accused. But the questions in the two sets are almost common; they are lengthy; and the Sessions Judge has verbatim reproduced the evidence in examination-in-chief in the form of questions. The questions thus framed by the Sessions Judge do not serve the intendment of Section 313 of the Code.”

Be it noted, the Bench then envisages in para 4 that, “Section 313 of the Code embodies the fundamental principle of ‘Audi Alteram Partem’. Since this is the stage where the accused gets an opportunity to explain an inculpatory evidence against him, the questions must be framed in such a manner as he or she understands them. The questions must be simple and specific to the evidence against the accused. A long string of questions couched in complex sentences must be avoided. Several distinct matters should not be rolled up, every question must cover a distinct incriminatory evidence. While questioning the accused, not only the incriminatory oral evidence but also the documents and the material objects indicating adverse evidence should be brought to the notice of the accused. In this context, I find it very apt to refer to a judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of TARA SINGH vs STATE [AIR 1951 SC 441]. It is held :

“32. I cannot stress too strongly the importance of observing faithfully and fairly the provisions of section 342 of the Criminal Procedure Code. It is not a proper compliance to read out a long string of questions and answers made in the committal court and ask whether the statement is correct. A question of that kind is misleading. It may mean either that the questioner wants to know whether the recording is correct, or whether the answers given are true, or whether there is some mistake or misunderstanding despite the accurate recording. In the next place, it is not sufficient compliance to string together a long series of facts and ask the accused what he has to say about them. He must be questioned separately about each material circumstance which is intended to be used against him. The whole object of the section is to afford the accused a fair and proper opportunity of explaining circumstances which appear against him. The questioning must therefore be fair and must be couched in a form which an ignorant or illiterate person will be able to appreciate and understand. Even when an accused person is not illiterate, his mind is apt to be perturbed when he is facing a charge of murder. He is therefore in no fit position to understand the significance of a complex question. Fairness therefore requires that each material circumstance should be put simply and separately in a way that an illiterate mind, or one which is perturbed or confused, can readily appreciate and understand. I do not suggest that every error or omission in this behalf would necessarily vitiate a trial because I am of opinion that errors of this type fall within the category of curable irregularities. Therefore, the question in each case depends upon the degree of the error and upon whether prejudice has been occasioned or is likely to have been occasioned. In my opinion, the disregard of the provisions of section 342, Criminal Procedure Code, is so gross in this case that I feel there is grave likelihood of prejudice.””

To put things in perspective, the Bench then enunciates in para 5 that, “The practice has been to prepare as many sets of questionnaires as the number of accused are. In all the sets, same questions are repeated, but to show that every accused is questioned individually, the signature of only one accused is taken on each set of questionnaire. Preparing the questionnaires equal to number of accused is not the correct procedure and it is also a waste of time. It is enough if only one set of questions is prepared, but what is required is to frame distinct questions as against every accused. If a witness speaks at a time against two or more accused, a single question against them may be framed but their answers must be recorded separately one after another.”

It is worth noting that the Bench then brings out in para 6 that, “In the year 2009, amendment was brought to section 313 Cr.P.C. Probably with a view to saving the time of the trial court judges, they are permitted to take the assistance of the Public Prosecutors and the defence counsel in preparing the questions. Therefore, the trial court judges may direct the Public Prosecutors and the defence counsel to submit the questions to be put to the accused, and the questions prepared by them may be adopted after scrutiny and modification if required.”

As it turned out, the Bench then notes in para 7 that, “Sub-section (5) of section 313 of Cr.P.C inserted by Act 5 of 2009 enables the court to permit the accused to file written statement as sufficient compliance of the section. Therefore the trial court, may, depending upon facts and circumstances, instead of recording the statement in question and answer form, permit the accused to file his written statement. If this procedure is resorted to, discretion must be exercised wisely.” Most significantly, what forms the real crown of this extremely commendable judgment is then encapsulated in para 8 wherein it is held that, “From the above discussions, the following guidelines are given :-

(i) Only the incriminatory evidence must be picked out from oral and documentary evidence.

(ii) The questions must be framed in a simple language, as far as possible in short sentences.

(iii) The attention of each accused must be drawn to the evidence adverse or against him/her.

(iv) Sometimes, a witness may give evidence as regards the collective overt act of two or more accused and in that event a single question may be framed, but each accused must be questioned individually, and their answers must be recorded separately.

(v) It is also possible that two or more witnesses may speak identically regarding the overt act of an accused. In that event, the substance of their evidence may be put in a single question.

(vi) The attention of the accused must be drawn to the marked documents and material objects if they are incriminatory.

(vii) The accused must be questioned regarding various types of mahazars or panchanamas only if they contain incriminatory evidence.

(viii) Accused need not be questioned in regard to evidence given by the formal witnesses, for example, an engineer who has drawn the sketch of scene of occurrence, a police constable submitting the FIR to the Magistrate, a police constable carrying seized articles to FSL, a police officer who has only submitted the charge sheet without conducting investigation, etc., unless anything incriminatory is found in such evidence.

(ix) If there are two or more accused, it is not necessary to prepare as many sets of questionnaires as the number of accused are. It is enough to prepare a single questionnaire, but the question must be directed towards a particular accused individually or two or more accused collectively. When a question is framed pointing out collective overt act of two or more accused, the answer of each accused must be recorded separately one after another.

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CAN ARBITRATION BE INVOKED IN CASE OF FRAUD IN THE PRESENCE OF AN ARBITRATION CLAUSE?

Riddhi Goyal

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Arbitrability of fraud has been perceived as one of the contentious issues in the arbitration. It involves the question of the category of issues that can and cannot be submitted to arbitration.

In the year 1960, the Supreme Court, in the famous case of Abdul Kadir Shamsuddin Bubere v. Madhav Prabhakar Oak expressed that the serious allegations of fraud are sufficient ground for not making a reference to arbitration. In this case, the Apex Court referred to the case of Russell v. Russell wherein the Court had held that “in case where fraud is charged, the Court will directly refuse the dispute to arbitration but in case the objection to arbitration is there by a party charging the fraud, the Court will not accede it until and unless a prima facie case of fraud is proved”.

