From Article 370 to demonetisation, key judgements delivered in 2023 [30.12.2023]

As the year 2023 comes to a close, the Supreme Court (SC)'s verdicts stand out as pivotal milestones, impacting the socio-legal landscape of the nation. Several important rulings, ranging from the status of Article 370 to the refusal of recognition of same-sex marriages, as well as decisions on demonetisation, have shaped the judicial discourse throughout the year.

Let's take a look at all the major judgements of 2023:

Supreme Court's Article 370 verdict

In a landmark decision on December 11, the Supreme Court (SC) upheld the central government’s decision to abrogate Article 370, which granted special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The apex court, in its majority judgement, held that the Presidential Orders issued in 2019, which revoked Article 370 and bifurcated the state into two Union Territories — Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh — were constitutionally valid. The bench concluded that Article 370 was a temporary provision and that the President, acting under Article 370 itself, had the power to revoke it.

Supreme Court declines to legally recognise same-sex marriage

On October 17, a five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court refused to grant legal recognition to same-sex marriages.

In its much-awaited judgment, the apex court said that the right to marriage is not a fundamental one. It added that it cannot strike down the provisions of the Special Marriage Act or read words differently while maintaining that homosexuality is not an urban or elite concept. The focus of the petitions was the gender-neutral interpretation of the Special Marriage Act, a secular legislation designed to facilitate inter-caste and inter-faith marriages.

Supreme Court upholds legality of 2016 note ban decision

The Supreme Court upheld the legality of the government’s decision in 2016 to demonetise 86 per cent of the country’s cash in circulation, saying the decision was taken in consultation with the central bank and followed due process.

A five-judge bench of the country’s top court passed the verdict on January 2 by a majority on a batch of petitions questioning the move. One out of the five judges wrote a dissenting opinion.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a surprise TV announcement in November 2016, led the move to outlaw all Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes – 86 per cent of the cash in circulation – to target undeclared “black money” and fight corruption.

Supreme Court stays Rahul Gandhi’s conviction in ‘Modi surname’ remark

On August 4, the Supreme Court stayed Rahul Gandhi's conviction in a 2019 criminal defamation case over his "Modi surname" remark, paving the way for revival of his Lok Sabha membership.

A bench comprising Justices B R Gavai, P S Narasimha and P V Sanjay Kumar said the trial court did not give any particular reasons for imposing a punishment of two years imprisonment on Gandhi. 

"Considering the aforesaid and particularly that no reasons have been given by the trial judge for a maximum sentence which has incurred disqualification, order of conviction needs to stay during pendency of proceedings," the court added.

Maharashtra Shiv Sena split

The Supreme Court on May 11 held that then Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari was not justified in calling upon then Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to prove majority in the Assembly on June 30 last year but refused to order status quo ante, saying he resigned first and did not face the floor test.

The verdict was delivered by a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud and comprised of Justices M R Shah, Krishna Murari, Hima Kohli and P S Narasimha.

“In the present case, the governor did not have any objective material to indicate the government had lost confidence…so his exercise was not legal,” the Supreme Court said.

Cauvery River Dispute

On September 21, the Supreme Court refused to interfere with the order of the Cauvery Water Management Authority (CWMA) and the Cauvery Water Regulation Committee (CWRC) directing the Karnataka government to release 5,000 cusecs of water per day to Tamil Nadu for 15 days.

The CWRC in its September 12 order, which was upheld by CWMA, directed Karnataka to release 5,000 cusecs (cubic feet per second) of water every day for the next 15 days to Tamil Nadu.

A bench of Justices B R Gavai, P S Narasimha, and Prashant Kumar Mishra said it was not inclined to entertain Tamil Nadu's plea challenging the CWMA decision on the ground that it was facing a drought-like situation due to rain deficit.

The bench further noted that bodies like CWMA and CWRC, which have experts from the India Meteorological Department (IMD), and those on agriculture and water resource management, have considered all relevant aspects like drought, deficit rainfall, water level in the river and only then passed the order.

Marital rape 'no offence' if wife is 18 or above

The Allahabad High Court observed that marital rape cannot be considered an offence under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) if the wife is 18 or above. The court made these remarks while acquitting a husband of charges of committing an ‘unnatural offence’ against his wife.

