Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of Arun Mishra, MR Shah and BR Gavai, JJ has held that by invoking the doctrine of promissory estoppel, the Union of India cannot be estopped from withdrawing the exemption from payment of Excise Duty in respect of certain products, which exemption is granted by an earlier notification; when the  Union of India finds that such a withdrawal is necessary in the public interest. The bench said that the larger public interest would outweigh an individual loss, if any.

In the present case the withdrawal of the exemption to the pan masala with tobacco and pan masala sans tobacco in the State of Assam was under challenge before the Court. The Court, however, said that it had no hesitation to hold that the withdrawal of the exemption to the pan masala with tobacco and pan masala sans tobacco is in the larger public interest. As such, the doctrine of promissory estoppel could not have been invoked in the present matter.

Noticing that by a scientific research conducted by Experts in the field, it has been found that the consumption of pan masala with tobacco as well as pan masala sans tobacco is hazardous to health and that the percentage of teenagers consuming the hazardous product was very high and as such exposing a large chunk of young population of this Country to the risk of oral cancer, the Court said,

“if the State has decided to withdraw the exemption granted for manufacture of such products, we fail to understand as to how it can be said to be not in the public interest.”

The Sikkim High Court had observed that the appellant herein has been unable to establish any overriding public interest, which would make the doctrine of promissory estoppel inapplicable. It has further observed that, the pan masala has not been declared as hazardous to health by any notification or order of the Government of India or the State Government. It found that, no material or scientific report had been placed on record to demonstrate that the pan masala is a health hazard. The Supreme Court, however, held that the reasoning arrived at by the Sikkim High Court was totally erroneous.

The Court said that the legislative policy as reflected in Section 154 of the Finance Act was to withdraw the exemption granted to the manufacturers of cigarettes as well as pan masala with tobacco and that too with retrospective effect. Apart from the fact that, it is a common knowledge that tobacco is highly hazardous, the legislative intent was also unambiguous. It, hence, said,

“In these circumstances, the finding of the High Court that the withdrawal of exemption for tobacco products was not in the public interest, to say the least is shocking.”

[Union of India v. Unicorn Industries, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1231, decided on 19.09.2019]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Explaining the reasons for the order dated 29.03.2017, where it was directed that on and from 1st April, 2017 such vehicles that are not BS-IV compliant shall not be sold or registered in India by any manufacturer or dealer, the Court said that considering the life of such vehicles ranges from 10 to 15 years, the concern is not only for the present population of the country but for future generations who also have an entitlement to breathe pollution free air. This is what sustainable development and inter-generational equity is all about.

Rejecting the argument that every Notification issued by the Government in relation to prohibition of sale of any vehicle not complying with BS-IV Emission norms over the course of years should be interpreted literally, the Court said that if the entire scheme laid out by the Government – of discouraging the manufacture of polluting vehicles and gradually phasing them out coupled with their gradual replacement with fuel efficient vehicles, availability of cleaner and greener fuel and compliance with fuel emission norms is appreciated in a much larger context rather than on a notification by notification basis – the objective behind the scheme would be apparent. The Court said that the Government could very well have issued one single notification way back in 2010 that with effect from 1st April, 2017 but it did not do so to enable all concerned, particularly the auto industry and marketing strategists to gradually manage their affairs rather than subject them to a sudden future shock. The scheme of a gradual phase-out is now sought to be perverted through a literal interpretation of each notification, unfortunately, for a commercial benefit rather than being appreciated in a larger canvas for the benefit of society as a whole.

Lashing out at the interveners, the bench of Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta, JJ said that rather than admit responsibility for a lack of concern of public health issues, some of the interveners have sought to blame Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) for its failure to approach the Government of India to seek amendments to the notifications issued from time to time and to incorporate a prohibition on the sale and registration of BS-III compliant vehicles on or after 1st April, 2017. It was noticed that the EPCA had convened a meeting of all stakeholders on 19th October, 2016 and had brought to the notice of the representatives of SIAM that there would be no sale and registration of BS-III compliant vehicles from 1st April, 2017 and that this should be communicated to all manufacturers in order to give sufficient notice of almost six months to enable the automobile industry to plan its production and sale and take pro-active steps to significantly decrease the production of such vehicles. Therefore, to blame EPCA for their problems is rather unfair of the interveners.