In the year 2016, the case of A. Ayyasamy v. Paramasivam & Ors cleared the air about the same. In this case, an arbitration clause was explicitly mentioned in the partnership deed which imposed an obligation on the parties to solve the dispute only through arbitration. The partnership deed had been made for running a hotel. The Defendant filed a civil suit contending that as partners, they are under an obligation to participate in the administration of the hotel and that the Appellant had failed to do the needful. The Appellant, after receiving the summon, objected and made an application under the Arbitration and Conciliation Act raising the objection that the suit is not maintainable as the agreement between the two parties contained an arbitration clause which states any dispute that arises between them has to be solved only through arbitration and it is incumbent upon the Court to refer the said matter to arbitration. To this, the Respondent referred to the case of N. Radhakrishnan v. Maestro Engineers wherein the Apex Court of India had expressed that “where fraud and serious malpractices are alleged, the matter can only be settled by the Court and such a case cannot be referred to an arbitrator as the arbitrator, being a creature of contract, has limited jurisdiction”. It was held that the Courts are more equipped to adjudicate serious and complex allegations, and are competent in offering a wider range of relief to the parties in dispute. On the other hand, the Appellant expressed that the case of N. Radhakrishnan was found to be per incuriam by the Apex Court of India in a subsequent case of Swiss Timing ltd. v. Commonwealth Games 2010 Organizing Committee wherein the Court vehemently expressed that under Section 11 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, fraud can be adequately dealt by the arbitrator. It was further stated that the allegations of fraud were not a bar to refer the matter to arbitration, and that the only bar to refer parties to arbitration are those which are specified in Section 45 of Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996. So, in the case of A. Ayyasamy v. Paramasivam & Ors, it has been stated that:

1. Allegations of fraud are arbitrable unless they are serious and complex in nature

2. Unless fraud is alleged against the arbitration agreement, there is no impediment in arbitrability of fraud

3. The decision in the Swiss Timing case did not overrule the judgment of N. Radhakrishnan case. The judgment only differentiates between ‘simplicitor fraud’ and ‘serious fraud’, and concludes while ‘serious fraud’ is best left to be determined by the Court, ‘simplicitor fraud’ can be decided by the arbitral tribunal.

While the High Court of Madras upheld the decision passed by the trial Court in the case of A. Ayyasamy vs Paramasivam & Anr, the SC later reversed the judgment of the HC of Madras stating that the arbitration clause cannot be ignored by the Court. The Court vehemently expressed that “mere allegation of fraud is not sufficient to detract partied from the obligation to submit their disputes to arbitration”. It said that “mere allegations of fraud” are arbitrable whereas “serious allegations of fraud” are not.

The Ayyasamy vs Paramasivam & Anr case was affirmed in the subsequent case of Rashid Raza v. Sadaf Akhtar. In this case, the Supreme Court of India applied the principles from Ayyasamy and laid down a two-pronged test. One, it had to be determined whether the allegations of fraud permeated the entire contract, and especially the arbitration agreement, thereby rendering it void. Next it had to be determined whether the allegations pertained to the internal affairs of the parties inter se or whether they had an implication on the public domain. Since Rashid Raza pertained to a partnership dispute and the siphoning of funds, and there was no allegation which would have vitiated the entire partnership agreement, or more specifically, the arbitration clause, the Court referred the matter to anarbitrator.

The last such decision was in the case of Avitel. Herein, the Supreme Court interpreted the tests laid down in the cases post Ayyaswamy. It held that the first test is satisfied only when it is clear that the party against whom the breach has been alleged, could not have entered into the arbitration agreement in the first place, and thus, no arbitration agreement or clause can be said to exist. The second test is satisfied when allegations of “arbitrary, fraudulent, or malafide conduct” are made against either the State or its instrumentalities and thus, require to be heard by a court exercising writ jurisdiction, as the matters lie in the public domain.

The jurisprudence on the arbitrability of disputes at the reference stage has been settled for the time being. The Court in Vidya Droliav. Durga Trading Corp. considered the amended Sections 8 and 11, which prescribes only prima facie review by the Court at the reference stage and subject to adjudication by the Court only when the agreement is null and void and not capable of adjudication by the tribunal. It also limits the Court’s interference to situation when the agreement is incapable of being adjudicated upon. It can be inferred that after the 2015 Amendment, the Legislature aimed at preventing bootstrapping by equipping the arbitral tribunal to decide issues of arbitrability instead of the judicial authorities at the reference stage.

Further, in the case of Booz Allen and Hamilton Inc. v. SBI Home Finance Limited and Ors, it was stated by the Court that the cases where the subject matter falls exclusively within the domain of public for a(right in rem), such disputes cannot be decided by the Arbitral Tribunal but by the Courts only and the disputes where the subject falls under the private for a (right in personam) are arbitrable. However, this is not a rigid or inflexible rule. In this case, the Court had laid down six non-arbitrable categories set out which was relating to trusts, trustees and beneficiaries arising out of trust deed and the Trust Act. The Court, then added the seventh category to the six non-arbitrable categories in the case of Vimal Kishore Shah v. Jayesh Dinesh Shah.

According to the basic principle and the object behind Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, arbitration is essentially a voluntary assumption of an obligation by contracting parties to resolve their disputes through a private tribunal. Therefore, it is the duty of the Court to refer the parties to arbitration so that the purpose and object of Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 could not be destroyed. Further, this principle should guide the approach when a defense of fraud is raised before a judicial authority to oppose a reference to arbitration. The arbitration agreement between the parties stands distinct from the contract in which it is contained, as a matter of law and consequence. Even the invalidity of the main agreement does not ipso jure result in the invalidity of the arbitration agreement. Parties having agreed to refer disputes to arbitration, the plain meaning and effect of Section 8 must ensue.

Considering the abovementioned judgements, we can conclude with the fact that wherever such disputes are there consisting of the both nature civil as well as criminal and where the dispute is a subject matter to Arbitration due to presence of a valid arbitration clause in the partnership deed, the Courts can only entertain, if the nature of the matter is grave and evidence are required to prove the dispute and taken on record.

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The basic structure of the constitution is sacrosanct

A retrospect on the Kesavananda Bharati case.

