Spotlight On Recent Appointments To Supreme Court: Justice PV Sanjay Kumar

V Venkatesan

6 March 2023 3:40 AM GMT

  • Spotlight On Recent Appointments To Supreme Court: Justice PV Sanjay Kumar

    A general criticism of the Indian Courts has been that very little is known to the public about the judges being recommended by respective Collegium before their appointment, on merit and suitability. A designated Secretariat ideally should do the job, unfortunately we don’t have such a mechanism. Livelaw has taken an initiative to share relevant information about the appointees and we...

    A general criticism of the Indian Courts has been that very little is known to the public about the judges being recommended by respective Collegium before their appointment, on merit and suitability. A designated Secretariat ideally should do the job, unfortunately we don’t have such a mechanism. Livelaw has taken an initiative to share relevant information about the appointees and we are starting with the appointments to the Apex Court. The focus is to shed light on some of their significant high court judgments.

    We traced the judicial career of Justice Pankaj Mithal in Part 1 and of Justice Dipankar Datta in Part II. In Part III, we offered a glimpse into the judicial philosophy of Justice Sanjay Karol. In Part IV, we offer some of the highlights of Justice P.V. Sanjay Kumar’s judicial pronouncements during his tenures as a High Court Judge and as the Chief Justice of the Manipur High Court.

    Justice PV Sanjay Kumar was born on August 14, 1963 at Hyderabad. His father, late P. Ramachandra Reddy was the former Advocate General of Andhra Pradesh from 1969 to 1982.

    Justice Sanjay Kumar did his commerce from Nizam College, Hyderabad, secured law degree from Delhi University in 1988, and enrolled as a member on the rolls of the Bar Council of Andhra Pradesh in August 1988. He was attached to the office of his father and gained exposure to various branches of law. After his father’s retirement from the profession, he practised independently and represented the High Court of Andhra Pradesh and Subordinate Judiciary, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited, Indian Oil Corporation Limited and the Special Officer, Urban Land Ceilings, Hyderabad, in the High Court of Andhra Pradesh. He also served as Government Pleader in the High Court of Andhra Pradesh from 2000-2003.

    Justice Sanjay Kumar was appointed as an Additional Judge of Andhra Pradesh High Court on August 8, 2008 and was made a permanent Judge on January 20, 2010. He was sworn in as a Judge of Telangana High Court upon its formation on January 1, 2019. He was transferred as Judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court on October 14, 2019. He was elevated as Chief Justice of Manipur High Court on February 14, 2021. He was elevated as a Judge of the Supreme Court of India on February 6, 2023. With his retirement on August 13, 2028, he will have a tenure of five years and six months in SC.

    Judicial Accountability

    In E.Giri Yadav, M.A. v Union of India and others, (12.12.2008) Justice Sanjay Kumar, as part of the bench presided by Justice G.Raghuram at Andhra Pradesh High Court, had dealt with a writ petition challenging the administrative power of the Chief Justice of India to grant permission to the Central Bureau of Investigation to probe allegations against sitting Judges. The petition also challenged the constitutional validity of Section 3(2) of the Judges (Protection) Act, 1985, which enables any authority under law to take action by way of civil, criminal or departmental proceedings or otherwise, against any sitting or retired Judges. The petitioner argued that if Government officials were given the leeway to request the CJI to initiate an examination or investigation into the conduct of Judges, it would seriously impair the functioning of Higher Judiciary.

    Dismissing the petition, Justice Sanjay Kumar held that accountability is a norm inbuilt in all walks of public life and the judicial stream is no exception to this essential attribute of democracy. He observed that Judges are ultimately mere mortals, as prone to human fallibilities as the next man. The steady decline of the very essentials of judicial attributes in incumbents of curial office is leading to a situation where the justice delivery system is being subjected to an unbecoming and searching public scrutiny; the threat to judicial independence is therefore not only from without but also from within, he said. In such a situation, it would not be in the interest of the justice delivery system either to defy the holders of judicial office or to sanctify them to unholy heights, he observed.

    Relying on the majority judgment in K.Veera Swami’s case, he endorsed the view that the Judge whose character is clouded and whose standards of morality and rectitude are in doubt may not have judicial independence and may not command the confidence of the public. A Judge, he held, cannot seek shelter behind the institutional robe. Indifference to the growth of the malignancy within is what has perhaps led the institution to face the present day crisis, he held. He held that Section 3 (2) of the 1985 Act is not beyond the legislative competence of the Parliament. As the petitioner failed to make out the violation of any fundamental right or other provision of the Constitution, he held that the provision is constitutionally valid.

