Recent Posts

CTO ANTI EVASION CIRCLE III RAJASTHAN JAIPUR … – LEGITQUEST

Abhay Manohar Sapre, J.

In C.A. @ S.L.P .(c) No.11937/2017

1. Leave granted.

2. This appeal is filed against the final judgment and order dated 05.01.2017 passed by the High Court of judicature for Rajasthan at Jaipur Bench, Jaipur in S.B. Sales Tax Revision Petition No.114 of 2016 whereby the High Court dismissed the revision petition filed by the appellant herein.

3. The appeal involves a short point as would be clear from the undisputed facts stated infra.

4. The appellant herein-State of Rajasthan (Commercial Tax Department) is the revision petitioner whereas the respondent herein is the respondent of the revision petition before the High Court out of which this appeal arises.

5. The respondent is engaged in the business of trading of spare parts of mining machinery, steel wire ropes, standard wires, wire rods etc. These goods are subjected to payment of Value Added Tax (VAT) under the Rajasthan Value Added Tax Act, 2003 (hereinafter referred to as “VAT Act”). The respondent is a registered dealer under the VAT Act.

6. The Commercial Tax Officer (AE) [hereinafter referred to as “CTO”] conducted a survey in the respondent’s business premises on 16.03.2009 and it was noticed therein that the respondent was charging VAT at the rate of 4% on “Mobile Crane Wire Ropes”.

7. It is with this background fact, the question arose before the taxing authorities under the VAT Act as to which is the proper Entry under the VAT Act for charging tax on “Mobile Crane Wire Ropes”.

8. The aforementioned question arose before the CTO in the assessment proceedings, which were initiated against the respondent in their business premises as a result of the survey conducted by the CTO and also arose before the Deputy Commissioner, Commercial Tax Department to seek his advance ruling on the aforementioned question.

9. The CTO and the Deputy Commissioner were of the view that the rate of tax chargeable to the goods in question is 12.5% as prescribed in the Residuary Entry in Schedule V under the Act and not 4% as prescribed in Entry 155 of Schedule IV of the VAT Act.

10. In other words, both the taxing authorities were of the view that the proper Entry for payment of tax on these goods is the Residuary Entry of Schedule V, which prescribes the rate of tax as 12.5%.

11. The CTO accordingly initiated the assessment proceedings against the respondent for the Assessment Year 2007-2008. By assessment order dated 16.03.2009, it was held that the respondent was liable to pay VAT at the rate of 12.5% under the Residuary Entry of Schedule V of the VAT Act. Since the respondent had deposited the tax at the rate of 4% treating the goods in question as falling in Entry 155 of Schedule IV, the notice was issued to the respondent to pay the difference amount of VAT along with penalty and the interest payable under the VAT Act.

12. The respondent felt aggrieved and filed appeal before the Deputy Commissioner (Appeals). By order dated 02.12.2010, the Appellate Authority allowed the appeal and set aside the order of the CTO (AE). The Appellate Authority held that the ropes in question were essentially used in Mobile Cranes as part of the Mobile Cranes. It was held that a Mobile Crane is not complete and nor it can effectively function without the use of the rope. It was, therefore, held that the rope is a part of a Mobile Crane and chargeable to VAT in accordance with rates prescribed in the Entry 155 of Schedule IV of the Act.

13. The State (CTO) felt aggrieved and filed appeal before the Rajasthan Tax Board under Section 83 of the VAT Act. By order dated 06.01.2016, the Board dismissed the appeal and affirmed the order of the Deputy Commissioner. The State (CTO) felt aggrieved and filed revision petition in the High Court of Rajasthan Bench at Jaipur.

14. By impugned order, the High Court dismissed the revision and upheld the order of the Board, which has given rise to filing of this appeal by way of special leave by the State (CTO) in this Court.

15. So, the short question, which arises for consideration in this appeal, is whether the High Court was justified in dismissing the appellant”s (State/CTO) revision and thereby justified in upholding the view taken by the Board that the “Mobile Crane Wire Ropes” are chargeable to tax @ 4% under Entry 155 of Schedule IV of the VAT Act.

16. Heard Dr. Manish Singhvi, learned AAG for the appellant and Ms. Jyoti Mendiratta, learned counsel for the respondent.

17. Learned counsel for the appellant (CTO) while assailing the legality and correctness of the impugned order reiterated the same submissions, which were urged before the High Court.

18. In substance, his submission was that the goods in question are chargeable to tax at the rate of 12.5%, which is the rate prescribed in the Residuary Entry of Schedule V of VAT Act because, according to the learned counsel, there is no specific Entry under which the goods in question fall for being taxed at a specified rate.

19. In other words, the submission was that since the goods in question are not specified in any of the Entries in Schedule IV and Schedule V of the VAT Act and nor they are the parts of the Mobile Cranes, the only Entry under which they can be taxed is the Residuary Entry of Schedule V of the VAT Act.

20. In reply, the learned counsel for the respondent (dealer) supported the impugned order and contended that it does not call for any interference.

21. Having heard the learned counsel for the parties and on perusal of the record of the case including the written submissions, we find no merit in this appeal.

22. As taken note of supra, the question, which arises for consideration in this case, is whether the “Mobile Cranes Wire Ropes” are chargeable to tax at the rate of 4% or 12.5% under the VAT Act.

23. In other words, the question arises is whether the goods “Mobile Cranes Wire Ropes” fall under Entry 155 of Schedule IV or under the Residuary Entry of Schedule V of the VAT Act.

24. At the relevant time, there were two relevant Entries which read as under:

chart

25. Mere reading of Entry 155 quoted above would go to show that the goods called Hydraulic excavators (earth moving and mining machinery), Mobile Cranes and Hydraulic Dumpers (including parts thereof) are chargeable to tax at the rate of 4%.

26. It may be mentioned here that the expression “including parts thereof” was inserted in the Entry 155 by an amendment w.e.f. 09.05.2006. It, therefore, indicates that the parts of the goods specified in the Entry were not chargeable to tax at the rate of 4% prior to 09.05.2006 but became chargeable at the rate of 4% only on and after 09.05.2006.

27. This Court has laid down the test as to how the Court should decide the question as to whether a particular item is a part of other. The test is “a thing is a part of the other if the other is incomplete without it” . In other words, “a thing is a part of the other, if the other cannot function without it” . [See M/s Annapurna Carbon Industries vs. State of Andhra Pradesh [(1976) 2 SCC 273 and Commissioner of Central Excise, Delhi vs. Insulation Electrical Private Limited (2008) 12 SCC 45)]

28. When we apply this principle to the facts of the case at hand then we find no difficulty in holding that the wire ropes used in the Mobile Cranes are a part of the Mobile Cranes and thus fall in Entry 155 of Schedule IV of the VAT Act.

29. A fortiori, it is taxable at the rate of 4%. The reasons are not far to seek.

30. The respondent has filed (Annexure R-1), the complete literature with a view to show as to how the Mobile cranes are designed, structured, built and operated in the field when it put to its ultimate use by the consumer. They have also filed the details of the specification issued by the Bureau of Indian Standards specifying therein the strength of each wire rod/rope, which is used in the manufacture of different kind of Cranes.

31. Mere perusal of the literature would go to show that the Mobile Cranes are not complete without the wire ropes. In other words, in order to use the Mobile Cranes and make them operational, the use of wire ropes is essential. If wire ropes are not fitted in the Mobile Cranes, they will not function much less effectively.

32. It is for this reason, we are of the considered opinion that the Mobile Crane Wire Rope is an essential part of the Mobile Crane and, therefore, falls in Entry 155 of Schedule IV of the VAT Act. It is, therefore, taxable at the rates prescribed for the goods specified in Entry 155.

33. We, however, make it clear that we have examined only the question of taxability of the “wire ropes” in the context of its use in Mobile Cranes as would be clear from the question posed by the High Court in Para one of the impugned order.

34. In view of the foregoing discussion, the appeal is found to be devoid of any merit and it thus fails and is accordingly dismissed.

In C.A.Nos. @ S.L.P.(c) Nos.4837-4838/2017, 4839-4840/2017 and 5981/2017

1. Leave granted.

2. These appeals are directed against the common final judgment and order dated 07.10.2016 passed by the High Court of Judicature for Rajasthan, Jaipur Bench at Jaipur in S.B. Sales Tax Revision Petition Nos.106, 101, 99, 100/2013 and 449/2011 whereby the High Court dismissed the revision petitions filed by the appellant herein.

3. In view of the order passed above in C.A. @ S.L.P.(C) No.11937/2017, these appeals are dismissed.

NAVTEJ SINGH JOHAR V. UNION OF INDIA MINISTRY OF LAW AND JUSTICE SECRETARY.

Dipak Misra, CJI (for himself and A.M. Khanwilkar, J.)

“INDEX CHART”

A. Introduction

1. Not for nothing, the great German thinker, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, had said, “I am what I am, so take me as I am” and similarly, Arthur Schopenhauer had pronounced, “No one can escape from their individuality”. In this regard, it is profitable to quote a few lines from John Stuart Mill:-

“But society has now fairly got the better of individuality; and the danger which threatens human nature is not the excess, but the deficiency of personal impulses and preferences.”

The emphasis on the unique being of an individual is the salt of his/her life. Denial of self-expression is inviting death. Irreplaceability of individuality and identity is grant of respect to self. This realization is one’s signature and self-determined design. One defines oneself. That is the glorious form of individuality. In the present case, our deliberation and focus on the said concept shall be from various spectrums.

2. Shakespeare through one of his characters in a play says “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. The said phrase, in its basic sense, conveys that what really matters is the essential qualities of the substance and the fundamental characteristics of an entity but not the name by which it or a person is called. Getting further deeper into the meaning, it is understood that the name may be a convenient concept for identification but the essence behind the same is the core of identity. Sans identity, the name only remains a denotative term. Therefore, the identity is pivotal to one’s being. Life bestows honour on it and freedom of living, as a facet of life, expresses genuine desire to have it. The said desire, one is inclined to think, is satisfied by the conception of constitutional recognition, and hence, emphasis is laid on the identity of an individual which is conceived under the Constitution. And the sustenance of identity is the filament of life. It is equivalent to authoring one’s own life script where freedom broadens everyday. Identity is equivalent to divinity.

3. The overarching ideals of individual autonomy and liberty, equality for all sans discrimination of any kind, recognition of identity with dignity and privacy of human beings constitute the cardinal four corners of our monumental Constitution forming the concrete substratum of our fundamental rights that has eluded certain sections of our society who are still living in the bondage of dogmatic social norms, prejudiced notions, rigid stereotypes, parochial mindset and bigoted perceptions. Social exclusion, identity seclusion and isolation from the social mainstream are still the stark realities faced by individuals today and it is only when each and every individual is liberated from the shackles of such bondage and is able to work towards full development of his/her personality that we can call ourselves a truly free society. The first step on the long path to acceptance of the diversity and variegated hues that nature has created has to be taken now by vanquishing the enemies of prejudice and injustice and undoing the wrongs done so as to make way for a progressive and inclusive realisation of social and economic rights embracing all and to begin a dialogue for ensuring equal rights and opportunities for the “less than equal” sections of the society. We have to bid adieu to the perceptions, stereotypes and prejudices deeply ingrained in the societal mindset so as to usher in inclusivity in all spheres and empower all citizens alike without any kind of alienation and discrimination.

4. The natural identity of an individual should be treated to be absolutely essential to his being. What nature gives is natural. That is called nature within. Thus, that part of the personality of a person has to be respected and not despised or looked down upon. The said inherent nature and the associated natural impulses in that regard are to be accepted. Non-acceptance of it by any societal norm or notion and punishment by law on some obsolete idea and idealism affects the kernel of the identity of an individual. Destruction of individual identity would tantamount to crushing of intrinsic dignity that cumulatively encapsulates the values of privacy, choice, freedom of speech and other expressions. It can be viewed from another angle. An individual in exercise of his choice may feel that he/she should be left alone but no one, and we mean, no one, should impose solitude on him/her.

5. The eminence of identity has been luculently stated in National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India and others (2004) 5 SCC 438, popularly known as NALSA case, wherein the Court was dwelling upon the status of identity of the transgenders. Radhakrishnan, J., after referring to catena of judgments and certain International Covenants, opined that gender identity is one of the most fundamental aspects of life which refers to a person’s intrinsic sense of being male, female or transgender or transsexual person.A person’s sex is usually assigned at birth, but a relatively small group of persons may be born with bodies which incorporate both or certain aspects of both male and female physiology. The learned Judge further observed that at times, genital anatomy problems may arise in certain persons in the sense that their innate perception of themselves is not in conformity with the sex assigned to them at birth and may include pre-and post-operative transsexual persons and also persons who do not choose to undergo or do not have access to operation and also include persons who cannot undergo successful operation. Elaborating further, he said:-

“Gender identity refers to each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth, including the personal sense of the body which may involve a freely chosen, modification of bodily appearance or functions by medical, surgical or other means and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech and mannerisms. Gender identity, therefore, refers to an individual’s self-identification as a man, woman, transgender or other identified category.”

6. Adverting to the concept of discrimination, he stated:-

“The discrimination on the ground of “sex” under Articles 15 and 16, therefore, includes discrimination on the ground of gender identity. The expression “sex” used in Articles 15 and 16 is not just limited to biological sex of male or female, but intended to include people who consider themselves to be neither male nor female.”