Satyajeet A. Desai

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Constitutional supremacy is and has to be the bedrock upon which the edifice of a democracy rests. And if the foundation or the basic structure of the edifice is sought to be changed so as to invest one of the pillars of democracy with unbridled powers, the very edifice would tilt and consequently be weakened to the detriment of citizens and consequently of democracy. When however, an attempt is made to shift this balance, someone has to step in and play the role of a soldier, a saviour and consequently a titan so as to restore the balance. The titans to whom this article refers to in the context of the Constitution of India, have to surely be Kesavananda Bharati, the Judges of the Supreme Court that took the majority view and of course the legal genius Nani Palkhivala, who stood like colossuses in the face of the amendment to the Constitution which was the subject matter of challenge before the Supreme Court.

The passing away of His Holiness Kesavananda Bharati on the 5th of September,2020 brings down the curtain on the life of an individual whose memory shall be etched upon the minds of all those concerned with the Law, Judges, lawyers and politicians foremost amongst them, and of course, upon the minds of the Indian populace as a whole, who may not yet realise the immense contribution that the case that he helmed as a petitioner has had such a tremendous impact upon the politico legal landscape of our country.

Perhaps one of the greatest Constitutional cases that has been decided by the Supreme Court , and perhaps continuing to be so is the iconic case of His Holiness Kesavananda Bharati Sripadagalveru v. State of Kerala. That was a case that had the effect of stopping a legislature from running amok and imposing upon the citizens of this country, an Atlas like burden by seeking the right to amend and alter the basic structure of the Constitution, as per the whims and wishes of the legislature, which the Supreme Court thankfully and astutely halted in its tracks.

THE CASE

The challenge in the case was to the 29th Amendment Act , by virtue of which the Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1969 and the Kerala Land Reforms Amendment Act, 1971 were placed in the 9th Schedule to the Constitution. As a result, this brought into focus the issue as to whether the Golak Nath case had been rightly decided or not. The conflict started with the decision rendered by the Supreme Court in Golak Nath v. State of Punjab in 1967, where the Court held by a slim majority of 6 to 5 that the Parliament had no power to amend Fundamental Rights. The majority took the view that the law in Article 13(2) was inclusive of even a Constitutional law enacted by the Parliament in its powers under Article 368 of the Constitution.

On 5th November, 1971, the Parliament passed the 24th Amendment Act, which gave the right to amend the Constitution by amending Article 368 and Article 13, the effect of the amendment being to overrule the majority judgment in Golak Nath. As a result of this amendment, and as a corollary thereto, several legislations were amended, including the Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1971, which was sought to be inserted by the 29th Amendment Act , so as to place the Act in the 9th Schedule of the Constitution, in order to validate the provisions which had been overturned by the Kerala High Court. This laid the ground over and for the mine field of a direct confrontation between the Parliament and the Supreme Court.

THE JUDGMENT

With the challenge mounted to the Kerala legislations previously referred to, the challenge to the Golak Nath case was apparent in Kesavananda Bharati as it raised the question as to whether that case had been rightly decided. Whereas a bench of 11 Judges had decided the Golak Nath case, a bench of 13 Judges was constituted to hear the Kesavananda Bharati case. The stage was thus set for the decisive Battle Royale between the Parliament and the Supreme Court .

A marathon, in any sense of the term, the hearing of the case went on for a mammoth 66 days. It was decided with 7 judges taking the ‘Majority view’.The result upon conclusion being that though the decision in Golak Nath’s case that there is no implied limitation on the powers of Parliament to amend the Constitution, was reversed, it was emphatically held that no amendment can do violence to the basic structure doctrine. The words in the judgment are that “ Article 368 does not enable Parliament to alter the basic structure or framework of the Constitution”.

11 judgments were rendered in the case which constituted a bench of 13 justices. This being a short article on the issue, it is neither possible or practicable to reproduce the divergent views expressed by the judges.

Many legal scholars and jurists have argued that the “ Note” which bears the signatures of the “majority” could not be considered as a majority view. But comity in justice or judicial comity being what it is, it can very safely be argued that since 6 judges held the view that there was a limitation on the amending power and since one judge, Justice H R.Khanna had emphatically held that parliament could not amend the basic structure or the framework of the Constitution, the judgment was therefore by a majority, with the decisive view of Khanna J, which could be considered as a ‘ swing vote’ if election terminology is used or the deciding vote , as he agreed in principle with the view and furthered it by stating the above. The resultant effect being that by virtue of and being propped up by the view of Khanna J, the Court held that the Basic Structure of the Constitution could not be tinkered with by the Legislature. It could be said that the merged views of the majority read with the view elucidated by Khanna J, therefore effectively was the view of the Court and sealed the fate of the amendment.

THE FALLOUT OF THE VERDICT

The judgment in the Kesavananda case was pronounced on 24th April, 1973. Chief Justice Sikri was to retire on 25th April,1973. Normally his successor Chief Justice would be named earlier. In a surprise development however, which may perhaps have been foreseen by them, three senior most judges, Justices Shelat, Hegde and Grover, were superseded and Justice A N.Ray was appointed as Chief Justice, whereas in the normal course, justice Shelat would have been appointed as Chief Justice. This happened on 26th April, 1973 and Justices Shelat, Hegde and Grover resigned on the same day at 4.00 p.m.

THE REVIEW

On 9th October, 1975, Chief Justice Ray passed an order that a bench of 13 Judges would hear a review petition. The hearing commenced on 10th November, 1975 and went on to the 11th of November. When the bench assembled on 12th November, as soon as the proceedings were called, the Chief Justice stated that “ this bench is dissolved”. Every person concerned with the hearing was caught by surprise. The review therefore paled and was put to rest. However, no record of the review is available.

Upon the retirement of Ray CJ, M H.Beg J, was appointed as Chief Justice, whereas H R.Khanna J, would have been appointed. He was however overlooked, perhaps because he had dissented with the majority view in ADM Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla. That case was, of course one where many around the country had been detained during the days of the emergency. Upon Habeas Corpus petitions being filed, High Courts had held that the writs were not maintainable as Article.21 of the Constitution had been suspended. When the matters were heard in the Supreme Court, in the above case, the majority held that the petitions were not maintainable. The lone dissent was by Justice H R.Khanna. He disagreed with the position of the majority that Art. 21 can be suspended by the declaration of Emergency.

