Home >Politics >Policy >Delhi High Court turns 50: 10 landmark judgements through the years
Delhi high court  completes 50 glorious years of establishment today. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Delhi high court completes 50 glorious years of establishment today. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Delhi High Court turns 50: 10 landmark judgements through the years

On the occasion of the Delhi HC's Golden Jubilee, a look at some of the landmark judgements, which have made nationwide impact

New Delhi: The Delhi high court which was established on 31 October 1966 turns 50 on Monday. Housing a total of 36 courtrooms and dealing in both civil and criminal proceedings, the Delhi high court has witnessed some of the most challenging cases from the time of its inception.

As it completes 50 glorious years of establishment today, the Delhi high court can be seen as one that has constantly striven for efficiency in disposal of cases and in the process embraced technology in its day-to-day working. In order to commemorate its 50 years, a function will take place at Vigyan Bhavan later in the day. The function will be presided over by the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and attended by the Chief Justice of India, T.S Thakur and other Hon’ble judges of the Supreme Court and high court.

On the occasion of its Golden Jubilee, Mint takes a look at 10 landmark judgements passed by the Delhi high court:

1. Centre-state row over distribution of powers

Putting an end to the constant tussle between the Centre and state government over distribution and exercise of powers in the national capital, the Delhi high court on 4 August, 2016 upheld the administrative powers of the Lieutenant-Governor (L-G) in matters of public order, land, police and services—including the power to appoint civil servants.

The high court emphasized the administrative capacity of the L-G while ruling that Delhi continues to be a Union territory under the Transaction of Business Rules despite Article 239 AA of the Constitution making some special provisions with respect to the national capital. Read More

In accordance with this, a batch of cases where an inquiry was initiated by the AAP government without the concurrence of the L-G was dismissed and held illegal. All notifications initiating such inquiries were struck down under the court’s orders.

The issue had arisen due to a notification by the ministry of home affairs on 21 May which held that in matters of public order, police and services, the Lt-Governor could take decisions independent of the state government. A number of cases stemming from this notification accumulated in the court over the year and have been covered by Mint.

The Delhi government has appealed against the Delhi high court decision declaring the lieutenant-governor as the administrative head of the state. Read More

2. National Herald misappropriation case

The case involved allegations of cheating, fraud, misappropriation of funds and breach of trust against Congress president Sonia Gandhi, party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, party general secretary Oscar Fernandes, journalist Suman Dubey, technocrat Sam Pitroda and party treasurer Motilal Vora, in a bid to take control of the National Herald newspaper.

On a complaint filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, summons were issued to the leaders in June 2014, who thereon sought quashing of the summons before the Delhi high court. It was alleged that the party loaned Rs90 crore to Associated Journals and on 28 December 2010 it assigned this debt to Young Indian, a charitable company, for Rs50 lakh.

The case was argued extensively and saw senior advocates like Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Harin Raval pitted against Swamy, who argued the case in person. In one of such instance, the judgement was delivered on 8 December. The Congress suffered a political jolt as the judgement cleared the way for trial of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, among others, and asked them to be personally present in the Patiala House court.

3. Delhi University Photocopy case

Setting a precedent in copyright law for education purposes, the Delhi high court dismissed a plea by a group of international publishers seeking to restrain a shop in Delhi University (DU) from selling photocopies of textbooks and course material.

The landmark verdict, which has set a precedent for the applicability of copyright law in educational cases in India, held that “copyright in a literary work is not an inevitable, divine or natural right" conferred on an author. It added that the copyright law is intended to increase and not impede knowledge.

The 94-page ruling observed that photocopying and creation of course packs to be used in the course of education by students is covered under provisions of the Copyright Act, 1957. Read More

The publishers have challenged the ruling in the Supreme Court.Read More

4. Call drop

The Delhi high court upheld the telecom regulator’s decision to make it mandatory for service providers to compensate subscribers for call drops from 1 January 2016.

A batch of petitions filed by Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) and 21 telecom operators, including Bharti Airtel Ltd, Aircel Ltd, Vodafone India Ltd and Idea Cellular Ltd. had opposed a Trai notification imposing mandatory compensation on the telcos. Read More

Trai, in its 16 October notification, had said that the telecom companies or telcos will have to credit Re1 to a user for every call drop, up to a maximum three calls per day per customer.