7. Dealing with the legality of transgender identity, Radhakrishnan, J. ruled:-

“The self-identified gender can be either male or female or a third gender. Hijras are identified as persons of third gender and are not identified either as male or female. Gender identity, as already indicated, refers to a person’s internal sense of being male, female or a transgender, for example hijras do not identify as female because of their lack of female genitalia or lack of reproductive capability. This distinction makes them separate from both male and female genders and they consider themselves neither man nor woman, but a “third gender”.”

8. Sikri, J., in his concurring opinion, dwelling upon the rights of transgenders, laid down that gender identification is an essential component which is required for enjoying civil rights by the community. It is only with this recognition that many rights attached to the sexual recognition as “third gender” would be available to the said community more meaningfully viz. the right to vote, the right to own property, the right to marry, the right to claim a formal identity through a passport and a ration card, a driver’s licence, the right to education, employment, health and so on. Emphasising on the aspect of human rights, he observed:-

“…there seems to be no reason why a transgender must be denied of basic human rights which includes right to life and liberty with dignity, right to privacy and freedom of expression, right to education and empowerment, right against violence, right against exploitation and right against discrimination. The Constitution has fulfilled its duty of providing rights to transgenders. Now it is time for us to recognise this and to extend and interpret the Constitution in such a manner to ensure a dignified life for transgender people. All this can be achieved if the beginning is made with the recognition of TG as third gender.”

The aforesaid judgment, as is manifest, lays focus on inalienable “gender identity” and correctly connects with human rights and the constitutionally guaranteed right to life and liberty with dignity. It lays stress on the judicial recognition of such rights as an inextricable component of Article 21 of the Constitution and decries any discrimination as that would offend Article 14, the “fon juris” of our Constitution.

9. It has to be borne in mind that search for identity as a basic human ideal has reigned the mind of every individual in many a sphere like success, fame, economic prowess, political assertion, celebrity status and social superiority, etc. But search for identity, in order to have apposite space in law, sans stigmas and sans fear has to have the freedom of expression about his/her being which is keenly associated with the constitutional concept of “identity with dignity”. When we talk about identity from the constitutional spectrum, it cannot be pigeon-holed singularly to one’s orientation that may be associated with his/her birth and the feelings he/she develops when he/she grows up. Such a narrow perception may initially sound to subserve the purpose of justice but on a studied scrutiny, it is soon realized that the limited recognition keeps the individual choice at bay. The question that is required to be posed here is whether sexual orientation alone is to be protected or both orientation and choice are to be accepted as long as the exercise of these rights by an individual do not affect another’s choice or, to put it succinctly, has the consent of the other where dignity of both is maintained and privacy, as a seminal facet of Article 21, is not dented. At the core of the concept of identity lies self-determination, realization of one’s own abilities visualizing the opportunities and rejection of external views with a clear conscience that is in accord with constitutional norms and values or principles that are, to put in a capsule, “constitutionally permissible”. As long as it is lawful, one is entitled to determine and follow his/her pattern of life. And that is where the distinction between constitutional morality and social morality or ethicality assumes a distinguished podium, a different objective. Non-recognition in the fullest sense and denial of expression of choice by a statutory penal provision and giving of stamp of approval by a two-Judge Bench of this Court to the said penal provision, that is, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, in Suresh Kumar Koushal and another v. Naz Foundation and others (2014) 1 SCC 1 overturning the judgment of the Delhi High Court in Naz Foundation v. Government of NCT of Delhi and others (2009) 111 DRJ 1, is the central issue involved in the present controversy.

B. The Reference

10. Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 76 of 2016 was filed for declaring “right to sexuality”, “right to sexual autonomy” and “right to choice of a sexual partner” to be part of the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India and further to declare Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (for short, “IPC”) to be unconstitutional. When the said Writ Petition was listed before a three-Judge Bench on 08.01.2018, the Court referred to a two-Judge Bench decision rendered in Suresh Koushal (supra) wherein this Court had overturned the decision rendered by the Division Bench of the Delhi High Court in Naz Foundation (supra).It was submitted by Mr. Arvind Datar, learned senior counsel appearing for the writ petitioners, on the said occasion that the two-Judge Bench in Suresh Koushal (supra) had been guided by social morality leaning on majoritarian perception whereas the issue, in actuality, needed to be debated upon in the backdrop of constitutional morality. A contention was also advanced that the interpretation placed in Suresh Kumar (supra) upon Article 21 of the Constitution is extremely narrow and, in fact, the Court has been basically guided by Article 14 of the Constitution. Reliance was placed on the pronouncement in NALSA case wherein this Court had emphasized on “gender identity and sexual orientation”.Attention of this Court was also invited to a nine-Judge Bench decision in K.S. Puttaswamy and another v. Union of India and others (2017) 10 SCC 1 wherein the majority, speaking through Chandrachud, J., has opined that sexual orientation is an essential component of rights guaranteed under the Constitution which are not formulated on majoritarian favour or acceptance. Kaul, J, in his concurring opinion, referred to the decision in Mosley v. News Group Newspapers Ltd. (2008) EWHC 1777 (QB) to highlight that the emphasis for individual’s freedom to conduct his sex life and personal relationships as he wishes, subject to the permitted exceptions, countervails public interest.

11. The further submission that was advanced by Mr. Datar was that privacy of the individual having been put on such a high pedestal and sexual orientation having been emphasized in the NALSA case, Section 377 IPC cannot be construed as a reasonable restriction as that would have the potentiality to destroy the individual autonomy and sexual orientation. It is an accepted principle of interpretation of statutes that a provision does not become unconstitutional merely because there can be abuse of the same. Similarly, though a provision on the statute book is not invoked on many occasions, yet it does not fall into the sphere of the doctrine of desuetude. However, Suresh Koushal’s case has been guided by the aforesaid doctrine of desuetude.

12. Appreciating the said submissions, the three-Judge Bench stated that:-

“Certain other aspects need to be noted. Section 377 IPC uses the phraseology “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”. The determination of order of nature is not a constant phenomenon. Social morality also changes from age to age. The law copes with life and accordingly change takes place. The morality that public perceives, the Constitution may not conceive of. The individual autonomy and also individual orientation cannot be atrophied unless the restriction is regarded as reasonable to yield to the morality of the Constitution. What is natural to one may not be natural to the other but the said natural orientation and choice cannot be allowed to cross the boundaries of law and as the confines of law cannot tamper or curtail the inherent right embedded in an individual under Article 21 of the Constitution. A section of people or individuals who exercise their choice should never remain in a state of fear. When we say so, we may not be understood to have stated that there should not be fear of law because fear of law builds civilised society. But that law must have the acceptability of the Constitutional parameters. That is the litmus test.

It is necessary to note, in the course of hearing on a query being made and Mr. Datar very fairly stated that he does not intend to challenge that part of Section 377 which relates to carnal intercourse with animals and that apart, he confines to consenting acts between two adults. As far as the first aspect is concerned, that is absolutely beyond debate. As far as the second aspect is concerned, that needs to be debated. The consent between two adults has to be the primary pre-condition. Otherwise the children would become prey, and protection of the children in all spheres has to be guarded and protected. Taking all the apsects in a cumulative manner, we are of the view, the decision in Suresh Kumar Koushal’s case (supra) requires re-consideration.”

The three-Judge Bench expressed the opinion that the issues raised should be answered by a larger Bench and, accordingly, referred the matter to the larger Bench. That is how the matter has been placed before us.

C. Submissions on behalf of the petitioners

13. We have heard Mr. Mukul Rohatgi, learned senior counsel assisted by Mr. Saurabh Kirpal, learned counsel appearing for the petitioners in Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 76 of 2016, Ms. Jayna Kothari, learned counsel for the petitioner in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 572 of 2016, Mr. Arvind P. Datar, learned senior counsel for the petitioner in Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 88 of 2018, Mr. Anand Grover, learned senior counsel for the petitioners in Writ Petition (Criminal) Nos. 100 of 2018 and 101 of 2018 and Dr. Menaka Guruswamy, learned counsel for the petitioner in Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 121 of 2018. We have also heard Mr. Ashok Desai, Mr. Chander Uday Singh, Mr. Shyam Divan and Mr. Krishnan Venugopal, learned senior counsel appearing for various intervenors in the matter. A compilation of written submissions has been filed by the petitioners as well as the intervenors.

14. We have heard Mr. Tushar Mehta, learned Additional Solicitor General for the Union of India, Mr. K. Radhakrishnan, learned senior counsel appearing in Interlocutory Application No. 94284 of 2018 in Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 76 of 2016, Mr. Mahesh Jethmalani, learned senior counsel appearing in Interlocutory Application No. 91147 in Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 76 of 2016, Mr. Soumya Chakraborty, learned senior counsel appearing in Interlocutory Application No. 94348 of 2018 in Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 76 of 2016, Mr. Manoj V. George, learned counsel appearing for Apostolic Alliance of Churches & Utkal Christian Council and Dr. Harshvir Pratap Sharma, learned counsel appearing in Interlocutory Application No. 93411 of 2018 in Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 76 of 2016.

15. It is submitted on behalf of the petitioners and the intervenors that homosexuality, bisexuality and other sexual orientations are equally natural and reflective of expression of choice and inclination founded on consent of two persons who are eligible in law to express such consent and it is neither a physical nor a mental illness, rather they are natural variations of expression and free thinking process and to make it a criminal offence is offensive of the well established principles pertaining to individual dignity and decisional autonomy inherent in the personality of a person, a great discomfort to gender identity, destruction of the right to privacy which is a pivotal facet of Article 21 of the Constitution, unpalatable to the highly cherished idea of freedom and a trauma to the conception of expression of biological desire which revolves around the pattern of mosaic of true manifestation of identity. That apart, the phrase “order of nature” is limited to the procreative concept that may have been conceived as natural by a systemic conservative approach and such limitations do not really take note of inborn traits or developed orientations or, for that matter, consensual acts which relate to responses to series of free exercise of assertions of one’s bodily autonomy. It is further argued that their growth of personality, relation building endeavour to enter into a live-in relationship or to form an association with a sense of commonality have become a mirage and the essential desires are crippled which violates Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. It is urged that the American Psychological Association has opined that sexual orientation is a natural condition and attraction towards the same sex or opposite sex are both naturally equal, the only difference being that the same sex attraction arises in far lesser numbers.

16. The petitioners have highlighted that the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, who comprise 7-8% of the total Indian population, need to be recognized and protected, for sexual orientation is an integral and innate facet of every individual’s identity. A person belonging to the said community does not become an alien to the concept of individual and his individualism cannot be viewed with a stigma. The impact of sexual orientation on an individual’s life is not limited to their intimate lives but also impacts their family, professional, social and educational life. As per the petitioners, such individuals (sexual minorities in societies) need protection more than the heterosexuals so as to enable them to achieve their full potential and to live freely without fear, apprehension or trepidation in such a manner that they are not discriminated against by the society openly or insidiously or by the State in multifarious ways in matters such as employment, choice of partner, testamentary rights, insurability, medical treatment in hospitals and other similar rights arising from live-in relationships which, after the decision in Indra Sarma v. V.K.V. Sarma (2013) 15 SCC 755, is recognized even by the “Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005” for various kinds of live-in relationships. The same protection, as per the petitioners, must be accorded to same sex relationships.

17. It is urged by the learned counsel for the petitioners that individuals belonging to the LGBT group suffer discrimination and abuse throughout their lives due to the existence of Section 377 IPC which is nothing but a manifestation of a mindset of societal values prevalent during the Victorian era where sexual activities were considered mainly for procreation. The said community remains in a constant state of fear which is not conducive for their growth. It is contended that they suffer at the hands of law and are also deprived of the citizenry rights which are protected under the Constitution. The law should have treated them as natural victims and sensitized the society towards their plight and laid stress on such victimisation, however, the reverse is being done due to which a sense of estrangement and alienation has developed and continues to prevail amongst the members belonging to the LGBT group. Compulsory alienation due to stigma and threat is contrary to the fundamental principle of liberty.

18. The petitioners have referred to the decision of this Court in NALSA case wherein transgenders have been recognized as a third gender apart from male and female and have been given certain rights. Yet, in view of the existence of Section 377 in the IPC, consensual activities amongst transgenders would continue to constitute an offence. Drawing inspiration from the NALSA case, the petitioners submit that the rights of the LGBT group are not fully realized and they remain incomplete citizens because their expression as regards sexuality is not allowed to be pronounced owing to the criminality attached to the sexual acts between these persons which deserves to be given a burial and, therefore, the rights of the LGBT community also need equal, if not more, constitutional protection. Accordingly, the petitioners are of the view that Section 377 of the IPC be read down qua the LGBT community so as to confine it only to the offence of bestiality and non-consensual acts in view of the fact that with the coming into force of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO Act), the scope of sexual assault has been widened to include non peno-vaginal sexual assault and also criminalize non-consensual sexual acts between children thereby plugging important gaps in the law governing sexual violence in India.

19. The petitioners have also submitted that Section 377, despite being a pre-constitutional law, was retained post the Constitution coming into effect by virtue of Article 372 of the Constitution, but it must be noted that the presumption of constitutionality is merely an evidentiary burden initially on the person seeking to challenge the vires of a statute and once any violation of fundamental rights or suspect classification is prima facie shown, then such presumption has no role. In the case at hand, the petitioners face a violation of their fundamental rights to an extent which is manifestly clear and it is a violation which strikes at the very root or substratum of their existence. The discrimination suffered at the hands of the majority, the onslaught to their dignity and invasion on the right to privacy is demonstrably visible and permeates every nook and corner of the society.