He stated that, “without such sanctity of life and liberty, the distinction between a lawless society and one governed by laws would cease to have any meaning.” This dissenting judgment and the earlier view that he had taken in Kesavananda, cost Justice Khanna his Chief Justice ship. He too resigned.

The turn of the tide decades later is worth a mention here. The great American Judge, Charles Evan Hughes wrote that “A dissent in the court of last resort is an appeal to the brooding spirit of the law, to the intelligence of a future day when a later decision may possibly correct the error into which the dissenting judge believes the court to have been betrayed.” That is what happened in the case of K S.Puttaswami v. Union, which is known famously as the Right to Privacy case. The decision in ADM Jabalpur was overruled . Though judges do their duty when they decide cases, they never look to accolades or even recognition while doing so, but one cannot but wonder whether the indomitable spirit of the judge would surely be pleased that , even if quite a bit late, his words of dissent have prevailed with considerable and emphatic authority.

FRESH ATTEMPT TO UNDO THE DECISION IN KESAVANANDA

The matter in Kesavananda refused to die down . The powers that be were perhaps biding their time for an opportunity to have the judgment reversed.

The basic structure doctrine, evolved by the Court in Kesavananda was first tested in the case of Indira Nehru Gandhi vs Shri Raj Narain, where the Court applied the doctrine . By virtue of the 39th Amendment ,Parliament inserted Article 329-A in the Constitution, clauses (4) and (5) of which article barred judicial review of elections for the posts of President, Prime Minister, Vice President and the Speaker of The Lok Sabha. The Court struck down the clauses as being violative of the Basic Structure doctrine.

The 42nd Amendment was moved by the Government in order to once again tilt the balance of power and establish supremacy over . Rather than reproduce the same here, suffice it to say that the amendment once again sought to curtail the powers of the Courts. There was a change of Government at the Centre and the new Government brought in the 44th Amendment in order to do away with the earlier one. The 44th Amendment reversed the provision made by the 42nd Amendment that allowed the government to amend the constitution .

The controversy however, did not rest there. This was brought to the fore in the case of Minerva Mills v. Union of India. The mill had been nationalised and taken over by the Government. This was challenged. Again without going deeper into the whole controversy, suffice it to say that section 55 of the Amendment Act was challenged. This too was struck down. The Judges however deferred on the amendment to Article 31C. That , as yet remains a grey area according to Constitutional experts.

THE BASIC STRUCTURE DOCTRINE REMAINS, BUT WAS LATER REFINED BY THE SUPREME COURT

In a later decision in Waman Rao v. Union of India, soon after the decision in Minerva Mills, the Court held that the various Amendments by which additions were made to the 9th Schedule, would be valid only if they did not damage the Basic Structure of the Constitution.

That of course led to further issues. A Constitution Bench hearing the case of I R.Cohelo referred the matter to a larger bench. A bench of 9 Judges held that Amendments to the Constitution made on or after 24/4/1973 by which the Ninth Schedule is amended by inclusion of various laws..shall have to be tested on the basic or essential features of the Constitution……though an Act is put in the Ninth Schedule by a constitutional Amendment, its provisions would be open to attack on the ground that they destroy or damage the basic structure…

It was also further held that “ Justification for conferring protection…on the laws included….. shall be a matter of constitutional adjudication…..if the infraction affects the basic structure then such laws will not get protection of the Ninth Schedule”.

WHAT IS THE BASIC STRUCTURE?

The concept of basic structure is difficult to encapsulate. But what emerges from a perusal of the judgments of the Supreme Court is that some features of the Constitution lie at its core and are therefore sacrosanct. In the course of the hearing of Kesavanandas case, and as emerges from the judgment, some concepts as set out by the judges are what the basic structure refers to. I refer to some of them here. Supremacy of the Constitution, secular character of the Constitution, separation of powers between the legislature, executive and the judiciary, essential features of the individual freedoms secured to the citizens, secularism and freedom of conscience and religion.

The arguments advanced by Palkiwala in the Minerva Mills case are worth reproducing in an encapsulated form. He argued that giving primacy to the Directive Principles over Fundamental rights, had the effect of demolishing the basic structure. According to him, principles stated in the Directive Principles could only be achieved through permissible means, without infringing the provisions of Part III of the Constitution.

The Court stated that to destroy the guarantees given by Part III (Fundamental Rights) in order to purportedly achieve the goals of Part IV (Directive Principles) is to plainly subvert the Constitution by destroying its basic structure. And so holding, the Court held that Sections 4 and 55 of the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976 to be ultra vires the Constitution of India.

PERSPECTIVE

To put this in perspective. the Basic Structure is the base upon which the edifice of our Constitution stands. The structure is seen in the form of Fundamental Rights. If laws are made which have the effect of altering or altogether doing away with the Basic Structure Doctrine, then it would be perceived as an attack upon the Basic Structure and would not stand judicial scrutiny.

To further comprehend this. Article 44 of the Constitution speaks of the State endeavouring to have a Common civil Code. It is a Directive Principle. Why does it appear as a Directive Principle? The framers of the Constitution and the Constituent Assembly were aware of the plurality of religions in the country. They were aware of the various uncodified laws that existed. They were aware of public sentiment and the possible impact of foisting upon the citizens such a code. Thus it was placed as a Directive Principle with the words..The state shall endeavour. If the observations of the Court over the decades on a possible Common Civil Code are read, it becomes abundantly clear that though desirable as per Article 44, a code may not be practicable in view of public sentiment. In Lily Thomas v. Union of India the Court stated that-” In another decision, namely, Pannalal Bansilal Pitti v. State of A.P. “, this Court had indicated that enactment of a uniform law, though desirable, may be counter-productive. I refrain from reproducing excerpts from other judgments due to space constraints.

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar in the Constituent Assembly on 2nd December, 1948 at the time of making of the Constitution. While discussing the position of Common Civil Code, Dr. Ambedkar, inter alia, had stated in his speech that “. . . . . . . . . . . . .I should also like to point out that all that the State as claiming in this matter is a power to legislate. There is no obligation under the State to do away with personal laws. It is only giving a power.