This decision of mandatory compensation was however, struck down by the Supreme Court on 11 May, 2016 and held to be arbitrary, ultra vires, unreasonable and not transparent. Read More

5. Judgment on WhatsApp’s privacy policy

In an interesting verdict, the Delhi high court on 23 September, 2016 allowed Facebook owned-WhatsApp to enforce its new privacy policy while ensuring that interest of users was well protected. Read More

It was directed that before 25 September the data of users, who continue to operate the instant messaging service, could not be appropriated by WhatsApp.

Protection of data would also be extended to those who delete their WhatsApp account as the court prohibited the messenger service from using their data for its commercial purposes.

On 25 August, 2016, WhatsApp had pushed a notification to its users, asking them to accept recent changes in its terms and conditions.

WhatApp’s new privacy policy allows it to collect and share information of its users’ with Facebook and all its group companies for the purpose of commercial advertising and marketing on its platform.

This includes sharing of phone numbers and information on a user’s contact list in violation of the user’s privacy.

A challenge to this was brought to the Delhi high court following a PIL by two students, Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi, who alleged “violation of fundamental rights of users" by sharing confidential information under the privacy policy.

6. National policy to govern app-based taxi services

The Delhi high court has set in motion a process to end the acrimony and confusion over taxi services in the country triggered by the entry of app-based taxi service providers such as Uber and Ola.

While hearing a batch of petitions, including one filed by a radio taxi association (which comprises taxi companies such as Meru Cabs, Mega Cabs and Easy Cabs), the high court directed a panel appointed by the central government to come up with a policy to govern all cab services nationwide. Read More

On 14 October, the court had passed an order whereby all app-based taxi services were required to switch their fleets to CNG by 1 March 2016. The proceedings, which began with Ola required to abide by the order were extended to cover all app-based taxi providers in the national capital region like Uber, TaxiForSure, Meru, etc. Taxi hailing companies like Ola and Uber were allowed to carry out the transition in a phased manner. Read More

Earlier, on 29 July, the high court had upheld the Delhi government’s 1 January order by which all app-based cab services which did not conform to the modified Radio Taxi Scheme were to be banned from operating in the city.

7. Delhi government’s audit of discoms

Holding that the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) audit carried out in 2014 to establish allegations of inflated electricity bills by private power distribution companies would have no bearing, the pleas of three private power distribution companies, namely BSES Rajdhani Power Ltd, BSES Yamuna Power Ltd and Tata Power Delhi Distribution Ltd, which had challenged the Delhi government’s decision to carry out the audit, was accepted on 30 October. Read More

The discoms challenged the 7 January order by the Delhi government which asked the CAG to audit discoms, contending that the office of the auditor was not empowered to scrutinize the accounts of private firms under Section 20 of the CAG Act.

8. Release of juvenile convict in gang rape case

The question of release of the now 20-year old juvenile convict in the 16 December 2012 gang rape and murder was settled by the Delhi high court which allowed him to walk free after having spent three years in a correctional home as envisaged under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 The minor was one of six people convicted of raping and fatally assaulting a 23-year-old physiotherapy student on a moving bus in Delhi.

The release was opposed by Swamy who contended that the juvenile was in close proximity with a suspected militant in the juvenile home and could not be absorbed back into society. The Supreme Court also refused to stay the convict’s release on a petition by the Delhi Commission for Women.

9. Hoffman-La Roche and Cipla’s drug patent case

The dispute between drug giants, Hoffman-La Roche and Cipla over a patent was settled by Delhi high court which held that Cipla was infringing on Hoffman’s patent on lung cancer drug, Erlotinib Hydrochloride, which it sold under the name Tarceva. This verdict came in response to an appeal by Hoffman against the single judge’s order which did not hold Cipla in infringement of the patent. Although infringement by Cipla was noted under the judgment, no injunction was issued against the Indian drug company as Roche’s patent is set to expire in March 2016.

To make good the loss suffered by Roche due to use of its patent, Cipla would be required to submit a statement of profits from the sale of its medicine, Erlocip.

10. Recognition of rights of the third gender

In a unique case, the court allowed a 19-year-old transgender non-resident Indian to return to the US after he was forcibly brought to India by his parents in the hope of “reforming" him. The landmark judgment recognized that gender identity and sexual orientation were fundamental to the right of self-determination, dignity and freedom.

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