From cancelling all ‘fatally flawed’ coal block allocations since 1993 to signalling its zero-tolerance for failure to comply with its orders, the judiciary remained defiant in 2014 even as it battled an overt attempt by the NDA government to control it by bring in two Bills to replace the decades-old collegium system for appointing judges.
Sending Sahara chief Subrata Roy to jail, putting the Centre on tenterhooks in black money case and edging of cricket czar N Srinivasan, the undeterred top court made its presence felt in almost every field—be it environment, social and economic justice or corporate functioning. Even the message for the corporates was straight and clear—clean up the mess and boost investor confidence.
Cancellation of coal blocks
It was the most important judgment of the year in the public interest petition, Common Cause vs Union of India. The apex court on August 25 cancelled over 200 coal blocks allocated since 1993, after setting up a special court. Attempts by big corporates to wriggle out proved futile as it shot down their plea that consequential investments of R2 lakh crore would go down the drain.
National Tax Tribunal
In Madras Bar Association vs Union of India, the Supreme Court dealt a jolt to the government when it struck down a 2005 law setting up a National Tax Tribunal (NTT), which proposed to reduce the pile-up of tax demands locked up in litigation in high courts, on grounds that it encroached upon the power of the judiciary and the principle of separation of powers.
Arbitration & conciliation
In a judgment which is quite significant for any cross-border dispute, the Supreme Court in the case Enercon India vs Enercon GmBh sided with the seat of the arbitration for resolving any dispute in an appropriate court rather than the ‘venue’. It’s the ‘seat’ that actually decides the appropriate court which will have exclusive jurisdiction to support the arbitration proceedings. The exception is when the agreement is silent on the ‘seat’. In such situations, it’s the ‘venue’ which will emerge as a crucial factor in deciding the appropriate court.
Signalling its zero-tolerance for defiance of orders, the top court sent Sahara chief Subrata Roy and its two directors to Tihar Jail in a decision unprecedented in corporate annals. While the trio was arrested on February 26 for not refunding investors’ money, they continue to be in jail as the group is still trying to raise R10,000 crore to secure their bail.
While dismissing the appeal of the Association of Unified Telecom Services Providers against a Delhi High Court judgment, the top court ruled that private companies that share revenue from natural resources like spectrum with the government would be subjected to CAG audit. It said it was important that the CAG examined the accounts to detect any unlawful gains.
Forcing the Centre to make public more names of those who have unaccounted money in foreign banks, the apex court asked the Centre to take effective steps to bring back black money. While refusing to review its decision to appoint an SIT to look into all such cases, it slammed the Modi government for toeing the UPA’s line that it cannot reveal names of account holders as it would violate terms of Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements entered into with various nations.
CBI chief’s recusal
Former CBI director Ranjit Sinha faced the biggest embarrassment in the twilight of his professional career when the top court asked him to recuse from the 2G spectrum and coal allocation scam probes after observing that the charge against him of protecting some accused appeared to be ‘prima facie credible’. The new CBI director Anil Sinha was allowed to reassume the supervisory roles in the cases. Freeing the premier agency from the government’s clutches, the top court ruled that CBI would not have to take prior approval of government before probing and prosecuting top bureaucrats in court-monitored cases.
Betting row plaguing the IPL, involvement of N Srinivasan’s son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan in it and consequential charges of conflict of interest ensured the cricket administrator remained the BCCI president-in-exile for major part of 2014. Management of cricket by BCCI came under the scanner after the Justice Mukul Mudgal Committee gave a highly critical report declaring that Meiyappan was an official of Chennai Super Kings team, owned by Srinivasan-controlled India Cements. Despite Srinivasan getting a clean chit on betting and spot fixing by the panel, the court raised serious questions on the conflict of interest.
In May, the Supreme Court ordered CBI to take over probe in the R2,000 crore Saradha scam in which about 25 lakh gullible investors were duped of their hard earned money by the group. So far, CBI has registered six cases against Saradha, 44 cases in Odisha against the other chit-fund companies and four more cases in West Bengal against non-Saradha chit-fund companies.
Among the politicians, former Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa got interim bail in the assets case which was later extended by four months by the court, which also asked the Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court to set up a special bench to decide her plea within three months. But, before her conviction by a trial court in Karnataka, the AIADMK supremo made several attempts to stall criminal proceedings.