He further stated in his speech as under :”We must all remember …that sovereignty is always limited, no matter even if you assert that it is unlimited, because sovereignty in the exercise of that power must reconcile itself to the sentiments of different communities’ The Constitution of our country gives us religious freedom. Our personal laws are woven around our diverse religions. That is a fundamental right. Thus even though the Common Civil Code is perceived in the Constitution, its practicability must be measured against public sentiment. It must also be looked at by the powers that be that we already have statutory personal laws in existence for many religions. If not in existence, they can be brought in by legislation for the religious denomination . In fact, the Law Commission of India itself in its report on the Common Civil Code stated through the then Chairman that instead of a code, changes in personal laws would be recommended.

Despite various attempts at different times, a Common Civil Code has been difficult to put into place. It has not been due to any appeasement but due to sensitive religious overtones . In fact, there are some petitions pending before a High Court seeking prayers that a Common Civil Code be formulated. The question arises as to whether such a petition based upon a Directive Principle can lie, when the Courts have held that one could prefer a writ when there is violation of a fundamental right. Let us suppose the High Court does not entertain the petitions on the ground of maintainability. But what if the petitions are entertained. Can the Court direct such implementation. I think not. If however, the court does recommend instead of directing, what will be the ultimate outcome? A political party has the Uniform Civil Code on its wish list.

Will the probable future taking away of personal laws and replacing them with a Common Civil Code amount to a violation of the fundamental rights of the guarantee of religious freedom? Can and more particularly, should it be done? Does it go against the Basic Structure Doctrine?

Do we have another Kesavananda Bharati waiting to happen in the wings, and alongside him another incarnation of N A.Palkiwala ?

Only time will tell.

The judgment in the Kesavananda case was pronounced on 24th April, 1973. Chief Justice Sikri was to retire on 25th April,1973. Normally his successor Chief Justice would be named earlier. In a surprise development however, which may perhaps have been foreseen by them, three senior most judges, Justices Shelat, Hegde and Grover, were superseded and Justice A N.Ray was appointed as Chief Justice, whereas in the normal course, justice Shelat would have been appointed as Chief Justice. This happened on 26th April, 1973 and Justices Shelat, Hegde and Grover resigned on the same day at 4.00 p.m.

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‘Dependent’ mother-in-law of a deceased can maintain motor accident claim petition: SC

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In a cogent, convincing, commendable, courageous and composed judgment titled N Jayasree & Ors vs Cholamandalam Ms General Insurance Company Ltd in Civil Appeal No. 6451 of 2021 (Arising out of S.L.P. (C) No. 14558 of 2019) in exercise of its civil appellate jurisdiction delivered most recently on October 25, 2021 has minced no words to observe that a motor accident claim petition filed by mother in law who was dependent on her deceased son in law is maintainable. We saw earlier how in this very noteworthy case, the Kerala High Court had ruled that mother in law of the deceased is not a legal representative under Section 166 of MV Act and thus not entitled to maintain the claim petition. While overruling what was held by the Kerala High Court and holding that she is a “legal representative” under Section 166 of the Motor Vehicles Act, the Bench of Apex Court comprising of Justice S Abdul Nazeer and Justice Krishna Murari observed quite rightly and candidly that, “It is not uncommon in Indian Society for the mother-in-law to live with her daughter and son-in-law during her old age and be dependent upon her son-in-law for her maintenance.”

To start with, this judgment authored by Justice S Abdul Nazeer for himself and Justice Krishna Murari sets the ball in motion by first and foremost putting forth in para 2 that, “This appeal is directed against the judgment dated 09.08.2017 passed by the High Court of Kerala at Ernakulam in MACA No. 1560 of 2013. Through the impugned judgment, the High Court scaled down the amount of compensation payable to the present appellants and thereby modified the award dated 26.04.2013 passed by the Motor Accident Claims Tribunal, Kottayam (for short ‘MACT’) in OP(MV) No. 843 of 2011.”

As we see, the Bench then discloses in para 3 that, “The appellants filed the aforesaid claim petition before the MACT seeking compensation on account of the death of N Venugopalan Nair in a motor vehicle accident which occurred on 20.06.2011. Appellant no. 1 is the wife of the deceased, appellant nos. 2 and 3 are his daughters and appellant no. 4 is his mother-in-law.”

To be sure, the Bench then states in para 4 that, “There is no dispute as to the occurrence of the accident and the liability of the respondent-insurer to pay the compensation. In view of this admitted position, it is unnecessary to narrate the factual aspects of the accident.”

Briefly stated, the crux of para 5 is that, “The deceased was aged 52 years at the time of the accident. The MACT took the annual salary of the deceased as Rs. 8,87,148. To this, the MACT applied a multiplier of ‘11’ and deducted one-fourth (1/4th) of the income towards his personal expenses for the purpose of calculation of the compensation under the head of loss of dependency. A total sum of Rs. 73,18,971/ (Rupees seventy three lakhs eighteen thousand nine hundred seventy one only) was awarded towards loss of dependency. The MACT awarded a total sum of Rs. 74,50,971/ (Rupees seventy-four lakhs fifty thousand nine hundred seventy one only) towards compensation with interest @ 7.5 percent per annum from the date of the claim petition till the date of realization.”

To put things in perspective, the Bench then discloses in para 6 that, “However, the High Court held that appellant no. 4 was not a legal representative of the deceased. Further, the High Court held that the MACT ought to have applied split multiplier for the assessment of the dependency compensation. The High Court fixed monthly income of the deceased as Rs. 40,000/ (Rupees forty thousand only) and deducted one-third (1/3rd) of the income towards his personal expenses. It applied multiplier ‘7’ for calculating dependency compensation for the post-retiral period and, for the pre-retirement period, a multiplier of ‘4’ was applied. Accordingly, the High Court awarded compensation of Rs. 23,65,728/ (Rupees twenty-three lakhs sixty-five thousand seven hundred twenty-eight only), towards loss of dependency for pre-retiral period and a sum of Rs. 22,40,000/ (Rupees twenty-two lakhs forty thousand only) towards loss of dependency for post-retiral period. A sum of Rs. 1,00,000/ (Rupees one lakh only) was awarded towards loss of consortium, Rs. 25,000/ (Rupees twenty-five thousand only) towards funeral expenses, and Rs. 80,000/ (Rupees eighty thousand only) towards loss of love and affection. In total, a sum of Rs. 48,39,728/ (Rupees forty-eight lakhs thirty-nine thousand seven hundred twenty-eight only) was awarded as compensation by the High Court.”