The Court said that it is time to realize that a collective effort is needed to clear up the air. In this process, the interveners have a huge role and they should now wake up to their responsibility for the benefit of all. [M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 394, decided on 13.04.2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Stating that the sale and registration and therefore the commercial interests of manufacturers and dealers of such vehicles that do not meet the Bharat Stage-IV (BS-IV) emission standards as on 1st April, 2017 does not take primacy over the health hazard due to increased air pollution of millions of our country men and women, the Court directed that  on and from 1st April, 2017 such vehicles that are not BS-IV compliant shall not be sold or registered in India by any manufacturer or dealer, that is to say that such vehicles whether two wheeler, three wheeler, four wheeler or commercial vehicles will not be sold in India by any manufacturer or dealer on and from 1st April, 2017.

With regard to the sale and registration of the existing stock of such vehicles that comply with BS-III emission standards, the manufacturers contended that they are entitled to manufacture such vehicles till 31st March, 2017 and in so doing, they have not violated any prohibition or any law. Hence, the sale and registration of such vehicles on and from 1st April, 2017 ought not to be prohibited and that they may be given reasonable time to dispose of the existing stock of such vehicles. On the other hand, the learned Amicus contended that permitting such vehicles to be sold or registered on or after 1st April, 2017 would constitute a health hazard to millions of our country men and women by adding to the air pollution levels in the country, which are already quite alarming.

Accepting the contention of the Amicus, the bench of Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta, JJ said that the number of such vehicles may be small compared to the overall number of vehicles in the country but the health of the people is far, far more important than the commercial interests of the manufacturers or the loss that they are likely to suffer in respect of the so-called small number of such vehicles. The Court also said that the manufacturers of such vehicles were fully aware that eventually from 1st April, 2017 they would be required to manufacture only BS-IV compliant vehicles but for reasons that are not clear, they chose to sit back and declined to take sufficient pro-active steps. [M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 291, order dated 29.03.2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the petition dealing with the welfare of the mentally ill persons, the Court said that the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 postulates a dispensation mandating the appropriate Government to establish institutions for the care of mentally challenged persons and maintenance and management thereof with a view to create an equal opportunity and social security to them.

In the present case, inadequate medical treatment, medical services and access to Doctors, skewed ratio of staff to look after the inmates, overcrowding, poor distribution and consumption of dietary, clothing, bedding and other items and also about the abuses of various kinds to the mentally challenged persons residing in the mental asylums and nursing homes, was highlighted.

The Court said that the Central/State Coordination Committee is primarily responsible for ensuring compliance of the mandate regarding the infrastructure and other facilities to be provided in the Homes established under the 1995 Act and also for overseeing that the same are properly maintained from time to time and comply with the policies and programmes designed for achieving equality and full participation of persons with disabilities. The provisions of the 1995 Act provide for checks and balances for which hierarchy of Authorities have been created to ensure that persons with disabilities are provided with opportunity of full participation and equality in the region. The bench of T.S. Thakur, CJ and A.M. Khanwilkar, J said that the six months’ time frame given to the Central Coordination Committee and the concerned State Coordination Committee is sufficient to enable them to take necessary remedial measures and ensure that deficiencies in the respective institutions established under the 1995 Act are cured within such period.

The Court added that the Secretary of the Union of India, Ministry of Health and Social Welfare shall be personally responsible for monitoring and overseeing the progress and action taken by the Central Coordination Committee in respect of establishments registered under the 1995 Act and under the control of the Central Government. The Court said that similar procedure is to be followed in case of hospitals and nursing homes established under the Mental Health Act, 1987.