20. It is the argument of the petitioners that Section 377, if retained in its present form, would involve the violation of, not one but, several fundamental rights of the LGBTs, namely, right to privacy, right to dignity, equality, liberty and right to freedom of expression. The petitioners contend that sexual orientation which is a natural corollary of gender identity is protected under Article 21 of the Constitution and any discrimination meted out to the LGBT community on the basis of sexual orientation would run counter to the mandate provided under the Constitution and the said view has also gained approval of this Court in the NALSA case.

21. The petitioners have also relied upon the view in K.S. Puttaswamy (supra) to advance their argument that sexual orientation is also an essential attribute of privacy. Therefore, protection of both sexual orientation and right to privacy of an individual is extremely important, for without the enjoyment of these basic and fundamental rights, individual identity may lose significance, a sense of trepidation may take over and their existence would be reduced to mere survival. It is further urged that sexual orientation and privacy lie at the core of the fundamental rights which are guaranteed under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution and in the light of the decision in Puttaswamy (supra), it has become imperative that Section 377 be struck down. It is contended that the right to privacy has to take within its ambit and sweep the right of every individual, including LGBTs, to make decisions as per their choice without the fear that they may be subjected to humiliation or shunned by the society merely because of a certain choice or manner of living.

22. Having canvassed with vehemence that sexual orientation is an important facet of the right to privacy which has been raised to the pedestal of a cherished right, the learned counsel for the petitioners have vigorously propounded that sexual autonomy and the right to choose a partner of one’s choice is an inherent aspect of the right to life and right to autonomy. In furtherance of the said view, they have relied upon the authorities in Shakti Vahini v. Union of India and others (2018) 7 SCC 192 and Shafin Jahan v. Asokan K.M. AIR 2018 SC 1933 wherein it has been clearly recognized that an individual’s exercise of choice in choosing a partner is a feature of dignity and, therefore, it is protected under Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution.

23. According to the petitioners, there is no difference between persons who defy social conventions to enter into inter-religious and inter-caste marriages and those who choose a same sex partner in the sense that the society may disapprove of inter-caste or inter-religious marriages but this Court is for enforcing constitutional rights. Similarly, as per the petitioners, even if there is disapproval by the majority of the sexual orientation or exercise of choice by the LGBT persons, the Court as the final arbiter of the constitutional rights, should disregard social morality and uphold and protect constitutional morality which has been adverted to by this Court in several cases, including Manoj Narula v. Union of India (2014) 9 SCC 1, for that is the governing rule. It is argued that the Delhi High Court in Naz Foundation (supra) has referred to and analysed the concept of constitutional morality and ultimately struck down Section 377 IPC clearly stating that carnal intercourse between homosexuals and heterosexuals with consent cannot be an offence.

24. The LGBT persons cannot, according to the petitioners, be penalized simply for choosing a same sex partner, for the constitutional guarantee of choice of partner extends to the LGBT persons as well. Learned counsel for the petitioners and the supporting intervenors have submitted that sexual orientation, being an innate facet of individual identity, is protected under the right to dignity. To bolster the said argument, reliance has been placed upon Francis Coralie Mullin v. Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi and others (1981) 1 SCC 608 and Common Cause (A Registered Society) v. Union of India and another (2018) 5 SCC 1 wherein it was held that the right to life and liberty, as envisaged under Article 21, is meaningless unless it encompasses within its sphere individual dignity and right to dignity includes the right to carry such functions and activities as would constitute the meaningful expression of the human self.

25. It is submitted that Section 377 is an anathema to the concept of fraternity as enshrined in the Preamble to our Constitution and the Indian Constitution mandates that we must promote fraternity amongst the citizens sans which unity shall remain a distant dream.

26. The petitioners have further contended that Section 377 is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution as the said Section is vague in the sense that carnal intercourse against the order of nature is neither defined in the Section nor in the IPC or, for that matter, any other law. There is, as per the petitioners, no intelligible differentia or reasonable classification between natural and unnatural sex as long as it is consensual in view of the decision of this Court in Anuj Garg and others v. Hotel Association of India and others (2008) 3 SCC 1 which lays down the principle that classification which may have been treated as valid at the time of its adoption may cease to be so on account of changing social norms.

27. Section 377, as argued by the petitioners, is manifestly arbitrary and over-broad and for the said purpose, immense inspiration has been drawn from the principles stated in Shayara Bano v. Union of India and others (2017) 9 SCC 1 , for making consensual relationship a crime on the ground that it is against the order of nature suffers from manifest arbitrariness at the fulcrum.

28. It is the case of the petitioners that Section 377 violates Article 15 of the Constitution since there is discrimination inherent in it based on the sex of a person’s sexual partner as under Section 376(c) to (e), a person can be prosecuted for acts done with an opposite sex partner without her consent, whereas the same acts if done with a same-sex partner are criminalized even if the partner consents. The petitioners have drawn the attention of this Court to the Justice J.S Verma Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law which had observed that ‘sex’ occurring in Article 15 includes sexual orientation and, thus, as per the petitioners, Section 377 is also violative of Article 15 of the Constitution on this count.

29. It is argued with astuteness that Section 377 has a chilling effect on Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution which protects the fundamental right of freedom of expression including that of LGBT persons to express their sexual identity and orientation, through speech, choice of romantic/sexual partner, expression of romantic/sexual desire, acknowledgment of relationships or any other means and that Section 377 constitutes an unreasonable exception and is thereby not covered under Article 19(2) of the Constitution. To buttress the said stance, reliance is placed upon the decision in S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal and another (2010) 5 SCC 600 wherein it has been held that law should not be used in such a manner that it has a chilling effect on the freedom of speech and expression. Additionally, the view in NALSA case has also been strongly pressed into service to emphasize that the said decision clearly spells out that the right under Article 19(1)(a) includes one’s right to expression of his/her self-identified gender which can be expressed through words, action, behaviour or any other form.

30. The petitioners have also contended that Section 377 violates the rights of LGBT persons under Article 19(1)(c) and denies them the right to form associations. Similarly, such persons are hesitant to register companies to provide benefits to sexual minorities due to the fear of state action and social stigma. Further, a conviction under Section 377 IPC renders such persons ineligible for appointment as a director of a company.

31. It is averred that Section 377 IPC, by creating a taint of criminality, deprives the LGBT persons of their right to reputation which is a facet of the right to life and liberty of a citizen under Article 21 of the Constitution as observed by this Court in Kishore Samrite v. State of U.P. and others (2013) 2 SCC 398 and Umesh Kumar v. State of Andhra Pradesh and another (2013) 10 SCC 591 to the effect that reputation is an element of personal security and protected by the Constitution with the right to enjoyment of life and liberty. This right, as per the petitioners, is being denied to the LGBT persons because of Section 377 IPC as it makes them apprehensive to speak openly about their sexual orientation and makes them vulnerable to extortion, blackmail and denial of State machinery for either protection or for enjoyment of other rights and amenities and on certain occasions, the other concomitant rights are affected.

32. The petitioners have advanced their argument that Section 377 IPC impedes the ability of the LGBTs to realize the constitutionally guaranteed right to shelter. To illustrate the same, the petitioners have drawn the attention of the Court to the fact that LGBTs seek assistance of private resources such as Gay Housing Assistance Resources (GHAR) in order to access safe and suitable shelter and this is an indication that the members of this community are in need of immediate care and protection of the State.

33. The decision in Suresh Koushal (supra), as per the petitioners, is per incuriam as the view observed therein has failed to take into account the amendment to Section 375 IPC which has rendered sexual ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’ between man and woman as permissible. Section 377, on the other hand, has continued to render same sex carnal intercourse as an offence, even if it is consensual. Further, the petitioners have assailed the decision of this Court in Suresh Koushal’s case on the ground that the view in the said decision on classification is contrary to the ‘impact or effect test’, for the result, in ultimate eventuality, leads to discrimination. Thus, the petitioners have contended that after Puttaswamy (supra), the view in Suresh Koushal (supra) needs to be overruled and the proper test would be whether Section 377 IPC can be enacted by the Parliament today after the decisions of this Court in NALSA (supra) and Puttaswamy (supra) and other authorities laying immense emphasis on individual choice.

34. It is further contended that LGBT persons are deprived of their rights due to the presence of Section 377 as they fear prosecution and persecution upon revealing their sexual identities and, therefore, this class of persons never approached this Court as petitioners, rather they have always relied upon their teachers, parents, mental health professionals and other organizations such as NGOs to speak on their behalf. It is urged that the appellants in Suresh Koushal (supra) led this Court to assume that LGBT persons constitute only a minuscule fraction whereas most of the studies indicate that they constitute at least 7-8% of the population and that apart, rights are not determined on the basis of percentage of populace but on a real scrutiny of the existence of right and denial of the same. It is the stand of the petitioners that majority perception or view cannot be the guiding factor for sustaining the constitutionality of a provision or to declare a provision as unconstitutional.

D. Submissions on behalf of the respondents and other intervenors

35. The respondent, Union of India, has, vide affidavit dated 11th July, 2018, submitted that the matter at hand was referred to a Constitution Bench to decide as to whether the law laid down in Suresh Koushal (supra) is correct or not and the only question referred to this Bench is the question of the constitutional validity of criminalizing ‘consensual acts of adults in private’ falling under Section 377 IPC.

36. Further, the Union has submitted that so far as the constitutional validity of Section 377 IPC, to the extent it applies to ‘consensual acts of adults in private’, is concerned, the respondent leaves the same to the wisdom of this Court.

37. The respondent has also contended that in the event Section 377 IPC so far as ‘consensual acts of adults in private’ is declared unconstitutional, other ancillary issues or rights which have not been referred to this Bench for adjudication may not be dealt with by this Bench as in that case, the Union of India expresses the wish to file detailed affidavit in reply, for consideration of other issues and rights would have far reaching and wide ramifications under various other laws and will also have consequences which are neither contemplated in the reference nor required to be answered by this Hon’ble Bench.

38. The respondent has submitted that allowing any other issue (other than the constitutional validity of Section 377 IPC) to be argued and adjudicating the same without giving an opportunity to the Union of India to file a counter affidavit may not be in the interest of justice and would be violative of the principles of natural justice.

39. Another set of written submissions has been filed by Shri K. Radhakrishnan, senior counsel, on behalf of intervenor-NGO, Trust God Ministries. The said intervenor has submitted that the observations of this Court in Puttaswamy (supra), particularly in Para 146, virtually pre-empt and forestall the aforesaid NGO from raising substantial contentions to the effect that there is no uncanalised and unbridled right to privacy and the said right cannot be abused. Further, the intervenor has contended that there is no personal liberty to abuse one’s organs and that the offensive acts proscribed by Section 377 IPC are committed by abusing the organs. Such acts, as per the intervenor, are undignified and derogatory to the constitutional concept of dignity and if any infraction is caused to the concept of dignity, then it would amount to constitutional wrong and constitutional immorality.

40. It is also the case of the intervenor that issues pertaining to the constitutional and other legal rights of the transgender community, their gender identity and sexual orientation have been exhaustively considered in the light of the various provisions of the Constitution and, accordingly, reliefs have been granted by this Court in NALSA (supra). It is contended by the intervenor that no further reliefs can be granted to them and the prayers made by them is only to abuse privacy and personal liberty by transgressing the concepts of dignity and public morality.

41. As per the intervenor, Section 377 rightly makes the acts stated therein punishable as Section 377 has been incorporated after taking note of the legal systems and principles which prevailed in ancient India and now in 2018, the said Section is more relevant legally, medically, morally and constitutionally.

42. To illustrate this, the intervenor has drawn the attention of this Court to W. Friedmann from ‘Law in a Changing Society’ wherein he has observed that to prohibit a type of conduct which a particular society considers worthy of condemnation by criminal sanctions is deeply influenced by the values governing that society and it, therefore, varies from one country to another and one period of history to another.

43. Further, it has been contended by the intervenor that persons indulging in unnatural sexual acts which have been made punishable under Section 377 IPC are more susceptible and vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS and the percentage of prevalence of AIDS in homosexuals is much greater than heterosexuals and that the right to privacy may not be extended in order to enable people to indulge in unnatural offences and thereby contact AIDS.

44. It is also the case of the intervenor that if Section 377 is declared unconstitutional, then the family system which is the bulwark of social culture will be in shambles, the institution of marriage will be detrimentally affected and rampant homosexual activities for money would tempt and corrupt young Indians into this trade.

45. Written submissions have also been filed on behalf of Mr. Suresh Kumar Koushal, intervenor, submitting therein that the argument of the petitioners that consensual acts of adults in private have been decriminalized in many parts of the world and, therefore, it deserves to be decriminalized in India as well does not hold good for several reasons inasmuch as the political, economic and cultural heritage of those countries are very different from India which is a multicultural and multi-linguistic country.

46. The intervenor has contended that since fundamental rights are not absolute, there is no unreasonableness in Section 377 IPC and decriminalizing the same would run foul to all religions practised in the country, and, while deciding the ambit and scope of constitutional morality, Article 25 also deserves to be given due consideration.

47. Another application for intervention, being I.A No. 91250 of 2018, was filed and the same was allowed. It has been contended by the said intervenor that in the attempt that Section 377 is struck down, it would render the victims complaining of forced acts covered under the existing Section 377 IPC remediless as the said Section not only impinges on carnal intercourse against the order of nature between two consenting adults but also applies to forced penile non– vaginal sexual intercourse between adults. This, as per the intervenor, would be contrary to the decision of this Court in Iqbal Singh Marwah and another v. Meenakshi Marwah and another (2005) 4 SCC 370.