Quite significantly, the Bench then hastens to add in para 10 that, “The provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (for short, “MV Act”) gives paramount importance to the concept of ‘just and fair’ compensation. It is a beneficial legislation which has been framed with the object of providing relief to the victims or their families. Section 168 of the MV Act deals with the concept of ‘just compensation’ which ought to be determined on the foundation of fairness, reasonableness and equitability. Although such determination can never be arithmetically exact or perfect, an endeavor should be made by the Court to award just and fair compensation irrespective of the amount claimed by the applicant/s. In Sarla Verma (Smt.) and Ors. vs. Delhi Transport Corporation and Anr. (2009) 6 SCC 121, this Court has laid down as under:

“16. … “Just compensation” is adequate compensation which is fair and equitable, on the facts and circumstances of the case, to make good the loss suffered as a result of the wrong, as far as money can do so, by applying the well-settled principles relating to award of compensation. It is not intended to be a bonanza, largesse or source of profit.”

It is worth noting that the Bench then observes in para 14 that, “The MV Act does not define the term ‘legal representative’. Generally, ‘legal representative’ means a person who in law represents the estate of the deceased person and includes any person or persons in whom legal right to receive compensatory benefit vests. A ‘legal representative’ may also include any person who intermeddles with the estate of the deceased. Such person does not necessarily have to be a legal heir. Legal heirs are the persons who are entitled to inherit the surviving estate of the deceased. A legal heir may also be a legal representative.”

More specifically, the Bench then adds in para 15 that, “Indicatively for the present inquiry, the Kerala Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989, defines the term ‘legal representative’ as under:

“Legal Representative” means a person who in law is entitled to inherit the estate of the deceased if he had left any estate at the time of his death and also includes any legal heir of the deceased and the executor or administrator of the estate of the deceased.”

What’s more, the Bench then concedes in para 17 that, “It is settled that percentage of deduction for personal expenses cannot be governed by a rigid rule or formula of universal application. It also does not depend upon the basis of relationship of the claimant with the deceased. In some cases, the father may have his own income and thus will not be considered as dependent. Sometimes, brothers and sisters will not be considered as dependents because they may either be independent or earning or married or be dependent on the father. The percentage of deduction for personal expenditure, thus, depends upon the facts and circumstances of each case.”

Broadly speaking, the Bench then envisages in para 16 that, “In our view, the term ‘legal representative’ should be given a wider interpretation for the purpose of Chapter XII of MV Act and it should not be confined only to mean the spouse, parents and children of the deceased. As noticed above, MV Act is a benevolent legislation enacted for the object of providing monetary relief to the victims or their families. Therefore, the MV Act calls for a liberal and wider interpretation to serve the real purpose underlying the enactment and fulfil its legislative intent. We are also of the view that in order to maintain a claim petition, it is sufficient for the claimant to establish his loss of dependency. Section 166 of the MV Act makes it clear that every legal representative who suffers on account of the death of a person in a motor vehicle accident should have a remedy for realization of compensation.”

Most commendably and also most significantly, the Bench then could not refrain itself from holding in para 21 that, “Coming to the facts of the present case, the fourth appellant was the mother-in-law of the deceased. Materials on record clearly establish that she was residing with the deceased and his family members. She was dependent on him for her shelter and maintenance. It is not uncommon in Indian Society for the mother-in-law to live with her daughter and son-in-law during her old age and be dependent upon her son-in-law for her maintenance. Appellant no. 4 herein may not be a legal heir of the deceased, but she certainly suffered on account of his death. Therefore, we have no hesitation to hold that she is a “legal representative” under Section 166 of the MV Act and is entitled to maintain a claim petition.”

In conclusion, we saw how aptly the Apex Court also ably cited the earlier judgments in Hafizum Begum (Mrs) vs Mohd. Ikram Heque (2007) 10 SCC 715 and Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation Ahmedabad vs Ramanbhai Prabhatbhai (1987) 3 SCC 234 and Montford Brothers of St Gabriel and Anr. vs United India Insurance (2014) 3 SCC 394 to put across what is held brilliantly in para 21. So we thus see that the Bench finally allowed the appeal. In other words, the claim of dependent mother-in-law who was dependent on her deceased son-in-law claim was upheld and thus she was held entitled to maintain motor accident claim petition. Very rightly so!

To put things in perspective, the Bench then discloses in para 6 that, “However, the High Court held that appellant no. 4 was not a legal representative of the deceased. Further, the High Court held that the MACT ought to have applied split multiplier for the assessment of the dependency compensation. The High Court fixed monthly income of the deceased as Rs. 40,000/ (Rupees forty thousand only) and deducted one-third (1/3rd) of the income towards his personal expenses. It applied multiplier ‘7’ for calculating dependency compensation for the post-retiral period and, for the pre-retirement period, a multiplier of ‘4’ was applied. Accordingly, the High Court awarded compensation of Rs. 23,65,728/ (Rupees twenty-three lakhs sixty-five thousand seven hundred twenty-eight only), towards loss of dependency for pre-retiral period and a sum of Rs. 22,40,000/ (Rupees twenty-two lakhs forty thousand only) towards loss of dependency for post-retiral period. A sum of Rs. 1,00,000/ (Rupees one lakh only) was awarded towards loss of consortium, Rs. 25,000/ (Rupees twenty-five thousand only) towards funeral expenses, and Rs. 80,000/ (Rupees eighty thousand only) towards loss of love and affection.”