    Free Speech v Hate Speech

    In N.V.S.J.Rama Rao v Broadcasting Corporation of India and Others, (09.01.2013) the petitioner sought a declaration that the action of the State in not taking steps to stop the broadcasting of the news item regarding alleged hate speech of an MLA was illegal, arbitrary, unjust and violative of Articles 21 and 25 of the Constitution. The petitioner argued that repeated dissemination of the contents of the alleged hate speech was likely to incite the religious sentiments, and lead to communal violence. Dismissing the petition, Justice Sanjay Kumar held that freedom of speech and consequently, the freedom of the press is interminably woven into the fabric of our social and democratic polity and any move to impose a restraint on the exercise of this right must be rigorously tried and tested.

    Justice Sanjay Kumar reasoned that an adverse impact on public order or a propensity to incite commission of offences, constituting grounds for restriction of the freedom protected by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, cannot be understood or applied in a vacuum. There must be a real threat perception in this regard before the State can invoke its powers under Article 19(2) of the Constitution, he held. But for a few sporadic demonstrations and utterances, there has been no religious or communal strife or any threat to peace, he added. Applying the standard of the reasonable man’s response to the press and media reports of the alleged hate speeches of the MLA, Justice Sanjay Kumar found the petitioner’s apprehensions to be exaggerated and without basis. The sagacity and equilibrium shown by the general public in so far as this issue is concerned belie his fears, he held.

    Anti-Defection Act

    In Tongbram Robindro Singh v Hon’ble Speaker, Manipur Legislative Assembly and others, (29.11.2021) then Chief Justice of Manipur High Court, Justice Sanjay Kumar first suspended the order of disqualification of the petitioner by the Speaker on the ground of defection, and thereafter set it aside on the reasoning that there was a clear and flagrant violation of the principles of natural justice as the petitioner was divested of his position without even being put on notice and being given an opportunity of hearing, based on newspaper reports which remained untested. The allegation against the petitioner was that he had voluntarily given up the BJP, his original political party, and had supported the INC on June 17, 2020. The Speaker of the assembly placed reliance on three local newspapers and concluded that he had voluntarily given up his original party on June 17, 2020. The Speaker then went on to disqualify him the following day, June 18, 2020, without giving an opportunity to the petitioner to rebut the allegation. The respondents did not choose to file counter to support their claim that no one had appeared for the petitioner despite due notice, which was contested by him.

    Election Law

    In Shri Maibam Sarat Singh v Langpoklakpam Jayantakumar Singh, (08.02.2022) Manipur High Court Chief Justice Sanjay Kumar held that mere failure to maintain true and correct account of election expenditure is not a corrupt practice under section 123(6) of Representation of People Act. He held that what is referred to in Section 123(6) as a corrupt practice is only incurring or authorizing of excess expenditure in contravention of Section 77 thereof. Section 123(6) does not take into its fold the failure to maintain true and correct accounts and its language is clear that the corrupt practice defined therein can relate only to Section 77(3), he held.

    Right to Information

    In Suresh Kumar Chopra v Central Information Commission, (15.10.2020) the petitioner’s truck was involved in an accident in 2006. The Surveyor-cum-Investigator engaged by the Insurance Company submitted to it a report in relation to the accident and about the driving licence of the petitioner’s driver (since deceased). The petitioner applied for a copy of the report under the RTI Act in 2018. The CPIO of the Insurance Company denied his request citing Sections 8(1)(e) and 8(1)(j) of the Act of 2005. Both the first Appellate Authority and the Central Information Commission dismissed his appeals against the refusal.

    Justice Sanjay Kumar, then a Judge of the Punjab & Haryana High Court, rejected the contentions of the Insurance Company and reasoned that the petitioner was interested in the findings recorded by the Surveyor-cum-Investigator as regards his driver’s driving licence, which would have a direct impact upon his claim under the insurance policy that he holds with the company. Therefore, Justice Sanjay Kumar held that the Insurance Company cannot claim a fiduciary relationship with its Surveyor-cum-Investigator and deny the request of the petitioner to furnish these findings.

    Justice Sanjay Kumar held that the Insurance Company cannot claim any privilege under Section 8(1) (j) of the Act, as it is not its case that it has any relationship with the petitioner’s driver, whereby it can seek to protect his privacy. Any findings with regard to the validity of the said driver’s licence would be relevant information, which directly impacts the petitioner as his claim under the insurance policy is being repudiated by the Insurance Company on the strength of such information. In effect, the very information that is sought to be used against him is being denied to the petitioner, he pointed out. The petitioner would, in consequence, be entitled to have such relevant information supplied to him, he held. Justice Sanjay Kumar made it clear that the name of the Surveyorf-cum-Investigator and the parts of the report dealing with the case of the victims-claimants need not be supplied to the petitioner.