The Court asked the Chairperson of the State Coordination Committee to submit compliance report not later than eight months in the Registry of this Court after providing advance copy thereof to the Central Coordination Committee. The Central Coordination Committee shall then submit State/Union Territory wise report with the comments, if any, within ten months in the Registry of this Court. [Reena Banerjee v. Govt. of NCT of Delhi, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 1437, decided on 08.12.2016]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the matter relating to problems faced by the people of Delhi due to dengue and chikungunya, the Lt. Governor, after convening a meeting on 05.10.2016, will convene another meeting today at 5:30 and the following points will be discussed by the partcipants:

  • 15 areas of concern that learned amicus says he has culled out from the affidavits that have been filed and are on record.
  • If there are any additional areas of concern, the participants in the meeting will identify those areas and suggest ways and means to remove the problems including any problems that may arise in the 15 areas identified by learned amicus.
  • Steps to be taken for preventing recurrence of the problems faced by the people of Delhi this year due to vector-borne diseases as also preventive steps for any contingency that may arise in the near future.
  • Effective ways to have the garbage cleared so that standards of sanitation and hygiene are maintained in and around Delhi

Stating that the efforts by the participants should be consultative, collaborative and cooperative, the bench said that they should keep the interests of the people of Delhi in mind and look out at the entire exercise in a positive manner and think about the future rather than the past. The Court asked the participants to arrive at a time-frame within which all necessary steps will be taken and who will be responsible for their implementation.

The Chief Minister of Delhi, the Health Minister, Commissioner of South Delhi Municipal Corporation, Commissioner of East Delhi Municipal Corporation, Commissioner of North Delhi Municipal Corporation, Chairman of the New Delhi Municipal Corporation, Chairman of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, General Manager of the Northern Railway, Chief Secretary of Delhi, Union Health Secretary, the Vice-chairman of the Delhi Development Authority and the Chief Executive Officer – Delhi Cantonment Board will be participating in the meeting. [In Re Outrage as Parents End Life after Child’s Dengue Death, SMW (C) No. 1/2015, decided on 06.10.2016]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: While considering a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), seeking a mandamus directing All Municipal Corporations to set up safe and clean public toilet facilities for ‘women walking on the streets’, A.S. Oka and Revati Mohite Dere, JJ., held that the health of the people in the city is inextricably linked to its toilets and it is imperative to provide them in sufficient number and that no human being can live with dignity unless there are facilities to maintain basic hygiene and the right conferred by Article 21 cannot be meaningful if facilities of clean toilets and hygienic toilets are not provided to a woman walking on streets.

Niramay Public Charitable Trust, Milun Suryajani (a media organisation), and Smt. Vidya Bal, social activist had raised the issue of lack of toilet facilities for women through a public interest litigation. They said that there are approximately 17 lakh women residing in the Pune Municipal Corporation area and for 17 Lakh women, there are only 180 urinals. They also submitted before the Court that there was no bonafide effort on the part of the Pune Municipal Corporation to discharge their public duties, imposed on them by the Maharashtra Municipal Corporation Act. The Court observed that various provisions of the Constitution including Articles 47 and 48-A impose an inevitable duty on the state to ensure the welfare of its citizens which includes right to clean toilets.

The Court also added that Public health is of paramount importance and that it is the duty of the State and the Corporations to ensure that public latrines, urinals and similar conveniences are constructed, maintained and kept in a hygienic condition. In furtherance of these observations, the Court issued various guidelines to the Municipal Corporations for construction of toilets/ urinals/ restrooms/ privies for women walking on the streets by forming a ‘committee’ within 4 weeks. It also directed the corporations to file their first compliance before 8th of March, 2016 setting out details of the scheme formulated by them and steps taken pursuant to the same. [Milun Suryajani v. Pune Municipal Commissioner, 2015 SCC OnLine Bom 6256 ,Decided on 23.12.2015]