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ARYAN KHAN DESERVES BAIL, NOT JAIL

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“Courts must be alive to the need to safeguard the public interest in ensuring that the due enforcement of the criminal law is not obstructed. The fair investigation of crime is an aid to it. Equally, it is the duty of courts across the spectrum-the district judiciary, the High Courts, and the Supreme Court to ensure that the criminal law does not become a weapon for the selective harassment of citizens. Courts must be alive to both ends of the spectrum-the need to ensure the proper enforcement of criminal law on the one hand and the need, on the other, of ensuring that the law does not become a ruse for targeted harassment. Liberty across human eras is as tenuous as tenuous can be. Liberty survives by the vigilance of her citizens, on the cacophony of media, and in the dusty corridors of courts alive to the rule of (and not by) law. Yet, much too often, liberty is a casualty when one of these components is found wanting”, the Supreme Court had categorically observed in the Arnab Goswami case a year ago. Not only this, but the Apex Court had also reiterated its view that bail should be a rule and jail an exception. “As judges, we would do well to remind ourselves that it is through the instrumentality of bail that our criminal justice system’s primordial interest in preserving the presumption of innocence finds its most eloquent expression”, the Court had demonstrated the collective judicial approach regarding grant of bail to the accused persons given the presumption of innocence. Unfortunately, the Special NDPS Court of Bombay forgot these jurisprudential principles when it refused bail to Aryan Khan week.

The Special NDPS Court of Bombay has denied bail to Aryan Khan in a case that is based on weak evidence. It is nothing but a complete departure from the Supreme Court’s guidelines laid down in several cases. Admittedly, Aryan Khan’s innocence or guilt can only be proved through a trial. On 2 October this year, Aryan was detained by the Narcotics Control Bureau in a drug bust on a cruise ship even though no drugs were found in his possession. The NCB has not yet collected any substantive evidence against him except the WhatsApp chats. There is no evidence to suggest that he was consuming drugs at the time of his arrest by the NCB. No blood test was conducted. He has no previous criminal history. The NDPS law distinguishes between a drug consumer and peddler and forbids treating the former as hardened criminals. Sadly, the NCB is treating him like a hardened criminal. The NCB has charged Aryan and his friends with “conspiracy” under the NDPS law without any solid evidence on record. Also, to justify his arrest, the NCB has applied a unique theory of “conscious possession” because it recovered 6-gram charas from his friend. How can the NCB shift the liability to Aryan Khan if his friend has possession of drugs? The term “conscious possession” is not defined under the NDPS Act. The Courts hardly believe this jurisprudence of conscious possession. Thus, the whole case of the NCB is based on WhatsApp chats which can be used only in the trial, not in a bail adjudication. The WhatsApp chats are used by the NCB against Aryan Khan without a certificate under Section 65-B of the Evidence Act. This is why the Court should not rely on WhatsApp chats blindly and should give the benefit of doubt to Aryan Khan.

This is not the first time when the NCB arrested a person relying mainly on WhatsApp chats. The NCB has also done it in some other cases. Last year, the NCB had arrested Rhea Chakraborty in a drug case based on WhatsApp chats. After a month, she was released by the Bombay High Court when the NCB failed to convince the Court to reject her bail application. She was booked under Section 27 A of the NDPS Act, being involved in financing drugs and she had faced a severe media trial. “She is not part of drug dealers. She has not forwarded the drugs allegedly procured by her to somebody else to earn monetary or other benefits”, the High Court had categorically observed while releasing her on her bail. Not only this, but the Bombay High Court had also dismissed the NCB’s charges as “highly disproportionate” and “extremely unreasonable”. The High Court did not approve the NCB’s argument that “celebrities” should be treated harshly and made an example of, saying that no actor must “incur any special liability” in the eyes of the law. It seems the NCB did not take any lessons from Rhea Chakraborty’s case and arrested Aryan Khan without sufficient evidence. Many people believe that he is also paying price for being a celebrity and son of a famous Bollywood actor. This is a dangerous trend that undermines people’s faith in the criminal justice system. Keeping a young man in jail merely based on WhatsApp chats is nothing but a gross misuse of criminal law. Aryan Khan belongs to a well-respected family who deserves bail subject to reasonable conditions. He is a young man who needs to be allowed an opportunity to live a dignified life. Putting him in jail will not serve any purpose. He deserves an opportunity to defend his case being a free citizen and the Court should adopt a humane attitude while dealing with his bail application. In an exclusive interview with India Today, former Attorney-General for India Mukul Rohatgi has also opined that Aryan Khan deserves to get bail.

Given the above discussion, it is submitted that criminal law should not be used as a weapon to harass citizens. All citizens should be treated equally and law enforcement agencies should arrest those who commit criminal offences based on solid evidence, not on inconclusive pieces of digital chats, etc. An arrested person faces a difficult situation in Indian society. The Supreme Court has rightly stated in some cases that a great ignominy, humiliation, and disgrace are attached to arrest. Arrest leads to many serious consequences not only for the accused but also for his family and friends. Mostly, the people do not make any difference between arrest at a pre-conviction stage and post-conviction stage. This is why the arresting power must be used cautiously, not according to the whims and fancies of the law- enforcement agencies and the Courts should decide the bail applications expeditiously. The time has come when the judiciary should stand up for protecting the personal liberty of people and the law-enforcement agencies should investigate the cases professionally. Let me conclude this piece with these insightful words of Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer in the Babu Singh case: “The correct legal approach has been clouded in the past by focus on the ferocity of the crime to the neglect of the real purposes of bail or jail and indifferent to many other sensitive and sensible circumstances which deserve judicial notice. The whole issue, going by decisional material and legal literature has been relegated to a twilight zone of the criminal justice system. Courts have often acted intuitively or reacted traditionally, so much the fate of applicants for bail at the High Court level and in the Supreme Court, has largely hinged on the hunch of the bench as on the expression of ‘judicial discretion’. A scientific treatment is the desideratum. The Code is cryptic on this topic and the court prefers to be tacit, be the order custodial or not. And yet, the issue is one of liberty, justice, public safety, and burden on the public treasury, all of which insists that a developed jurisprudence of bail is integral to a socially sensitized judicial process…Personal liberty deprived whom bail is the value of our constitutional system recognised under Article 21 that curial power to negate it is a great trust exercisable, not casually but judicially, with a lively concern for the cost to the individual and the community. To glamorise impressionistic orders as discretionary may, on occasions, make a litigative gamble, decisive of a fundamental right. After all, the personal liberty of an accused or convict is fundamental, suffering lawful eclipse only in terms of “procedure established by law”. The last four words of Article 21 are the life of that human right”.