While holding that the accused in this case cannot be convicted under Section 377 of the IPC, the bench of Justice Ram Manohar Narayan Mishra stated that marital rape has not been criminalised in this country as yet.

Journalist Soumya Vishwanathan’s killers get life sentence

On November 25, Delhi's Saket court sentenced four convicts in the killing of TV journalist Soumya Vishwanathan in 2008 to life imprisonment, while a fifth convict was sent to three years in jail. 

The court said the crime does not fall under the rarest of rare and hence did not give the convicts the death penalty. 

Ravi Kapoor, Amit Shukla, Baljeet Malik, and Ajay Kumar have been sentenced to life imprisonment. The fifth convict, Ajay Sethi, has been sentenced to three years for helping them.

Surrogate mothers cannot be denied maternity leave

The Rajasthan High Court ruled that maternity leave must be granted to women who have children through surrogacy, stating that any distinction between different types of mothers is an "insult" to motherhood.

The court ordered the state to grant the petitioner 180 days of maternity leave and to enact legislation for maternity leave for surrogate and commissioning mothers.

Gujarat High Court rejects plea to ban loudspeakers at mosques

On November 28, the Gujarat High Court dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking a ban on the use of loudspeakers for 'azaan' or the Islamic call to prayer at mosques, terming the plea as "wholly misconceived."

A division bench of Chief Justice Sunita Agarwal and Justice Aniruddha P Mayee also asked, during the hearing, if it was the petitioner's case that the noise of bells and gongs during 'aarti' at a temple is not heard outside.

The petition, filed by Bajrang Dal leader Shaktisinh Zala, claimed that "noise pollution" caused by 'azaan' when played through loudspeakers affects people's, especially children's health and causes inconvenience otherwise. However, the high court noted that the claims in the petition had no scientific foundation.

Special mentions

Delhi govt gets control over administrative services

In a dispute between the Centre and the Delhi government, the Supreme Court held on May 11, that the Delhi government has control over the bureaucracy in the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi.

The five-judge Constitution bench led by CJI Chandrachud, however, clarified that the power of the Delhi government would not extend to the administrative services that come under land, law and order, and police.

Woman’s plea for abortion rejected by SC

On October 16, the Supreme Court rejected the petition for medical termination of a woman’s 27-week pregnancy, saying that there was no immediate threat to her or her child.

A bench of CJI Chandrachud and Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra noted that the pregnancy had crossed the 24-week threshold under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971.

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act allows women to opt for abortion even after the 24-week limit if a board of doctors agree that the continuation of pregnancy is a risk to her life or if a substantial abnormality was medically detected in the foetus.

The petitioner had sought an abortion on the grounds that it was her third pregnancy and that she had been suffering from postpartum psychosis since October 2022, when she delivered her second child. Her request to abort the pregnancy was also based on her financial situation.

Supreme Court dismisses PFI's plea against Centre's ban under UAPA

The Supreme Court refused to hear a plea filed by the Popular Front of India (PFI) challenging a ban on the organisation and its designation as an 'unlawful' organisation under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) by the Union government.

In its observations, a two-judge bench of Justices Aniruddha Bose and Bela M Trivedi said it would be appropriate for the PFI to first approach the high court against a tribunal’s order which upheld the government's decision of banning and designating PFI and eight other organisations as 'unlawful' under the UAPA Act.

Supreme Court blames parents for Kota suicides

The Supreme Court said that parents, not the institutions, put excessive pressure on students to perform well in competitive exams.

The apex court further said that blaming the mushrooming of coaching institutes for the increased suicides among students, particularly in Kota, was incorrect since it was the high expectations placed by parents in a competitive surrounding that drove youngsters to end their lives.

'Total eradication of manual scavenging'

The Supreme Court directed the central and state governments to eradicate the practice of manual scavenging entirely. The court also called for an increase in compensation to Rs 30 lakh in cases of fatalities during sewer cleaning.

The court recognised the need to address permanent disability resulting from sewer operations and suggested an increase in compensation to Rs 20 lakh. It also called for not less than Rs 10 lakh in compensation for other forms of disablement. 


30 Dec 2023