48. The applicant has also submitted that in the event consenting acts between two same sex adults are excluded from the ambit of Section 377 IPC, then a married woman would be rendered remediless under the IPC against her bi-sexual husband and his consenting male partner indulging in any sexual acts.

49. The intervenor has suggested that the alleged misuse of Section 377 IPC as highlighted by the petitioners can be curbed by adding an explanation to Section 377 IPC defining ‘aggrieved person’ which shall include only non-consenting partner or aggrieved person or wife or husband or any person on their behalf on the lines of Section 198(1) of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. This, as per the applicant, would curb any mala fide complaint lodged by authorities and vindictive or mischievous persons when the act complained of is ‘consenting act’ between two persons. Further, the applicant has submitted that this Court may be pleased to identify that the courts shall take cognizance of an offence under Section 377 IPC only on a complaint made by an aggrieved person. Such an approach, as per the applicant, inherently respects consent and also protects from interference and safeguards the privacy and dignity of an individual under Article 21 of the Constitution.

50. The applicant has also contended that the constitutionality of any legislation is always to be presumed and if there is any vagueness in the definition of any section, the courts have to give such a definition which advances the purpose of the legislation and that the courts must make every effort to uphold the constitutional validity of a statute if that requires giving a stretched construction in view of the decisions of this Court in K.A. Abbas v. Union of India and another (!970) 2 SCC 780 and Rt. Rev. Msgr. Mark Netto v. State of Kerala and others (1979) 1 SCC 23.

51. The applicant, through his learned counsel Mr. Harvinder Chowdhury, submits that if the right to privacy as recognized in Puttaswamy (supra) is allowed its full scope and swing, then that itself would rule out prosecution in all cases of consensual unnatural sex between all couples, whether heterosexual or homosexual, and without having to engage in reading down, much less striking down of, the provisions of Section 377 IPC in its present form. This is so because the State cannot compel individuals engaging in consensual sexual acts from testifying against one another as it involves a breach of privacy unless the consent itself is under challenge and one cannot be a consenting victim of a crime so long as the consent is legally valid.

52. Submissions have also been advanced on behalf of Raza Academy, intervenor, through its learned counsel Mr. R.R Kishore, who has contended that homosexuality is against the order of nature and Section 377 rightly forbids it. Prohibition against carnal intercourse involving penetration into non-sexual parts of the body does not constitute discrimination as laws based on biological reality can never be unconstitutional, for if a male is treated as a male, a female as a female and a transgender as a transgender, it does not amount to discrimination.

53. The applicant has submitted that the purpose of criminal law is to protect the citizens from something that is injurious and since carnal intercourse between two persons is offensive and injurious, it is well within the State’s jurisdiction to put reasonable restrictions to forbid such aberrant human behaviour by means of legislation, for it is the duty of the State that people with abnormal conduct are prohibited from imperiling the life, health and security of the community. Unrestrained pleasure, and that too of a lascivious nature, is not conducive for the growth of a civilized society, such inordinate gratification needs to be curbed and, thus, prohibition against carnal intercourse as defined in Section 377 IPC does not violate the constitutional rights of a person.

54. Another application for intervention, being I.A No. 9341 of 2011, was filed and allowed. The applicant, in his written submissions, after delineating the concept of immorality, has submitted that the doctrine of manifest arbitrariness is of no application to the present case as the law is not manifestly or otherwise arbitrary, for Section 377 criminalizes an act irrespective of gender or sexual orientation of the persons involved. The universal application of the said provision without any gender bias is the touchstone of Part III of the Constitution and is not arbitrary as there is no intentional or unreasonable discrimination in the provision.

55. The applicant has drawn the attention of this Court to the case of Fazal Rab Choudhary v. State of Bihar (1982) 3 SCC 9 wherein this Court held that the offence under Section 377 IPC implies sexual perversity. Further, it is the case of the applicant that there should not be identical transplantation of Western ideology in our country which has also been a matter of concern for this Court in Jagmohan Singh v. State of U.P. (1973) 1 SCC 20

56. The applicant, after citing the case of State of Gujarat v. Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab Jamat and others (2005) 8 SCC 534, has stressed upon the fact that the interest of a citizen or a section of the society, howsoever important, is secondary to the interest of the country or community as a whole and while judging the reasonability of restrictions imposed on fundamental rights, due consideration must also be given to the Directive Principles stated in Part IV. In view of these aforesaid submissions, the applicant has submitted that fundamental rights may not be overstretched and the Directive Principles of State Policy which are fundamental in the governance of the country cannot be neglected, for they are not less significant than what is fundamental in the life of an individual as held in Kesavananda Bharati v. Union of India (1973) 4 SCC 225

57. Another application for intervention, being I.A. No. 76790 of 2018, has been filed by Apostolic Alliance of Churches and the Utkal Christian Council. The applicants have submitted that the Court, while interpreting Section 377 IPC, has to keep in mind that there can be situations where consent is obtained by putting a person in fear of death or hurt or consent can also be obtained under some misconception or due to unsoundness of mind, intoxication or inability to understand the nature and the consequences of the acts prohibited by Section 377 IPC.

58. The applicant has also advanced the argument that Section 377 IPC in its present form does not violate Article 14 of the Constitution as it merely defines a particular offence and its punishment and it is well within the power of the State to determine who should be regarded as a class for the purpose of a legislation and this, as per the applicant, is reasonable classification in the context of Section 377 IPC.

59. Further, the applicant has contended that Section 377 IPC is not violative of Article 15 of the Constitution as the said Article prohibits discrimination on the grounds of only religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them but not sexual orientation. The word ‘sexual orientation’, as per the applicant, is alien to our Constitution and the same cannot be imported within it for testing the constitutional validity of a provision or legislation. As per the applicant, if the word ‘sex’ has to be replaced by ‘sexual orientation’, it would require a constitutional amendment.

60. It is also the case of the applicant that the Yogyakarta principles which have been heavily relied upon by the petitioners to bolster their stand have limited sanctity inasmuch as they do not amount to an international treaty binding on the State parties and there are no inter-governmentally negotiated international instruments or agreed human rights treaties on the issue of LGBTs.

61. Further, the applicant has submitted that there is no requirement to reconsider the decision of this Court in Suresh Koushal (supra) wherein it was held that there is a presumption of constitutionality of a legislation and the Court must adopt self-restraint and thereby refrain from giving birth to judicial legislation. In the applicant’s view, the legislative wisdom of the Parliament must be respected and it must be left to the Parliament to amend Section 377 IPC, if so desired.

62. The applicant has contended that if the prayers of the petitioners herein are allowed, it would amount to judicial legislation, for the Courts cannot add or delete words into a statute. It is stated that the words ‘consent’ and/or ‘without consent’ are not mentioned in Section 377 IPC and, therefore, the Courts cannot make such an artificial distinction. To buttress this stand, the applicant has relied upon the decision of this Court in Sakshi v. Union of India and others (2004) 5 SCC 518 wherein it was observed that the attention of the Court should be on what has been said and also on what has not been said while interpreting the statute and that it would be wrong and dangerous for the Court to proceed by substituting some other words in a statute since it is well settled that a statute enacting an offence or imposing a penalty has to be strictly construed.

63. The applicant has also drawn the attention of this Court to the decision in Union of India and another v. Deoki Nandan Aggarwal 1992 Supp. (1) SCC 323 wherein it was observed that the Court cannot rewrite, recast or re-frame the legislation for the good reason that it has no power to legislate since the power to legislate has not been conferred upon the Court and, therefore, the Courts cannot add words to a statute or read words into it which are not there. The Courts are to decide what the law is and not what it should be.

64. It is also the case of the applicant that the decriminalization of Section 377 IPC will open a floodgate of social issues which the legislative domain is not capable of accommodating as same sex marriages would become social experiments with unpredictable outcome.

65. Further, it is the contention of the applicant that decriminalization of Section 377 IPC will have cascading effect on existing laws such as Section 32(d) of the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936; Section 27(7)(1A) A of the Special Marriage Act, 1954 which permits a wife to present a petition for divorce to the district court on the ground,-(i) that her husband has, since the solemnization of the marriage, been guilty of rape, sodomy or bestiality; Section 10(2) of the Indian Divorce Act, 1869 and Section 13(2) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

E. Decisions in Naz Foundation and Suresh Koushal

66. We shall now advert to what had been stated by the Delhi High Court in Naz Foundation and thereafter advert to the legal base of the decision in Suresh Koushal’s case. The Delhi High Court had taken the view that Article 15 of the Constitution prohibits discrimination on several enumerated grounds including sex. The High Court preferred an expansive interpretation of ‘sex’ so as to include prohibition of discrimination on the ground of ‘sexual orientation’ and that sex-discrimination cannot be read as applying to gender simpliciter. Discrimination, as per the High Court’s view, on the basis of sexual orientation is grounded in stereotypical judgments and generalization about the conduct of either sex.

67. Another facet of the Indian Constitution that the High Court delineated was that of inclusiveness as the Indian Constitution reflects this value of inclusiveness deeply ingrained in the Indian society and nurtured over several generations. The High Court categorically said that those who are perceived by the majority as deviants or different are not to be, on that score, excluded or ostracised. In the High Court’s view, where a society displays inclusiveness and understanding, the LGBT persons can be assured of a life of dignity and non-discrimination.

68. It has been further opined by the High Court that the Constitution does not permit any statutory criminal law to be held captive of the popular misconceptions of who the LGBTs are, as it cannot be forgotten that discrimination is the antithesis of equality and recognition of equality in its truest sense will foster the dignity of every individual. That apart, the High Court had taken the view that social morality has to succumb to the concept of constitutional morality.

69. On the basis of the aforesaid reasons, the High Court declared Section 377 IPC violative of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution in so far as it criminalises consensual sexual acts of adults in private, whereas for non-consensual penile non-vaginal sex and penile non-vaginal sex involving minors, the High Court ruled that Section 377 IPC was valid.

70. The Delhi High Court judgment was challenged in Suresh Koushal (supra) wherein this Court opined that acts which fall within the ambit of Section 377 IPC can only be determined with reference to the act itself and to the circumstances in which it is executed. While so opining, the Court held that Section 377 IPC would apply irrespective of age and consent, for Section 377 IPC does not criminalize a particular people or identity or orientation and only identifies certain acts which, when committed, would constitute an offence. Such a prohibition, in the Court’s view in Suresh Koushal (supra), regulates sexual conduct regardless of gender identity and orientation.

71. The Court further observed that those who indulge in carnal intercourse in the ordinary course and those who indulge in carnal intercourse against the order of nature constitute different classes and the people falling in the latter category cannot claim that Section 377 IPC suffers from the vice of arbitrariness and irrational classification. The Court further observed that while reading down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, it cannot be overlooked that only a minuscule fraction of the country’s population constitutes lesbians, gays, bisexuals or transgenders and in last more than 150 years, less than 200 persons have been prosecuted under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which cannot, therefore, be made a sound basis for declaring Section 377 IPC ultra vires the provisions of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution.

72. The submission advanced by the respondents therein to the effect that the provision had become a pernicious tool for perpetrating harassment, blackmail and torture on those belonging to the LGBT community was repelled by stating that such treatment is neither mandated by the Section nor condoned by it and the mere fact that the Section is misused by police authorities and others is not a reflection of the vires of the Section, though it might be a relevant factor for the Legislature to consider while judging the desirability of amending Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.

F. Other judicial pronouncements on Section 377 IPC

73. Presently, we may refer to some of the judgments and the views taken therein by this Court as well as by the High Courts on Section 377 IPC so as to have a holistic perspective.

74. While interpreting the said provision, the Courts have held that the provision stipulates certain acts, which when committed, would constitute a criminal offence. In Childline India Foundation and another v. Allan John Waters and others (2011) 6 SCC 261 the Court was dealing with carnal intercourse against the order of nature when the material on record showed that the accused Nos. 2 and 3 used to have sex and fellatio with PWs 1 and 4. The Court opined that the ingredients of Section 377 IPC were proved and, accordingly, restored the conviction and sentence of 6 years’ rigorous imprisonment and confirmed the imposition of fine. In Fazal Rab Choudhary (supra), although the Court convicted the accused under Section 377 IPC, yet it took note of the absence of any force in the commission of the act. The Court also took into account the prevalent notions of permissive society and the fact that homosexuality has been legalized in some countries. In view of the same, the Court reduced the sentence of 3 years imposed on the accused to 6 months opining that the aforesaid aspects must also be kept in view as they have a bearing on the question of offence and quantum of sentence.

75. A reference may be made to Khanu v. Emperor AIR 1925 Sind 286 which was also alluded to in Suresh Koushal’s case. We deem it appropriate to reproduce a part of Khanu’s decision to understand how the courts in India had understood the word “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”. The said passage reads thus:-

“The principal point in this case is: whether the accused (who is clearly guilty of having committed the sin of Gomorrah coitus per os) with a certain little child, the innocent accomplice of his abomination, has thereby committed an offence under Section 377 of the Penal Code.

Section 377 punishes certain persons who have carnal intercourse against the order of nature with inter alia human beings. Is the act here committed one of carnal intercourse? If so, it is clearly against the order of nature, because the natural object of carnal intercourse is that there should be the possibility of conception of human beings which in the case of coitus per os is impossible. Intercourse may be defined as mutual frequent action by members of independent organisation. Commercial intercourse [is thereafter referred to; emphasis is made on the reciprocity].