    Contempt of Court

    In Sode Ramulu v K.L.V.Prasad and Others, (23.08.2011) the petitioner was declared the successful bidder in the auction held on August 5, 2010 for lease of the sand quarrying rights and he deposited the requisite amount within the stipulated time fixed under the rules. The petitioner sought extension of time by seven days from the date of communication of the confirmation order for making the balance payment proportionately for the first year of the lease. As the Assistant Director of Mines and Geology refused to accept his request, the petitioner approached the High Court by way of writ petition. The court directed the respondents to receive the proportionate bid amount for the period during which the petitioner was to operate the first year’s lease and to execute forthwith the lease deed in his favour for quarrying sand. Following this, the petitioner made the necessary deposits, but the lease deed was not executed, thereby incapacitating him from operating the sand quarry. The petitioner sought necessary punitive action against the Respondents under the Contempt of Courts Act for violation of the Court orders.

    Justice Sanjay Kumar found it worrisome that the dereliction in the face of court orders was attributed to those occupying responsible and high positions of power and governance, members of the permanent executive, Respondents 2 and 3, namely, the Principal Secretary to the Government, Industries and Commerce Department of the Andhra Pradesh Government and the Director of Mines and Geology of the state government. He reasoned that the separation of policy making function from the implementation function is an essential feature of the Constitution and is expected to provide equality of treatment to all citizens irrespective of political or party affiliations. The case on hand presents a peculiar reversal of roles where the political executive, the Chief Minister of the State, had to step in to remind the permanent executive of its responsibility and duty to abide orders of the Court for upholding the rule of law, Justice Sanjay Kumar held.

    Justice Sanjay Kumar held that the court could not take kindly to the recalcitrant attitude and approach of Respondents 2 and 3 when faced with court orders requiring compliance forthwith. Their so-called apologies, far from being evidence of contrition and remorse, are full of bluster and challenge, he observed. A mere ‘sincere apology’ casually offered to this court falls abysmally short of the requirements to purge these Respondents of their guilt, he said. He found that the glaring and egregious imperviousness of Respondents 2 and 3 to the Court’s directive which required them to act without avoidable delay undoubtedly tended to interfere with the due course of justice. If such disregard were to be viewed lightly notwithstanding the specific direction to act ‘forthwith’, this Court’s orders would be reduced to mere empty letters and an utter mockery, he held.

    Justice Sanjay Kumar sentenced Respondents 2 and 3 to individually undergo detention in civil prison for a period of 15 days and to pay a fine of Rs.2,000.

    In Re: Bandaru Madhava Naidu, (15.04.2015) a legislator allegedly abused the Additional District Judge in connection with the removal of hawkers from the encroached road side on the western side of the court complex and insisted that they could not be removed without providing them alternative accommodation. The Chief Justice of the High Court, after due enquiry, registered a suo motu contempt case against the legislator.

    Justice Sanjay Kumar found that the respondent-contemnor chose to adopt an ambivalent and rather belligerent tone during the contempt proceedings. After surveying the relevant case law, Justice Sanjay Kumar found no difficulty in holding that the utterances of the respondent/contemnor scandalised the judicial officer and the authority of the Court. He concluded that the apology in the present case is not bona fide and rejected the same. Finding the respondent/contemnor guilty of committing criminal contempt as defined in Section 2(c)(i) of the Act of 1971. Justice Sanjay Kumar imposed upon him the punishment of paying a fine of Rs.1,000 to the Andhra Pradesh State Treasury.

    In Tammisetti Venu Gopal v Chinnaiah and Others, (26.10.2018), Justice Sanjay Kumar noted that registration of the suo motu contempt case clearly set out the charge to the effect that the Tahsildar interfered with the administration of justice by placing the order before the Court which, on the face of it, appeared to be antedated. Justice Sanjay Kumar held that the Tahsildar failed to abide by the directions of the Court. His actions constituted wilful disobedience as per Section 2(b) of the Act of 1971, he held, and found that he ante-dated the proceedings only to escape the rigour of the contempt proceedings. Finding him guilty of both civil and criminal contempt, in the context of his failure to tender an apology for contumacious conduct, Justice Sanjay Kumar sentenced the Tahsildar to imprisonment for six months under Section 12 of the Act of 1971, and to pay a fine of Rs.2,000.

    Right Of Non-Refoulement

    In Nandita Haksar v State of Manipur and others, the division bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Kumar and Justice Lanusungkum Jamir dealt with the matter concerning seven Myanmarese citizens who entered India illegally and sought permission to travel to New Delhi to seek protection from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The bench ordered their safe passage to New Delhi for the purpose, as they were asylum seekers, who did not enter India with the clear-cut and deliberate intention of breaking and violating its domestic laws. Justice Sanjay Kumar observed that though India’s policy on refugees is opaque, certain protections are guaranteed under Article 14 and 21 of our Constitution even to those who are not Indian citizens. Even though India is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention of 1951, its obligations under other international declarations/conventions read with Article 21 of our Constitution, enjoins it to respect the right of an asylum seeker to seek protection from persecution and life or liberty-threatening danger elsewhere, he held.

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