Political bigwigs, Bollywood celebs fight legal battles in HC; Court upholds ‘Agnipath’ but turns down UCC in 2023

 High-profile legal battles involving political luminaries, Bollywood celebrities and corporate bosses unfolded in the Delhi High Court in 2023 and kept it abuzz with activity.

Amid the unrelenting cut and thrust of these battles, the Delhi High Court also gave the thumbs up for the Modi government’s Agnipath scheme, launched in June 2022 for recruiting soldiers, sailors and airmen for a four-year period. The scheme, which envisaged an overhaul of India’s fighting machine, making it sturdier with the induction of young people aged 17.5 and 21 years, was reviled by its detractors, got resounding endorsement from supporters, and upheld by the court.

The high court also saw skirmishes involving media entities over alleged violation of Indian laws.

From the Gandhis of the Congress to a host of beleaguered Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders like former Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, Raghav Chadha and Satyendar Jain knocked on its door for relief in matters that ranged from alleged tax non-compliance to corruption.

Congress matriarch Sonia Gandhi, her children Rahul and Priyanka, and some trusts linked to the family suffered a setback with the dismissal of their pleas against the income tax department’s decision to transfer their assessments for 2018-19 to the Central Circle instead of an ordinary assessment over their alleged links to a matter involving fugitive arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s husband Robert Vadra has been accused of having business links to Bhandari.

Central Circles are tasked with the responsibility to check tax evasion. They take over the evidence gathered by the investigation wing during searches.

AAP’s Sisodia and Jain, lodged in jail in different cases, including those related to the now-shelved Delhi excise policy, failed to secure their release despite repeated attempts. Sanjay Singh, another AAP leader and Rajya Sabha MP, arrested in a money laundering case linked to the alleged scam, also failed to get any relief from the high court.

Several of these criminal cases pertaining to lawmakers remain pending and a denouement can be expected in the coming year.

While the Gandhis, Sisodia and Jain failed to secure any relief, the high court quashed the summons issued by a court in Bokaro in Jharkhand to Raj Thackeray, the ebullient Maharashtra Navnirman Sena supremo, over an alleged hate speech. It also prevented AAP Rajya Sabha MP from Punjab Raghav Chadha’s eviction from the government bungalow allotted to him as it allowed his appeal and revived a trial court order which directed the RS Secretariat not to evict him.

TMC’s Mahua Moitra, in the eye of a raging political storm over accepting gifts from businessman Darshan Hiranandani in return for asking uncomfortable questions in Parliament about the Adani Group, which the opposition claims is close to the ruling dispensation, also moved the high court challenging cancellation of her government accommodation following her expulsion from the Lok Sabha.

She has also filed a separate defamation lawsuit against BJP MP Nishikant Dubey and advocate Jai Anant Dehadrai to restrain them from publishing any “fake and defamatory content” against her. No orders have been passed by the high court yet in the two cases.

In other defamation lawsuits, AAP’s Saurabh Bhardwaj, Sanjay Singh and others were directed to take down some social media content against former BJP national vice president Shyam Jaju and his son.

Summonses were issued to former Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray, his son Aditya Thackeray and Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Raut on a defamation suit filed by Lok Sabha MP Rahul Shewale for allegedly levelling frivolous corruption allegations against him and the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena faction.,

Media, too, came under the spotlight as a notice was issued to BBC on a plea by an NGO against its controversial documentary “India: The Modi Question”. The documentary allegedly showed Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat during the 2002 communal riots, in poor light.

The high court refused to interfere with the arrest and police remand of Prabir Purkayastha, the founder and Editor-in-Chief of news portal NewsClick in a case lodged under anti-terror law UAPA for allegedly spreading pro-Chinese propaganda.

News portal The Wire’ was asked to take down an alleged defamatory article and offending tweets casting aspersion on Delhi Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar in a land acquisition controversy, and Tehelka.Com, along with some others, was ordered to pay Rs 2 crore to an Indian army officer for the “loss of reputation” he suffered on account of an “expos ” run by it in 2001.

Several PILs also created ripples in the political space.

The high court dubbed Rahul Gandhi’s “pickpocket” jibe at Narendra Modi as “not in good taste” and asked the Election Commission to decide fast on the notice it had sent to the Congress leader. In another PIL, Gandhi was told to remove his social media post allegedly revealing the identity of a minor Dalit rape victim.

The high court dismissed PILs challenging the RBI’s decision to withdraw Rs 2,000 denomination banknotes from circulation while also junking pleas seeking directions to cease the operation of Google Pay for being in alleged violation of the country’s regulatory and privacy norms.

It also refused to entertain a batch of petitions seeking implementation of a uniform civil code (UCC).

The high court also ordered expeditious disposal of around 200 pending criminal cases against former and present lawmakers, especially those where a stay was granted on trial for over six months.

Cinema celebrities also knocked the doors of the high court which came down hard on misleading content on the health of Aaradhya Bachchan, the daughter of actors Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. It also stopped unauthorised use of actor Anil Kapoor’s name, voice and other attributes of persona, including the “jhakaas” catchphrase, for commercial gain.

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Extensive orders were passed in matters close to the heart of Delhi residents, with the high court stalling construction activities approved by the authorities in the Ridge forest.

The high court increased the existing threshold income of Rs 1 lakh to Rs 5 lakh annually for admission under the EWS category to schools in the national capital.

It upheld an order setting aside an arbitral award directing ISRO’s Antrix Corporation to pay damages of over USD 562.2 million to Devas for terminating a deal in 2011. It also refused to interfere with the recommendation of the telecom regulatory authority TRAI to impose a penalty of Rs 1,050 crore on Vodafone for allegedly denying interconnectivity to Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd.

Several aircraft lessors of crisis-hit Go First moved the high court over deregistration of their planes by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and managed to secure interim orders in their favour, with the resolution professional being directed to maintain aircraft and allow their inspection.

In a significant judgement, the high court refused to uphold the death penalty a trial court had awarded to Ariz Khan, a convict in the Batla House encounter case in which Mohan Chand Sharma, a decorated Delhi Police officer, was killed. 

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