By a metaphor the word intercourse like the word commerce is applied to the relations of the sexes. Here also there is the temporary visitation of one organism by a member of other organisation, for certain clearly defined and limited objects. The primary object of the visiting organisation is to obtain euphoria by means of a detent of the nerves consequent on the sexual crisis. But there is no intercourse unless the visiting member is enveloped at least partially by the visited organism, for intercourse connotes reciprocity. Looking at the question in this way it would seem that sin of Gomorrah is no less carnal intercourse than the sin of sodomy. …

It is to be remembered that the Penal Code does not, except in Section 377, render abnormal sexual vice punishable at all. In England indecent assaults are punishable very severely. It is possible that under the Penal Code, some cases might be met by prosecuting the offender for simple assault, but that is a compoundable offence and in any case the patient could in no way be punished. It is to be supposed that the legislature intended that a Tigellinus should carry on his nefarious profession perhaps vitiating and depraving hundreds of children with perfect immunity?

I doubt not, therefore, that coitus per os is punishable under Section 377 of the Penal Code.”

76. In Suresh Koushal’s case, there has also been a reference to the decision of the Gujarat High Court in Lohana Vasantlal Devchand v. State AIR 1968 Guj 252 wherein the issue presented before the High Court was whether an offence under Section 377 read with Section 511 IPC had been committed on account of the convict putting his male organ in the mouth of the victim, if the act was done voluntarily by him. A contention was raised that there was no penetration and, therefore, there could not have been any carnal intercourse. The High Court referred to a passage from the book ‘Pyschology of Sex’ authored by Mr. Havelock Ellis which reads thus:-

“While the kiss may be regarded as the typical and normal erogenic method of contrectation for the end of attaining tumescene, there are others only less important. Any orifical contact ‘between persons of opposite sex’ is sometimes almost equally as effective as the kiss in stimulating tumescene; all such contacts, indeed, belong to the group of which the kiss is the type, Cunnilinctus (often incorrectly termed cunnilingus) and fellatio cannot be regarded as unnatural for they have their prototypic forms among animals, and they are found among various savage races. As forms of contrecttion and aides to tumescene they are thus natural and are sometimes regarded by both sexes as quintessential forms of sexual pleasure, though they may not be considered aesthetic. They become deviations, however, and this liable to be termed “perversions”, when they replace the desire of coitus””

77. After referring to the definition of sodomy, the pronouncement in Khanu (supra), Stroud’s Judicial Dictionary, 3rd Edition and Webster’s New 20th Century Dictionary, unabridged, 2nd Edition, the Gujarat High Court opined thus:-

“In the instant case, there was an entry of a male penis in the orifice of the mouth of the victim. There was the enveloping of a visiting member by the visited organism. There was thus reciprocity; intercourse connotes reciprocity. It could, therefore, be said without any doubt in my mind that the act in question will amount to an offence, punishable under Section 337 of the Indian Penal Code.”

78. The decision in State of Kerala v. Kundumkara Govindan and another 1969 Cri LJ 818 (ker) has also been reproduced in Suresh Koushal’s case. The High Court of Kerala held thus:-

“18. Even if I am to hold that there was no penetration into the vagina and the sexual acts were committed only between the thighs, I do not think that the respondents can escape conviction under Section 377 of the Penal Code. The counsel of the respondents contends (in this argument the Public Prosecutor also supports him) that sexual act between the thighs is not intercourse. The argument is that for intercourse there must be encirclement of the male organ by the organ visited; and that in the case of sexual act between the thighs, there is no possibility of penetration.

19. The word ‘intercourse’ means ‘sexual connection’ (Concise Oxford Dictionary). In Khanu v. Emperor the meaning of the word ‘intercourse’ has been considered: (AIR p. 286)

‘Intercourse may be defined as mutual frequent action by members of independent organisation.’

Then commercial intercourse, social intercourse, etc. have been considered; and then appears:

‘By a metaphor the word intercourse, like the word commerce, is applied to the relations of the sexes. Here also there is the temporary visitation of one organism by a member of the other organisation, for certain clearly defined and limited objects. The primary object of the visiting organisation is to obtain euphoria by means of a detent of the nerves consequent on the sexual crisis. But there is no intercourse unless the visiting member is enveloped at least partially by the visited organism, for intercourse connotes reciprocity.’

Therefore, to decide whether there is intercourse or not, what is to be considered is whether the visiting organ is enveloped at least partially by the visited organism. In intercourse between the thighs, the visiting male organ is enveloped at least partially by the organism visited, the thighs: the thighs are kept together and tight.

20. Then about penetration. The word ‘penetrate’ means in the Concise Oxford Dictionary ‘find access into or through, pass through.’ When the male organ is inserted between the thighs kept together and tight, is there no penetration? The word ‘insert’ means place, fit, thrust.’ Therefore, if the male organ is ‘inserted’ or ‘thrust’ between the thighs, there is ‘penetration’ to constitute unnatural offence.

21. Unnatural offence is defined in Section 377 of the Penal Code; whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal commits unnatural offence. The act of committing intercourse between the thighs is carnal intercourse against the order of nature. Therefore committing intercourse by inserting the male organ between the thighs of another is an unnatural offence. In this connection, it may be noted that the act in Section 376 is ‘sexual intercourse’ and the act in Section 377 is ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’.

22. The position in English law on this question has been brought to my notice. The old decision of R. v. Samuel Jacobs 168 ER 830 (CCR) lays down that penetration through the mouth does not amount to the offence of sodomy under English law. The counsel therefore argues that sexual intercourse between the thighs cannot also be an offence under Section 377 of the Penal Code. In Sirkar v. Gula Mythien Pillai Chaithu Maho Mathu (1908) 14 TLR Appendix 43 (Ker) a Full Bench of the Travancore High Court held that having connection with a person in the mouth was an offence under Section 377 of the Penal Code.

In a short judgment, the learned Judges held that it was unnecessary to refer to English Statute Law and English text books which proceeded upon an interpretation of the words sodomy, buggery and bestiality; and that the words used in the Penal Code were very simple and wide enough to include all acts against the order of nature. My view on the question is also that the words of Section 377 are simple and wide enough to include any carnal intercourse against the order of nature within its ambit. Committing intercourse between the thighs of another is carnal intercourse against the order of nature.”

79. In Calvin Francis v. State of Orissa 1992 (1) OLR 316, the Orissa High Court had reproduced certain passages from Corpus Juris Secundum, Vol. 81, pp. 368-70. We may reproduce the same:-

“A statute providing that any person who shall commit any act or practice of sexual perversity, either with mankind or beast, on conviction shall be punished, is not limited to instances involving carnal copulation, but is restricted to cases involving the sex organ of at least one of the parties. The term ‘sexual perversity’ does not refer to every physical contact by a male with the body of the female with intent to cause sexual satisfaction to the actor, but the condemnation of the statute is limited to unnatural conduct performed for the purpose of accomplishing abnormal sexual satisfaction for the actor. Under a statute providing that any person participating in the act or copulating the mouth of one person with the sexual organ of another is guilty of the offence a person is guilty of violating the statute when he has placed his mouth on the genital organ of another, and the offence may be committed by two persons of opposite sex.”

80. Referring to the said decision, the two-Judge Bench in Suresh Koushal’s case has opined:-

“60. However, from these cases no uniform test can be culled out to classify acts as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”. In our opinion the acts which fall within the ambit of Section 377 IPC can only be determined with reference to the act itself and the circumstances in which it is executed. All the aforementioned cases refer to non-consensual and markedly coercive situations and the keenness of the Court in bringing justice to the victims who were either women or children cannot be discounted while analysing the manner in which the section has been interpreted. We are apprehensive of whether the court would rule similarly in a case of proved consensual intercourse between adults. …”

81. From the aforesaid analysis, it is perceptible that the two-Judge Bench has drawn a distinction between the “class” and the “act” that has been treated as an offence. On a plain reading of the provision, it is noticeable that the “act” covers all categories of persons if the offence is committed. Thus, the seminal issue that emerges for consideration, as has been understood by various High Courts and this Court, is whether the act can be treated as a criminal offence if it violates Articles 19(1)(a) and 21 of the Constitution. Therefore, the provision has to be tested on the anvil of the said constitutional provisions. Additionally, it is also to be tested on the touchstone of Article 14 especially under the scanner of its second limb, that is, manifest arbitrariness. For adjudging the aforesaid facets, certain fundamental concepts which are intrinsically and integrally associated with the expression of a person who enjoys certain inalienable natural rights which also have been recognized under the Constitution are required to be addressed. In this context, the individuality of a person and the acceptance of identity invite advertence to some necessary concepts which eventually recognize the constitutional status of an individual that resultantly brushes aside the “act” and respects the dignity and choice of the individual.

G. The Constitution – an organic charter of progressive rights

82. A democratic Constitution like ours is an organic and breathing document with senses which are very much alive to its surroundings, for it has been created in such a manner that it can adapt to the needs and developments taking place in the society. It was highlighted by this Court in the case of Chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh and others v. L.V.A. Dixitulu and others (1979) 2 SCC 34 that the Constitution is a living, integrated organism having a soul and consciousness of its own and its pulse beats, emanating from the spinal cord of its basic framework, can be felt all over its body, even in the extremities of its limbs.

83. In the case of Saurabh Chaudri and others v. Union of India and others (2003) 11 SCC 146, it was observed:-

“Our Constitution is organic in nature, being a living organ, it is ongoing and with the passage of time, law must change. Horizons of constitutional law are expanding.”

84. Thus, we are required to keep in view the dynamic concepts inherent in the Constitution that have the potential to enable and urge the constitutional courts to beam with expansionism that really grows to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances without losing the identity of the Constitution. The idea of identity of the individual and the constitutional legitimacy behind the same is of immense significance. Therefore, in this context, the duty of the constitutional courts gets accentuated. We emphasize on the role of the constitutional courts in realizing the evolving nature of this living instrument. Through its dynamic and purposive interpretative approach, the judiciary must strive to breathe life into the Constitution and not render the document a collection of mere dead letters. The following observations made in the case of Ashok Kumar Gupta and another v. State of U.P. and others (1997) 5 SCC 201 further throws light on this role of the courts:-

“Therefore, it is but the duty of the Court to supply vitality, blood and flesh, to balance the competing rights by interpreting the principles, to the language or the words contained in the living and organic Constitution, broadly and liberally.”

85. The rights that are guaranteed as Fundamental Rights under our Constitution are the dynamic and timeless rights of ‘liberty’ and ‘equality’ and it would be against the principles of our Constitution to give them a static interpretation without recognizing their transformative and evolving nature. The argument does not lie in the fact that the concepts underlying these rights change with the changing times but the changing times illustrate and illuminate the concepts underlying the said rights. In this regard, the observations in Video Electronics Pvt. Ltd. and another v. State of Punjab and another (1990) 3 SCC 87 are quite instructive:-

“Constitution is a living organism and the latent meaning of the expressions used can be given effect to only if a particular situation arises. It is not that with changing times the meaning changes but changing times illustrate and illuminate the meaning of the expressions used. The connotation of the expressions used takes its shape and colour in evolving dynamic situations.”

86. Our Constitution fosters and strengthens the spirit of equality and envisions a society where every person enjoys equal rights which enable him/her to grow and realize his/her potential as an individual. This guarantee of recognition of individuality runs through the entire length and breadth of this dynamic instrument. The Constitution has been conceived of and designed in a manner which acknowledges the fact that ‘change is inevitable’. It is the duty of the courts to realize the constitutional vision of equal rights in consonance with the current demands and situations and not to read and interpret the same as per the standards of equality that existed decades ago. The judiciary cannot remain oblivious to the fact that the society is constantly evolving and many a variation may emerge with the changing times. There is a constant need to transform the constitutional idealism into reality by fostering respect for human rights, promoting inclusion of pluralism, bringing harmony, that is, unity amongst diversity, abandoning the idea of alienation or some unacceptable social notions built on medieval egos and establishing the cult of egalitarian liberalism founded on reasonable principles that can withstand scrutiny.

87. In Ashok Kumar Gupta (supra), the Court had observed that common sense has always served in the court’s ceaseless striving as a voice of reason to maintain the blend of change and continuity of order which are sine qua non for stability in the process of change in a parliamentary democracy. The Court ruled that it is not bound to accept an interpretation which retards the progress or impedes social integration. The Court further observed that it is required to adopt such interpretation which would give the ideals set out in the Preamble to the Constitution aided by Part III and Part IV a meaningful and living reality for all sections of the society.

88. It is through this armoury of expansive dynamism that the courts have been able to give an all-inclusive interpretation to the fundamental rights enshrined in Part III of our Constitution. This is borne testimony by the decisions of the constitutional courts which have evolved views for extending the protection of fundamental rights to those who have been deprived of the enjoyment of the same. If not for such an approach adopted by the courts, our Constitution and its progressive principles would have been rendered ineffective and the dynamic charter would be reduced to a mere ornate document without any purpose or object.

89. The Court, as the final arbiter of the Constitution, has to keep in view the necessities of the needy and the weaker sections. The role of the Court assumes further importance when the class or community whose rights are in question are those who have been the object of humiliation, discrimination, separation and violence by not only the State and the society at large but also at the hands of their very own family members. The development of law cannot be a mute spectator to the struggle for the realisation and attainment of the rights of such members of the society.

90. The authority in NALSA is one such recent illustration where the rights of transgenders as a third sex was recognized which had been long due in a democracy like ours.