Lokendra Malik, Sr Advocate, Supreme Court of India

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DECODING THE CONCEPT OF BAIL UNDER THE NARCOTIC DRUGS AND PSYCHOTROPIC SUBSTANCES ACT (NDPS), 1985

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The Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS ACT) 1985 was enacted within the year 1985, with a view to consolidate and amend the law concerning narcotic drugs, incorporating stringent provisions for control and regulation of operations concerning narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.

Bail are often understood as a procedure by which a judge or magistrate sets free someone who has been arrested or imprisoned, upon receipt of security to make sure the released prisoner’s later appearance in court for further proceedings. The money set by the judge is within the sort of a bail, it’s set after hearing the fees and determining the quantity appropriate for the circumstances.

NDPS Act categorizes the offences into Three Categories: –

Small Quantity: –As per section 37 of the NDPS Act, 1985 all the offences falling under the act are cognizable and non-bailable. Meaning thereby, if we pass section 37 of the NDPS Act,1985 even the matters concerning small quantity are non-bailable.Hon’ble Delhi High Court for the first time in Minnie Khadim Ali Kuhn vs State Nct Of Delhi & Ors. on 8 May, 2012 has held that the matter involving small quantity are bailable regardless of the very fact that it’s mentioned within the NDPS ACT, 1985 that each one offences are cognizable and non-bailable.

Intermediate Quantity (less than commercial)

For the offences falling under the intermediate or but commercial quantity stringent provisions of section 37 aren’t attracted and therefore the offences under the said category are governed by Section 437 of the Code of Criminal Procedure,1973 i.e. general principles for grant of bail as applied in other cognizable and non-bailable offences.

Commercial Quantity

Commercial quantity offences are punishable with not but 10 years and there’s an embargo of Section 37 of the NDPS, 1985 in thus far because the bail in commercial quantity is concerned.

THE DETAILED BREAKDOWN OF SECTION 37 IS AS FOLLOWS:

1. The section states every offence punishable under the Act shall be cognizable.

2. No person accused of an offence punishable for [offences under section 19 or section 24 or section 27-A and also offences involving commercial quantity] shall be released on bail or on his own bond, unless the following conditions are met.

3. For granting bail, the following conditions are to be met,

(i) There are reasonable grounds for believing that the accused isn’t guilty of such offence.

(ii) That he’s unlikely to commit any offence while on bail.

The jurisdiction of the court to grant bail is circumscribed by the provisions of Section 37 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS Act). The scheme of Section 37 reveals that the exercise of power to grant bail isn’t only subject to the restrictions contained under Section 439 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), but is additionally subject to the limitation placed by Section 37, which begins with a non-obstante clause.

CONSIDERATIONS FOR GRANTING BAIL UNDER NDPS ACT:

Before granting bail, the Court is named upon to satisfy itself that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the accused is innocent of the offence which he’s not likely to commit any offence while on bail, the allegations of the fact, the police report have to be closely examined before recording a finding as to whether the conditions given under the said section, are fulfilled or not.

Powers of the High Court under Sec. 439 of CrPC are curtailed in any way except that they are to be exercised with embargo and conditions as laid down under Sec. 37 of the Act.Ordinarily, on a bare reading of these provisions, it would look as if the Court is to adopt a negative approach and to decline bail but when the legislature have required the court to record a finding of its satisfaction of certain facts, the duty is bestowed upon the court is in positive terms. Grant of Bail could be a rule and its rejection an exception.

GROUNDS FOR CANCELLATION OF BAIL:

What has been stated in Section 37 of the Act would be applicable, accordingly when the question of release on bail is considered. But once an accused has been released on Bail, the normal criminal law would spring into action and bail would be open to be cancelled only on the grounds on which Bail can be otherwise cancelled.The important grounds for cancellation of Bail are:i. Where the accused misuses his liberty by getting involved in similar criminal activity,ii. Interferes with the course of investigation,iii. Attempts to tamper with evidence or witnesses,iv. Likelihood of fleeing, etc.

HOW COURTS HAVE DEALT WITH THE MATTERS PERTAINING TO BAIL?

The bench of DY Chandrachud and BV Nagarathna, JJ has elaborately discussed the principles governing the grant of bail, especially in cases under the NDPS Act and has held that, “the test which the High Court and this Court are required to apply while granting bail is whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that the accused has not committed an offence and whether he’s likely to commit any offence while on bail. Given the seriousness of offences punishable under the NDPS Act and so as to curb the menace of drug-trafficking within the country, stringent parameters for the grant of bail under the NDPS Act have been prescribed.”

In the case of Union of India v. Shiv Shanker Kesar, (2007) 7 SCC 798Holding that bail may be cancelled if it has been granted without adhering to the parameters under Section 37 of the NDPS Act, the Court observed,“The expression used in Section 37(1)(b)(ii) is “reasonable grounds”. The expression means something quite clear grounds. It connotes substantial probable causes for believing that the accused isn’t guilty of the offence charged and this reasonable belief contemplated successively points to existence of such facts and circumstances as are sufficient in themselves to justify recording of satisfaction that the accused isn’t guilty of the offence charged.The word “reasonable” has in law the clear meaning of reasonable in reference to those circumstances of which the actor, called on to act reasonably, knows or need to know. It is difficult to offer a particular definition of the word “reasonable”.

In the ultimate analysis it’s a matter of fact, whether a specific act is reasonable or not depends on the circumstances during a given situation. (Municipal Corpn. of Greater Mumbai v. Kamla Mills Ltd. [(2003) 6 SCC 315]The court while considering the appliance for bail with regard to Section 37 of the Act isn’t called upon to record a finding of acquitted. It is for the limited purpose essentially confined to the question of releasing the accused on bail that the court is named upon to ascertain if there are reasonable grounds for believing that the accused isn’t guilty and records its satisfaction about the existence of such grounds. But the court has to not consider the matter as if it’s pronouncing a judgment of acquittal and recording a finding of acquitted.”

CONCLUSION

Section 37 of the NDPS Act works as an interference when it comes to offences related to medicines. It’s necessary because it leads to the creation of fear among people that if they commit a crime under this Act, they won’t be granted bail. On the other hand, this provision occasionally becomes draconian as innocent people get jugged. Therefore, the bar needs to borrow an exemplary principle to insure justice. he Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 was enacted with the objective of controlling and regulating the transportation, usage and/or consumption of these illicit substances.

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