Manohar Lal Sharma v. Union of India & Ors
Writ Petition (Civil) No. 826 of 2021 along with other writ petitions
- In the instant case, the software named 'Pegasus' developed by NSO Group, an Israeli technology firm, stirred up the hornet's nest. The NSO Group allegedly sold this software only to certain undisclosed governments and as per its own website, the end user of its products were solely government intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
- Subsequently, the Citizen Lab, a reputed laboratory based out of the University of Toronto, released an in-depth report which contained astonishing disclosures about the Pegasus that it had the capacity to easily access the entire stored data and could gain complete control over an individual's mobile device. After a detailed investigation in the subject-matter by the journalistic organizations, traces of the Pegasus software being used on 50,000 numbers was confirmed, out of which approximately 300 belonged to Indians, many of whom were senior journalists, doctors, political persons, and even some Court staff.
- Thereafter, Union of India (Respondent), through the Hon'ble Minister of Railways, Communications and Electronics and Information Technology, addressed the elephant in the room by taking a stand in Parliament that the reports published had no factual basis. Also, the Respondent assured that the Indian statutory and legal regime relating to surveillance and interception of communication was extremely rigorous, and no illegal surveillance could take place.
- On account of the of the casual approach of the Respondent in treating the significant concerns, Petitions were filed by victims directly hit by the Pegasus storm and other Public Interest Litigants (Petitioners), in the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India with an aim to ensure that the fundamental rights of the citizens are not violated.
Issue at hand?
- Whether an Independent Committee for investigation should be appointed under the supervision of the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India, or the Respondent should be allowed to constitute the Committee exclusively?
Decision of the Court
- At the outset, the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India (SC) juxtaposed the genesis of the right to privacy in foreign countries and and in India whereby the Apex Court highlighted that in India, the right to privacy falls within the 'right to life' enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution. The SC referred to the three prerequisites framed by it in K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India1 to emphasize that the restraints on privacy of the citizens will be valid only if they are in sync with the prerequisites. Additionally, the SC underscored that, there must be a balance between the means adopted by the State to interfere with the right to privacy and the objective of such intervention. To discuss the constant push and pull between the right to privacy of an individual and the security interests of the State, the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India reproduced the words of Daniel Solove2 that 'safeguarding privacy need not be fatal to security measures; it merely demands oversight and regulation.'
- The Court then switched its focus to the link between the right to privacy and freedom of press and cited Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India3 wherein it was held that there was no justification for restricting the press indefinitely. The Court commented that the knowledge of being spied on by an individual would ultimately result in misapprehensions and would have a horrifying effect on the freedom of speech, which is an assault on the vital public watchdog role of the press and may impair the ability of the press to provide accurate and reliable information.
- The Court noted the conduct of the Respondent in submitting only an omnibus & vague denial in the 'limited affidavit' and took in consideration that despite multiple opportunities being granted, there was still no-clarity as to the facts of the matter at hand. In this vein, the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India leaned on its judgement in Ram Jethmalani v. Union of India4 to enunciate that 'unless constitutional grounds exist, the State must not act in a manner that hinders the Court from rendering complete justice'.
- To answer the main thrust of the Respondent's submission i.e., security concerns, the Court expressed that the State cannot pull-out the national security card and get a free pass every time. Furthermore, the Court without mincing words mentioned that the mere citation of national security by the State does not render the Court an onlooker.
- In light of the above, the Court constituted a Technical Committee comprising of three members, including those who are experts in cyber security, digital forensics, networks and hardware, whose functioning will be overseen by Justice R.V. Raveendran, former Judge, Hon'ble Supreme Court of India, to conduct a detailed investigation and enquiry in the matter. The Court directed the matter to be listed after 8 weeks.
By bravely addressing the issue that touched upon the core of the human rights jurisprudence, the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India has emerged as the sole custodian of the fundamental and basic human rights of citizens of India.
The Court has outplayed the Government by disallowing the State from covering itself with the blanket of the national security regularly. The decision can be deemed to be regarded as a judgement which would have a significant impact as and when the question of unreasonable violation of the fundamental rights/privacy of the citizens by the State arises.
Adisri Commercial Pvt Ltd & Anr v. RBI & Ors
Writ Petition (L) No. 22872 of 2021
- On October 01, 2021 the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) while exercising its power under Section 45IE of the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934 (RBI Act) passed an Order superseding the board of directors of Srei Infrastructure Finance Limited (SIFL) and Srei Equipment Finance Limited (SEFL) and appointed Mr. Rajneesh Sharma as the Administrator (Impugned Order).
- The RBI also issued a press release dated October 04, 2021, wherein it was stated that RBI intends to shortly initiate the process of resolution of SIFL and SEFL under the IBC and would make an application to the NCLT for appointment of the Administrator as the IRP.
- Aggrieved by the Impugned Order and the press release, Adisri Commercial Private Limited along with Mr. Hemant Kanoria, the former director of SIFL and SEFL (Petitioners) filed a Writ Petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India against RBI and others before the Hon'ble High Court of Bombay seeking to quash the Impugned Order and the press release issued by the RBI.
- The Petitioners contended that since the Impugned Order was issued abruptly and in extreme haste, it is arbitrary in nature and would have a chilling effect on the investment proposals and the future of the two NBFCs. Hence, it was contended that there is no proximate cause for issuance of the Impugned Order.
- On the contrary, the Respondents argued that the Impugned Order and the press release was issued only after the stay by the NCLT was vacated by the NCLAT. It was also contended that SIFL and SEFL have not complied with RBI directions for a long time and have defaulted in their payment obligations to the creditors, leading to a complete financial mismanagement and thus requiring the RBI to step-in in discharge of its statutory obligations.
1 (2017) 10 SCC 1
2 Daniel J. Solove, Nothing to hide: The False Trade-Off Between Privacy and Security (2011)
3 (2020) 3 SCC 637
4 (2011) 8 SCC 1
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