This Court ruled: –

“It is now very well recognized that the Constitution is a living character; its interpretation must be dynamic. It must be understood in a way that intricate and advances modern realty. The judiciary is the guardian of the Constitution and by ensuring to grant legitimate right that is due to TGs, we are simply protecting the Constitution and the democracy inasmuch as judicial protection and democracy in general and of human rights in particular is a characteristic of our vibrant democracy.

As we have pointed out above, our Constitution inheres liberal and substantive democracy with rule of law as an important and fundamental pillar. It has its own internal morality based on dignity and equality of all human beings. Rule of law demands protection of individual human rights. Such rights are to be guaranteed to each and every human being. These TGs, even though insignificant in numbers, are still human beings and therefore they have every right to enjoy their human rights.”

The ‘living document’ concept finds place in several international authorities as well. The courts in other jurisdictions have endorsed the view that the Constitution is forever evolving in nature and that a progressive approach is mandated by the principles inherent in the Constitution itself.

91. The Supreme Court of Canada, while giving an expansive interpretation to marriage by including same-sex unions within its encompass, in Re: Same Sex Marriage (2004) 3 S.C.R. 698, has observed:-

“The “frozen concepts” reasoning runs contrary to one of the most fundamental principles of Canadian constitutional interpretation: that our Constitution is a living tree which, by way of progressive interpretation, accommodates and addresses the realities of modern life.”

92. As early as the 1920s, the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of State of Missouri v. Holland 252 U.S. 416 (1920) , while making a comparison between the ‘instrument in dispute’ and the ‘Constitution’, had made the following observations with regard to the nature of the Constitution:-

“When we are dealing with words that also are a constituent act, like the Constitution of the United States, we must realize that they have called into life a being the development of which could not have been foreseen completely by the most gifted of its begetters. It was enough for them to realize or to hope that they had created an organism; it has taken a century and has cost their successors much sweat and blood to prove that they created a nation.”

93. In one of his celebrated works, Judge Richard Posner made certain observations which would be relevant to be reproduced here:-

“A constitution that did not invalidate so offensive, oppressive, probably undemocratic, and sectarian law [as the Connecticut law banning contraceptives] would stand revealed as containing major gaps. Maybe that is the nature of our, or perhaps any, written Constitution; but yet, perhaps the courts are authorized to plug at least the most glaring gaps. Does anyone really believe, in his heart of hearts, that the Constitution should be interpreted so literally as to authorize every conceivable law that would not violate a specific constitutional clause?

This would mean that a state could require everyone to marry, or to have intercourse at least once a month, or it could take away every couple’s second child and place it in a foster home…. We find it reassuring to think that the courts stand between us and legislative tyranny even if a particular form of tyranny was not foreseen and expressly forbidden by framers of the Constitution.”

94. Thus, it is demonstrable that expansive growth of constitutional idealism is embedded in the theory of progress, abandonment of status quoist attitude, expansion of the concept of inclusiveness and constant remembrance of the principle of fitting into the norm of change with a constitutional philosophy.

H. Transformative constitutionalism and the rights of LGBT community

95. For understanding the need of having a constitutional democracy and for solving the million dollar question as to why we adopted the Constitution, we perhaps need to understand the concept of transformative constitutionalism with some degree of definiteness. In this quest of ours, the ideals enshrined in the Preamble to our Constitution would be a guiding laser beam. The ultimate goal of our magnificent Constitution is to make right the upheaval which existed in the Indian society before the adopting of the Constitution. The Court in State of Kerala and another v. N.M. Thomas and others AIR 1976 SC 490 observed that the Indian Constitution is a great social document, almost revolutionary in its aim of transforming a medieval, hierarchical society into a modern, egalitarian democracy and its provisions can be comprehended only by a spacious, social-science approach, not by pedantic, traditional legalism. The whole idea of having a Constitution is to guide the nation towards a resplendent future. Therefore, the purpose of having a Constitution is to transform the society for the better and this objective is the fundamental pillar of transformative constitutionalism.

96. The concept of transformative constitutionalism has at its kernel a pledge, promise and thirst to transform the Indian society so as to embrace therein, in letter and spirit, the ideals of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity as set out in the Preamble to our Constitution. The expression ‘transformative constitutionalism’ can be best understood by embracing a pragmatic lens which will help in recognizing the realities of the current day. Transformation as a singular term is diametrically opposed to something which is static and stagnant, rather it signifies change, alteration and the ability to metamorphose. Thus, the concept of transformative constitutionalism, which is an actuality with regard to all Constitutions and particularly so with regard to the Indian Constitution, is, as a matter of fact, the ability of the Constitution to adapt and transform with the changing needs of the times.

97. It is this ability of a Constitution to transform which gives it the character of a living and organic document. A Constitution continuously shapes the lives of citizens in particular and societies in general. Its exposition and energetic appreciation by constitutional courts constitute the lifeblood of progressive societies. The Constitution would become a stale and dead testament without dynamic, vibrant and pragmatic interpretation. Constitutional provisions have to be construed and developed in such a manner that their real intent and existence percolates to all segments of the society. That is the raison d’etre for the Constitution.

98. The Supreme Court as well as other constitutional courts have time and again realized that in a society undergoing fast social and economic change, static judicial interpretation of the Constitution would stultify the spirit of the Constitution. Accordingly, the constitutional courts, while viewing the Constitution as a transformative document, have ardently fulfilled their obligation to act as the sentinel on qui vive for guarding the rights of all individuals irrespective of their sex, choice and sexual orientation.

99. The purpose of transformative constitutionalism has been aptly described in the case of Road Accident Fund and another v. Mdeyide 2008 (1) SC 535 (CC) wherein the Constitutional Court of South Africa, speaking in the context of the transformative role of the Constitution of South Africa, had observed:-

“Our Constitution has often been described as “transformative”. One of the most important purposes of this transformation is to ensure that, by the realisation of fundamental socio-economic rights, people disadvantaged by their deprived social and economic circumstances become more capable of enjoying a life of dignity, freedom and equality that lies at the heart of our constitutional democracy.”

100. In Bato Star Fishing (Pty) Ltd v. Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and others (2004) ZACC 15, the Constitutional Court of South Africa opined:-

“The achievement of equality is one of the fundamental goals that we have fashioned for ourselves in the Constitution. Our constitutional order is committed to the transformation of our society from a grossly unequal society to one “in which there is equality between men and women and people of all races”. In this fundamental way, our Constitution differs from other constitutions which assume that all are equal and in so doing simply entrench existing inequalities.Our Constitution recognises that decades of systematic racial discrimination entrenched by the apartheid legal order cannot be eliminated without positive action being taken to achieve that result. We are required to do more than that. The effects of discrimination may continue indefinitely unless there is a commitment to end it.”

101. Davies understands transformation as follows:-

“Transformation which is based on the continuing evaluation and modification of a complex material and ideological environment cannot be reduced to a scientific theory of change, like those of evolution or the halflife of radioactive substances … practical change occurs within a climate of serious reflection, and diversity of opinion is in my view absolutely essential as a stimulus to theory.”

102. A J Van der Walt has metaphorically, by comparing ‘constitutional transformation’ to ‘dancing’, described the art of constitutional transformation to be continually progressive where one does not stop from daring to imagine alternatives and that the society could be different and a better place where the rights of every individual are given due recognition:-

“However, even when we trade the static imagery of position, standing, for the more complex imagery of dancing, we still have to resist the temptation to see transformation as linear movement or progress – from authoritarianism to justification, from one dancing code to another, or from volkspele jurisprudence to toyitoyi jurisprudence… I suggest that we should not only switch to a more complex metaphorical code such as dancing when discussing transformation, but that we should also deconstruct the codes we dance to; pause to reflect upon the language in terms of which we think and talk and reason about constitutionalism, about rights, and about transformation, and recognize the liberating and the captivating potential of the codes shaping and shaped by that language.”

103. Again, the Supreme Court of South Africa in President of the Republic of South Africa v. Hugo (1997) 6 B.C.L.R. 708 (CC) observed that the prohibition on unfair discrimination in the interim Constitution seeks not only to avoid discrimination against people who are members of disadvantaged groups but also that at the heart of the prohibition of unfair discrimination lies a recognition that the purpose of our new constitutional and democratic order is the establishment of a society in which all human beings will be accorded equal dignity and respect, regardless of their membership of particular groups.

104. Equality does not only imply recognition of individual dignity but also includes within its sphere ensuring of equal opportunity to advance and develop their human potential and social, economic and legal interests of every individual and the process of transformative constitutionalism is dedicated to this purpose. It has been observed by Albertyn & Goldblatt:-

“The challenge of achieving equality within this transformation project involves the eradication of systemic forms of discrimination and material disadvantage based on race, gender, class and other forms of inequality. It also entails the development of opportunities which allow people to realise their full human potential within positive social relationships.”

105. In Investigating Directorate: Serious Economic Offences and others v. Hyundai Motor Distributors (Pty) Ltd and others: In Re Hyundai Motor Distributors (Pty) Ltd and others v. Smit NO and others 2001 (1) SA 545 (CC) the Constitutional Court of South Africa observed:-

“The Constitution is located in a history which involves a transition from a society based on division, injustice and exclusion from the democratic process to one which respects the dignity of all citizens and includes all in the process of governance. As such, the process of interpreting the Constitution must recognise the context in which we find ourselves and the Constitution’s goal of a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights. This spirit of transition and transformation characterises the constitutional enterprise as a whole. … The Constitution requires that judicial officers read legislation, where possible, in ways which give effect to its fundamental values. Consistently with this, when the constitutionality of legislation is in issue, they are under a duty to examine the objects and purport of an Act and to read the provisions of the legislation, so far as is possible, in conformity with the Constitution.”

106. The society has changed much now, not just from the year 1860 when the Indian Penal Code was brought into force but there has also been continuous progressive change. In many spheres, the sexual minorities have been accepted. They have been given space after the NALSA judgment but the offence punishable under Section 377 IPC, as submitted, creates a chilling effect. The freedom that is required to be attached to sexuality still remains in the pavilion with no nerves to move. The immobility due to fear corrodes the desire to express one’s own sexual orientation as a consequence of which the body with flesh and bones feels itself caged and a sense of fear gradually converts itself into a skeleton sans spirit.

107. The question of freedom of choosing a partner is reflective from a catena of recent judgments of this Court such as Shafin Jahan (supra) wherein the Court held that a person who has come of age and has the capability to think on his/her own has a right to choose his/her life partner. It is apposite to reproduce some of the observations made by the Court which are to the following effect:-

“It is obligatory to state here that expression of choice in accord with law is acceptance of individual identity. Curtailment of that expression and the ultimate action emanating therefrom on the conceptual structuralism of obeisance to the societal will destroy the individualistic entity of a person. The social values and morals have their space but they are not above the constitutionally guaranteed freedom. The said freedom is both a constitutional and a human right. Deprivation of that freedom which is ingrained in choice on the plea of faith is impermissible.”

108. Recently, in Shakti Vahini (supra), the Court has ruled that the right to choose a life partner is a facet of individual liberty and the Court, for the protection of this right, issued preventive, remedial and punitive measures to curb the menace of honour killings. The Court observed:-

“When the ability to choose is crushed in the name of class honour and the person’s physical frame is treated with absolute indignity, a chilling effect dominates over the brains and bones of the society at large.”

109. An argument is sometimes advanced that what is permissible between two adults engaged in acceptable sexual activity is different in the case of two individuals of the same sex, be it homosexuals or lesbians, and the ground of difference is supported by social standardization. Such an argument ignores the individual orientation, which is naturally natural, and disrobes the individual of his/her identity and the inherent dignity and choice attached to his/her being.

110. The principle of transformative constitutionalism also places upon the judicial arm of the State a duty to ensure and uphold the supremacy of the Constitution, while at the same time ensuring that a sense of transformation is ushered constantly and endlessly in the society by interpreting and enforcing the Constitution as well as other provisions of law in consonance with the avowed object. The idea is to steer the country and its institutions in a democratic egalitarian direction where there is increased protection of fundamental rights and other freedoms. It is in this way that transformative constitutionalism attains the status of an ideal model imbibing the philosophy and morals of constitutionalism and fostering greater respect for human rights. It ought to be remembered that the Constitution is not a mere parchment; it derives its strength from the ideals and values enshrined in it. However, it is only when we adhere to constitutionalism as the supreme creed and faith and develop a constitutional culture to protect the fundamental rights of an individual that we can preserve and strengthen the values of our compassionate Constitution.

I. Constitutional morality and Section 377 IPC

111. The concept of constitutional morality is not limited to the mere observance of the core principles of constitutionalism as the magnitude and sweep of constitutional morality is not confined to the provisions and literal text which a Constitution contains, rather it embraces within itself virtues of a wide magnitude such as that of ushering a pluralistic and inclusive society, while at the same time adhering to the other principles of constitutionalism. It is further the result of embodying constitutional morality that the values of constitutionalism trickle down and percolate through the apparatus of the State for the betterment of each and every individual citizen of the State.

112. In one of the Constituent Assembly Debates, Dr. Ambedkar, explaining the concept of constitutional morality by quoting the Greek historian, George Grote, said:-

“By constitutional morality, Grote meant… a paramount reverence for the forms of the constitution, enforcing obedience to authority and acting under and within these forms, yet combined with the habit of open speech, of action subject only to definite legal control, and unrestrained censure of those very authorities as to all their public acts combined, too with a perfect confidence in the bosom of every citizen amidst the bitterness of party contest that the forms of constitution wall not be less sacred in the eyes of his opponents than his own.”

