Supreme Selections: Top Supreme Court Judgments of October 2023

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October Month Important Verdicts

In the month of October, the Supreme Court of India gave decisions on different matters concerning the legal validation of same-sex marriage, multiple dying declarations, reinforced paper cups, manual scavenging, divorce, arbitration, Vicarious liability, Income Tax, and others. Apart from this, a Supreme Court judge, Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, bid farewell after serving for over four years. Before retiring, he delivered all the pending decisions in which he was the judge providing a total of 22 judgments in the month of October 2023. In this article, a brief discussion is made on top or important judgments of this month. 

Section 50 of the NDPS Act

Judgment NameRanjan Kumar Chadha vs. the State of Himachal Pradesh 

Bench: Justice MM Sundresh and Justice JB Pardiwala

Case Brief and Decision: On October 06, 2023, the Supreme Court (SC) of India was hearing the appeals involving a convict (Ranjan Kumar Chadha) charged under Section 20 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS Act), challenging the judgment and conviction order of the Himachal Pradesh High Court, which overturned the earlier acquittal by the Sessions Judge. The accused was charge-sheeted for carrying 1.25 Kg of Charas containing charas resin content of 33.58%. The bench hearing the matter also answered the question of whether the statute would apply to the search of a bag and summarized the principles related to Section 50 of the NDPS Act. It ordered, “We are of the view that the High Court was justified in holding the appellant guilty of the offence under the NDPS Act, and at the same time, the High Court was also correct in saying that Section 50 of the NDPS Act was not required to be complied with as the recovery was from the bag.”

26-week Pregnant Woman’s Abortion Plea

Judgment NameX vs. Union of India and Anr. 

Bench: Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justice Manoj Misra and Justice JB Pardiwala

Case Brief and Decision: In this case, the SC was hearing a married woman’s petition seeking directions to permit a medical termination of her ongoing pregnancy. The same was sought on the grounds that she suffers from post-partum depression, her mental condition does not permit her to raise another child (she already has two children) and her husband is the only breadwinner. During the proceedings, the AIIMS doctors raised an apprehension that the fetus may have a chance of being born. On  October 16, 2023, the SC bench rejected the plea as it was violative of Sections 3 and 5 of the MTP Act (Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act). It also pointed out that no fetal abnormality was detected therefore, the plea to terminate the pregnancy was not agreed upon by the bench. Moreover, the bench ordered, “The delivery will be conducted by AIIMS at the appropriate time. The Union Government has undertaken to pay all the medical costs for the delivery and incidental to it.” 

Legal Recognition for Same-Sex and Queer Marriages

Judgment NameSupriyo @ Supriya Chakraborty & Anr. vs. Union of India

Bench: Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justice Hima Kohli, Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, and Justice PS Narasimha

Case Brief and Decision: On October 17, 2023, the much-awaited judgment related to the legal validation of same-sex marriage was delivered by the Supreme Court. The bench declined to allow civil unions for non-heterosexual couples, agreed that there is no fundamental right to marry under the Constitution of India, and declined the right of adoption to queer couples. The decision was delivered by a 3:2 majority and the Centre was ordered to constitute a cabinet committee to look into rights that can be conferred on non-heterosexual couples.   

Multiple Dying Declarations

Judgment NameAbhishek Sharma vs. State (Govt. of NCT of Delhi)

Bench: Justice Sanjay Karol, and Justice Abhay S. Oka

Case Brief and Decision: On October 18, 2023, certain principles were laid down by the SC for a court to consider while dealing with cases that involve multiple declarations. Also, it highlighted certain judgments during the proceedings where the extent of burn injuries sustained by the deceased was addressed. The bench further stated, “These principles provide guidance for courts when dealing with cases involving multiple dying declarations and the assessment of their credibility.” In this case, the convict-appellant (Abhishek) was accused of killing his colleague. While illustrating principles to be followed by the courts in multiple dying declaration cases, the SC observed, “When considering other circumstances that may or may not point to the guilt of the convict-appellant, as discussed above, we find gaps unexplained in the prosecution case, which cast sufficient doubt as to leave the case short of the threshold of beyond reasonable doubt.” Therefore, the convict-appellant was granted bail.

Manual Scavenging

Judgment NameDr. Balram Singh vs. Union of India & Ors.

Bench: Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, and Justice Aravind Kumar

Case Brief and Decision: The SC was hearing a PIL seeking directions to implement the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, and Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. To do so, there is a need to completely eradicate the practice of manual scavenging. On October 20, 2023, the SC bench issued certain directions to the Union Government and State Government to ensure the complete eradication of the practice of manual scavenging. Concluding the judgment, the bench said, “If we are to be truly equal, in all respects the commitment that the constitution makers gave to all sections of the society, by entrenching emancipatory provisions, such as Articles 15 (2), 17, 23 and 24, each of us must live up to its promise. The Union and the States are duty-bound to ensure that the practice of manual scavenging is completely eradicated. Each of us owes it to this large segment of our population, who have remained unseen, unheard, and muted, in bondage, systematically trapped in inhumane conditions. The conferment of entitlements and placement of obligations upon the Union and the States, through express prohibitions in the constitution, and provisions of the 2013 Act, mean that they are obliged to give real meaning to them, and implement the provisions in the letter and spirit.”

Reinforced Paper Cups

Judgment NameTamil Nadu and Puducherry Paper Cup Manufactures Association vs. State of Tamil Nadu & Ors. 

Bench: Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, and Justice PS Narasimha

Case Brief and Decision: The matter was mentioned before the Supreme Court against the decision of the Madras High Court that banned the manufacture, storage, supply, transport, sale, distribution, and use of ‘one-time use and throwaway plastics’. The appeal was filed by the Tamil Nadu and Puducherry Paper Cup Manufacturers Association. On October 20, 2023, the SC bench upheld the Madras HC decision and directed TNPCB to reconsider the ban on non-woven bags afresh. The order reads, “In light of the developments in terms of the amendment to the 2016 Rules (Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016), this court is of the considered opinion that it would be appropriate, and just, to remand the question of including non-woven bags within the single-use plastic products ban, back to the TNPCB for consideration.” 

Other Important Judgments

1. How many reportable judgments were delivered by the Supreme Court in the month of October 2023?
2. Does the Supreme Court agree to give legal validation to same-sex marriages?