113. Our Constitution was visualized with the aim of securing to the citizens of our country inalienable rights which were essential for fostering a spirit of growth and development and at the same time ensuring that the three organs of the State working under the aegis of the Constitution and deriving their authority from the supreme document, that is, the Constitution, practise constitutional morality. The Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary all have to stay alive to the concept of constitutional morality.

114. In the same speech50, Dr. Ambedkar had quoted George Grote who had observed:-

“The diffusion of ‘constitutional morality’, not merely among the majority of any community, but throughout the whole is the indispensable condition of a government at once free and peaceable; since even any powerful and obstinate minority may render the working of a free institution impracticable, without being strong enough to conquer ascendance for themselves.”

This statement of Dr. Ambedkar underscores that constitutional morality is not a natural forte for our country for the simple reason that our country had attained freedom after a long period of colonial rule and, therefore, constitutional morality at the time when the Constituent Assembly was set up was an alien notion. However, the strengthening of constitutional morality in contemporary India remains a duty of the organs of the State including the Judiciary.

115. The society as a whole or even a minuscule part of the society may aspire and prefer different things for themselves. They are perfectly competent to have such a freedom to be different, like different things, so on and so forth, provided that their different tastes and liking remain within their legal framework and neither violates any statute nor results in the abridgement of fundamental rights of any other citizen. The Preambular goals of our Constitution which contain the noble objectives of Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity can only be achieved through the commitment and loyalty of the organs of the State to the principle of constitutional morality.

116. It is the concept of constitutional morality which strives and urges the organs of the State to maintain such a heterogeneous fibre in the society, not just in the limited sense, but also in multifarious ways. It is the responsibility of all the three organs of the State to curb any propensity or proclivity of popular sentiment or majoritarianism. Any attempt to push and shove a homogeneous, uniform, consistent and a standardised philosophy throughout the society would violate the principle of constitutional morality. Devotion and fidelity to constitutional morality must not be equated with the popular sentiment prevalent at a particular point of time.

117. Any asymmetrical attitude in the society, so long as it is within the legal and constitutional framework, must at least be provided an environment in which it could be sustained, if not fostered. It is only when such an approach is adopted that the freedom of expression including that of choice would be allowed to prosper and flourish and if that is achieved, freedom and liberty, which is the quintessence of constitutional morality, will be allowed to survive.

118. In Government of NCT of Delhi v. Union of India and others 2018 (8) SCALE 72, one of us (Dipak Misra, CJI) observed:-

“Constitutional morality, appositely understood, means the morality that has inherent elements in the constitutional norms and the conscience of the Constitution. Any act to garner justification must possess the potentiality to be in harmony with the constitutional impulse. We may give an example. When one is expressing an idea of generosity, he may not be meeting the standard of justness. There may be an element of condescension. But when one shows justness in action, there is no feeling of any grant or generosity. That will come within the normative value. That is the test of constitutional justness which falls within the sweep of constitutional morality. It advocates the principle of constitutional justness without subjective exposition of generosity.”

119. The duty of the constitutional courts is to adjudge the validity of law on well-established principles, namely, legislative competence or violations of fundamental rights or of any other constitutional provisions. At the same time, it is expected from the courts as the final arbiter of the Constitution to uphold the cherished principles of the Constitution and not to be remotely guided by majoritarian view or popular perception. The Court has to be guided by the conception of constitutional morality and not by the societal morality.

120. We may hasten to add here that in the context of the issue at hand, when a penal provision is challenged as being violative of the fundamental rights of a section of the society, notwithstanding the fact whether the said section of the society is a minority or a majority, the magna cum laude and creditable principle of constitutional morality, in a constitutional democracy like ours where the rule of law prevails, must not be allowed to be trampled by obscure notions of social morality which have no legal tenability. The concept of constitutional morality would serve as an aid for the Court to arrive at a just decision which would be in consonance with the constitutional rights of the citizens, howsoever small that fragment of the populace may be. The idea of number, in this context, is meaningless; like zero on the left side of any number.

121. In this regard, we have to telescopically analyse social morality vis-à-vis constitutional morality. It needs no special emphasis to state that whenever the constitutional courts come across a situation of transgression or dereliction in the sphere of fundamental rights, which are also the basic human rights of a section, howsoever small part of the society, then it is for the constitutional courts to ensure, with the aid of judicial engagement and creativity, that constitutional morality prevails over social morality.

122. In the garb of social morality, the members of the LGBT community must not be outlawed or given a step-motherly treatment of malefactor by the society. If this happens or if such a treatment to the LGBT community is allowed to persist, then the constitutional courts, which are under the obligation to protect the fundamental rights, would be failing in the discharge of their duty. A failure to do so would reduce the citizenry rights to a cipher.

123. We must not forget that the founding fathers adopted an inclusive Constitution with provisions that not only allowed the State, but also, at times, directed the State, to undertake affirmative action to eradicate the systematic discrimination against the backward sections of the society and the expulsion and censure of the vulnerable communities by the so-called upper caste/sections of the society that existed on a massive scale prior to coming into existence of the Constituent Assembly. These were nothing but facets of the majoritarian social morality which were sought to be rectified by bringing into force the Constitution of India. Thus, the adoption of the Constitution, was, in a way, an instrument or agency for achieving constitutional morality and means to discourage the prevalent social morality at that time. A country or a society which embraces constitutional morality has at its core the well-founded idea of inclusiveness.

124. While testing the constitutional validity of impugned provision of law, if a constitutional court is of the view that the impugned provision falls foul to the precept of constitutional morality, then the said provision has to be declared as unconstitutional for the pure and simple reason that the constitutional courts exist to uphold the Constitution.

J. Perspective of human dignity

125. While discussing about the role of human dignity in gay rights adjudication and legislation, Michele Finck observes:-

“As a concept devoid of a precise legal meaning, yet widely appealing at an intuitive level, dignity- can be easily manipulated and transposed into a number of legal contexts. With regard to the rights of lesbian and gay individuals, dignity captures what Nussbaum described as the transition from “disgust” to “humanity.” Once looked at with disgust and considered unworthy of some rights, there is increasing consensus that homosexuals should no longer be deprived of the benefits of citizenship that are available to heterosexuals, such as the ability to contract marriage, on the sole ground of their sexual orientation. Homosexuals are increasingly considered as “full humans” disposing of equal rights, and dignity functions as the vocabulary that translates such socio-cultural change into legal change”

126. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 became the Magna Carta of people all over the world. The first Article of the UDHR was uncompromising in its generality of application: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Justice Kirby succinctly observed:-

“This language embraced every individual in our world. It did not apply only to citizens. It did not apply only to ‘white’ people. It did not apply only to good people. Prisoners, murderers and even traitors were to be entitled to the freedoms that were declared. There were no exceptions to the principles of equality.”

127. The fundamental idea of dignity is regarded as an inseparable facet of human personality. Dignity has been duly recognized as an important aspect of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution. In the international sphere, the right to live with dignity had been identified as a human right way back in 1948 with the introduction of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The constitutional courts of our country have solemnly dealt with the task of assuring and preserving the right to dignity of each and every individual whenever the occasion arises, for without the right to live with dignity, all other fundamental rights may not realise their complete meaning.

128. To understand a person’s dignity, one has to appreciate how the dignity of another is to be perceived. Alexis de Tocqueville tells us :-

“Whenever I find myself in the presence of another human being, of whatever station, my dominant feeling is not so much to serve him or please him as not to offend his dignity.”

129. Every individual has many possessions which assume the position of his/her definitive characteristics. There may not be any obsession with them but he/she may abhor to be denuded of them, for they are sacred to him/her and so inseparably associated that he/she may not conceive of any dissolution. He/she would like others to respect the said attributes with a singular acceptable condition that there is mutual respect. Mutual respect abandons outside interference and is averse to any kind of interdiction. It is based on the precept that the individuality of an individual is recognized, accepted and respected. Such respect for the conception of dignity has become a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution and that ushers in the right of liberty of expression. Dignity and liberty as a twin concept in a society that cares for both, apart from painting a grand picture of humanity, also smoothens the atmosphere by promoting peaceful co-existence and thereby makes the administration of justice easy. In such a society, everyone becomes a part of the social engineering process where rights as inviolable and sacrosanct principles are adhered to; individual choice is not an exception and each one gets his/her space. Though no tower is built, yet the tower of individual rights with peaceful co-existence is visible.

130. In Common Cause (A Regd. Society) (supra), one of us has observed that human dignity is beyond definition and it may, at times, defy description. To some, it may seem to be in the world of abstraction and some may even perversely treat it as an attribute of egotism or accentuated eccentricity. This feeling may come from the roots of absolute cynicism, but what really matters is that life without dignity is like a sound that is not heard. Dignity speaks, it has its sound, it is natural and human. It is a combination of thought and feeling.

131. In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India and another (1978) 1 SCC 248, Krishna Iyer, J. observed that life is a terrestrial opportunity for unfolding personality and when any aspect of Article 21 is viewed in a truncated manner, several other freedoms fade out automatically. It has to be borne in mind that dignity of all is a sacrosanct human right and sans dignity, human life loses its substantial meaning.

132. Dignity is that component of one’s being without which sustenance of his/her being to the fullest or completest is inconceivable. In the theatre of life, without possession of the attribute of identity with dignity, the entity may be allowed entry to the centre stage but would be characterized as a spineless entity or, for that matter, projected as a ruling king without the sceptre. The purpose of saying so is that the identity of every individual attains the quality of an “individual being” only if he/she has the dignity. Dignity while expressive of choice is averse to creation of any dent. When biological expression, be it an orientation or optional expression of choice, is faced with impediment, albeit through any imposition of law, the individual’s natural and constitutional right is dented. Such a situation urges the conscience of the final constitutional arbiter to demolish the obstruction and remove the impediment so as to allow the full blossoming of the natural and constitutional rights of individuals. This is the essence of dignity and we say, without any inhibition, that it is our constitutional duty to allow the individual to behave and conduct himself/herself as he/she desires and allow him/her to express himself/herself, of course, with the consent of the other. That is the right to choose without fear. It has to be ingrained as a necessary pre-requisite that consent is the real fulcrum of any sexual relationship.

133. In this context, we may travel a little abroad. In Law v. Canada (Minister of Employment and Immigration) 1999 1 S.C.R. 497 capturing the essence of dignity, the Supreme Court of Canada has made the following observations:-

“Human dignity means that an individual or group feels self-respect and self-worth. It is concerned with physical and psychological integrity and empowerment. Human dignity is harmed by unfair treatment premised upon personal traits or circumstances which do not relate to individual needs, capacities, or merits. It is enhanced by laws which are sensitive to the needs, capacities, and merits of different individuals, taking into account the context underlying their differences. Human dignity is harmed when individuals and groups are marginalized, ignored, or devalued, and is enhanced when laws recognise the full place of all individuals and groups within Canadian society.”

134. It is not only the duty of the State and the Judiciary to protect this basic right to dignity, but the collective at large also owes a responsibility to respect one another’s dignity, for showing respect for the dignity of another is a constitutional duty. It is an expression of the component of constitutional fraternity.

135. The concept of dignity gains importance in the present scenario, for a challenge has been raised to a provision of law which encroaches upon this essential right of a severely deprived section of our society. An individual’s choice to engage in certain acts within their private sphere has been restricted by criminalising the same on account of the age old social perception. To harness such an essential decision, which defines the individualism of a person, by tainting it with criminality would violate the individual’s right to dignity by reducing it to mere letters without any spirit.

136. The European Court of Justice in P v. S in the context of rights of individuals who intend to or have undergone sex reassignment has observed that where a person is dismissed on the ground that he or she intends to undergo or has undergone gender reassignment, he or she is treated unfavorably by comparison with persons of the sex to which he or she was deemed to belong before undergoing gender reassignment. To tolerate such discrimination would tantamount, as regards such a person, to a failure to respect the dignity and freedom to which he or she is entitled and which the Court has a duty to safeguard.

137. In Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey 505 U.S. 833 (1992) the United States Supreme Court had opined that such matters which involve the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.

138. From the aforesaid pronouncements, some in different spheres but some also in the sphere of sexual orientation, the constitutional courts have laid emphasis on individual inclination, expression of both emotional and physical behaviour and freedom of choice, of course, subject to the consent of the other. A biological engagement, in contradistinction to going to a restaurant or going to a theatre to see a film or a play, is founded on company wherein both the parties have consented for the act. The inclination is an expression of choice that defines the personality to cumulatively build up the elevated paradigm of dignity. Be it clarified that expression of choice, apart from being a facet of dignity, is also an essential component of liberty. Liberty as a concept has to be given its due place in the realm of dignity, for both are connected with the life and living of a persona.

K. Sexual orientation

139. After stating about the value of dignity, we would have proceeded to deal with the cherished idea of privacy which has recently received concrete clarity in Puttaswamy’s case. Prior to that, we are advised to devote some space to sexual orientation and the instructive definition of LGBT by Michael Kirby, former Judge of the High Court of Australia:-

Homosexual: People of either gender who are attracted, sexually, emotionally and in relationships, to persons of the same sex.

Bisexual: Women who are attracted to both sexes; men who are attracted to both sexes.

Lesbian: Women who are attracted to women.

Gay: Men who are attracted to men, although this term is sometimes also used generically for all same-sex attracted persons.

Gender identity: A phenomenon distinct from sexual orientation which refers to whether a person identifies as male or female. This identity’ may exist whether there is “conformity or non-conformity” between their physical or biological or birth sex and their psychological sex and the way they express it through physical characteristics, appearance and conduct. It applies whether, in the Indian sub-continent, they identify as hijra or kothi or by another name.

Intersex: Persons who are born with a chromosomal pattern or physical characteristics that do not clearly fall on one side or the other of a binary malefemale line.

LGBT or LGBTIQ: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Intersex and Queer minorities. The word ‘Queer’ is sometimes used generically, usually by younger people, to include the members of all of the sexual minorities. I usually avoid this expression because of its pejorative overtones within an audience unfamiliar with the expression. However, it is spreading and, amongst the young, is often seen as an instance of taking possession of a pejorative word in order to remove its sting.

MSM: Men who have sex with men. This expression is common in United Nations circles. It refers solely to physical, sexual activity by men with men. The expression is used on the basis that in some countries – including India – some men may engage in sexual acts with their own sex although not identifying as homosexual or even accepting a romantic or relationship emotion.”

140. Presently, we shall focus on the aspect of sexual orientation. Every human being has certain basic biological characteristics and acquires or develops some facets under certain circumstances. The first can generally be termed as inherent orientation that is natural to his/her being. The second can be described as a demonstration of his/her choice which gradually becomes an inseparable quality of his/her being, for the individual also leans on a different expression because of the inclination to derive satisfaction. The third one has the proclivity which he/she maintains and does not express any other inclination. The first one is homosexuality, the second, bisexuality and third, heterosexuality. The third one is regarded as natural and the first one, by the same standard, is treated to be unnatural. When the second category exercises his/her choice of homosexuality and involves in such an act, the same is also not accepted. In sum, the ‘act’ is treated either in accord with nature or against the order of nature in terms of societal perception.

141. The Yogyakarta Principles define the expression “sexual orientation” thus:- “Sexual Orientation” is understood to refer to each person’s capacity for profound emotional, affectional and sexual attraction to and intimate and sexual relations with, individuals of a different gender or the same gender or more than one gender.”

142. In its study, the American Psychological Association has attempted to define “sexual orientation” in the following manner:-

“Sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic and/or sexual attractions to men. women or both sexes. Sexual orientation also refers to a person’s sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors, and membership in a community of others who share those attractions. Research over several decades has demonstrated that sexual orientation ranges along a continuum, from exclusive attraction to the other sex to exclusive attraction to the same sex.”

143. From the aforesaid, it has to be appreciated that homosexuality is something that is based on sense of identity. It is the reflection of a sense of emotion and expression of eagerness to establish intimacy. It is just as much ingrained, inherent and innate as heterosexuality. Sexual orientation, as a concept, fundamentally implies a pattern of sexual attraction. It is as natural a phenomenon as other natural biological phenomena. What the science of sexuality has led to is that an individual has the tendency to feel sexually attracted towards the same sex, for the decision is one that is controlled by neurological and biological factors. That is why it is his/her natural orientation which is innate and constitutes the core of his/her being and identity. That apart, on occasions, due to a sense of mutuality of release of passion, two adults may agree to express themselves in a different sexual behaviour which may include both the genders. To this, one can attribute a bisexual orientation which does not follow the rigidity but allows room for flexibility.

144. The society cannot remain unmindful to the theory which several researches, conducted both in the field of biological and psychological science, have proven and reaffirmed time and again. To compel a person having a certain sexual orientation to proselytize to another is like asking a body part to perform a function it was never designed to perform in the first place. It is pure science, a certain manner in which the brain and genitals of an individual function and react. Whether one’s sexual orientation is determined by genetic, hormonal, developmental, social and/or cultural influences (or a combination thereof), most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.

145. The statement of the American Psychological Association on homosexuality which was released in July 1994 reiterates this position in the following observations:-

“The research on homosexuality is very7 clear. Homosexuality is neither mental illness nor moral depravity. It is simply the way a minority of our population expresses human love and sexuality. Study after study documents the mental health of gay men and lesbians. Studies of judgment, stability, reliability, and social and vocational adaptiveness all show that gay men and lesbians function every bit as well as heterosexuals.

Nor is homosexuality a matter of individual choice. Research suggests that the homosexual orientation is in place very early in the life cycle, possibly even before birth. It is found in about ten percent of the population, a figure which is surprisingly constant across cultures, irrespective of the different moral values and standards of a particular culture. Contrary to what some imply, the incidence of homosexuality in a population does not appear to change with new moral codes or social mores. Research findings suggest that efforts to repair homosexuals are nothing more than social prejudice garbed in psychological accouterments.”

(Emphasis is ours)

146. In the said context, the observations made by Leonard Sax to the following effect are relevant and are reproduced below:-

“Biologically, the difference between a gay man and a straight man is something like the difference between a left-handed person and a right-handed person. Being left- handed isn’t just a phase. A left-handed person won’t someday magically turn into a right-handed person…. Some children are destined at birth to be left-handed, and some boys are destined at birth to grow up to be gay.”

147. The Supreme Court of Canada in the case of James Egan and John Norris Nesbit v. Her Majesty The Queen in Right of Canada and another(1995) 2 SCR 513, while holding that sexual orientation is one of the grounds for claiming the benefit under Section 15(1) as it is analogous to the grounds already set out in the list in Section 15(1) and the said list not being finite and exhaustive can be extended to LGBTs on account of the historical, social, political and economic disadvantage suffered by LGBTs, has observed:-

“Sexual orientation is a deeply personal characteristic that is either unchangeable or changeable only at unacceptable personal costs, and so falls within the ambit of s. 15 protection as being analogous to the enumerated grounds.”

148. It is worth noting that scientific study has, by way of keen analysis, arrived at the conclusion as regards the individual’s inherent orientation. Apart from orientation, as stated earlier, there can be situations which influence the emotional behaviour of an individual to seek intimacy in the same gender that may bring two persons together in a biological pattern. It has to be treated as consensual activity and reflective of consensual choice.

L. Privacy and its concomitant aspects

149. While testing the constitutional validity of Section 377 IPC, due regard must be given to the elevated right to privacy as has been recently proclaimed in Puttaswamy (supra). We shall not delve in detail upon the concept of the right to privacy as the same has been delineated at length in Puttaswamy (supra). In the case at hand, our focus is limited to dealing with the right to privacy vis-à-vis Section 377 IPC and other facets such as right to choice as part of the freedom of expression and sexual orientation. That apart, within the compartment of privacy, individual autonomy has a significant space. Autonomy is individualistic. It is expressive of self-determination and such self-determination includes sexual orientation and declaration of sexual identity. Such an orientation or choice that reflects an individual’s autonomy is innate to him/her. It is an inalienable part of his/her identity. The said identity under the constitutional scheme does not accept any interference as long as its expression is not against decency or morality. And the morality that is conceived of under the Constitution is constitutional morality. Under the autonomy principle, the individual has sovereignty over his/her body. He/she can surrender his/her autonomy wilfully to another individual and their intimacy in privacy is a matter of their choice. Such concept of identity is not only sacred but is also in recognition of the quintessential facet of humanity in a person’s nature. The autonomy establishes identity and the said identity, in the ultimate eventuate, becomes a part of dignity in an individual. This dignity is special to the man/woman who has a right to enjoy his/her life as per the constitutional norms and should not be allowed to wither and perish like a mushroom. It is a directional shift from conceptual macrocosm to cognizable microcosm. When such culture grows, there is an affirmative move towards a more inclusive and egalitarian society. Non-acceptance of the same would tantamount to denial of human rights to people and one cannot be oblivious of the saying of Nelson Mandela ” “to deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”

150. Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (1948) makes a reference to privacy by stating:-

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

151. Similarly, Article 17 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party, talks about privacy thus:-

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home and correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation.”

152. The European Convention on Human Rights also seeks to protect the right to privacy by stating:-

“1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority except such as is in accordance with law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well being of the country, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

153. In the case of Dudgeon v. United Kingdom (1981) 4 EHRR 149, privacy has been defined as under:-

“Perhaps the best and most succinct legal definition of privacy is that given by Warren and Brandeis – it is “the right to be let alone”.”

154. In R. Rajagopal v. State of Tamil Nadu and others (1994) 6 SCC 632, while discussing the concept of right to privacy, it has been observed that the right to privacy is implicit in the right to life and liberty guaranteed to the citizens of this country by Article 21 and it is a “right to be let alone”, for a citizen has a right to safeguard the privacy of his/her own, his/her family, marriage, procreation, motherhood, child-bearing and education, among other matters.

155. The above authorities capture the essence of the right to privacy. There can be no doubt that an individual also has a right to a union under Article 21 of the Constitution. When we say union, we do not mean the union of marriage, though marriage is a union. As a concept, union also means companionship in every sense of the word, be it physical, mental, sexual or emotional. The LGBT community is seeking realisation of its basic right to companionship, so long as such a companionship is consensual, free from the vice of deceit, force, coercion and does not result in violation of the fundamental rights of others.

156. Justice Blackmun, in his vigorous dissent, in the case of Bowers, Attorney General of Georgia v. Hardwick et al. 478 U.$ 186 (1986) , regarding the “right to be let alone”, referred to Paris Adult Theatre I v. Slaton 413 U.$. 49 (1973) wherein he observed that only the most willful blindness could obscure the fact that sexual intimacy is a sensitive, key relationship of human existence, central to family life, community welfare and the development of human personality. Justice Blackmun went on to observe:-

“The fact that individuals define themselves in a significant way through their intimate sexual relationships with others suggests, in a Nation as diverse as ours, that there may be many “right” ways of conducting those relationships, and that much of the richness of a relationship will come from the freedom an individual has to choose the form and nature of these intensely personal bonds. … In a variety of circumstances, we have recognized that a necessary corollary of giving individuals freedom to choose how to conduct their lives is acceptance of the fact that different individuals will make different choices.”

157. In A.R. Coeriel and M.A.R. Aurik v. The Netherlands the Human Rights Committee observed that the notion of privacy refers to the sphere of a person’s life in which he or she can freely express his or her identity, be it by entering into relationships with others or alone. The Committee was of the view that a person’s surname constitutes an important component of one’s identity and that the protection against arbitrary or unlawful interference with one’s privacy includes the protection against arbitrary or unlawful interference with the right to choose and change one’s own name.

158. We may also usefully refer to the views of the Human Rights Committee in Toonen v. Australia69 to the effect that the introduction of the concept of arbitrariness is intended to guarantee that every interference provided for by the law should be in accordance with the provisions, aims and objectives of the Covenant and should be, in any event, reasonable in the circumstances. The requirement of reasonableness implies that any interference with privacy must be proportional to the end sought and be necessary in the circumstances of any given case.

159. The South African Constitutional Court in National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality and another v. Minister of Justice and others 1998 (12) BCLR 1517 (CC) has arrived at a theory of privacy in sexuality that includes both decisional and relational elements. It lays down that privacy recognises that we all have a right to a sphere of private intimacy and autonomy which allows us to establish and nurture human relationships without interference from the outside community. The way in which we give expression to our sexuality is at the core of this area of private intimacy.If, in expressing our sexuality, we act consensually and without harming one another, invasion of that precinct will be a breach of our privacy. The Court admitted that the society had a poor record of seeking to regulate the sexual expression of South Africans. It observed that in some cases, as in this one, the reason for the regulation was discriminatory; the law, for example, outlawed sexual relationships among people of different races. The fact that a law prohibiting forms of sexual conduct is discriminatory does not, however, prevent it at the same time from being an improper invasion of the intimate sphere of human life to which protection is given by the Constitution in Section 14. The Court emphasized that the importance of a right to privacy in the new constitutional order should not be denied even while acknowledging the importance of equality. In fact, emphasising the breach of both these rights in the present case highlights just how egregious the invasion of the constitutional rights of gay persons has been. The offence which lies at the heart of the discrimination in this case constitutes, at the same time and independently, a breach of the rights of privacy and dignity which, without doubt, strengthens the conclusion that the discrimination is unfair.

160. At home, the view as to the right to privacy underwent a sea-change when a nine-Judge Bench of this Court in Puttaswamy (supra) elevated the right to privacy to the stature of fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. One of us, Chandrachud, J., speaking for the majority, regarded the judgment in Suresh Koushal as a discordant note and opined that the reasons stated therein cannot be regarded as a valid constitutional basis for disregarding a claim based on privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution. Further, he observed that the reasoning in Suresh Koushal’s decision to the effect that “a minuscule fraction of the country’s population constitutes lesbians, gays, bisexuals or transgenders” is not a sustainable basis to deny the right to privacy.

161. It was further observed that the purpose of elevating certain rights to the stature of guaranteed fundamental rights is to insulate their exercise from the disdain of majorities, whether legislative or popular, and the guarantee of constitutional rights does not depend upon their exercise being favourably regarded by majoritarian opinion.

162. The test of popular acceptance, in view of the majority opinion, was not at all a valid basis to disregard rights which have been conferred with the sanctity of constitutional protection. The Court noted that the discrete and insular minorities face grave dangers of discrimination for the simple reason that their views, beliefs or way of life does not accord with the ‘mainstream’, but in a democratic Constitution founded on the Rule of Law, it does not mean that their rights are any less sacred than those conferred on other citizens.

163. As far as the aspect of sexual orientation is concerned, the Court opined that it is an essential attribute of privacy and discrimination against an individual on the basis of sexual orientation is deeply offensive to the dignity and self-worth of the individual. The Court was of the view that equality demands that the sexual orientation of each individual in the society must be protected on an even platform, for the right to privacy and the protection of sexual orientation lie at the core of the fundamental rights guaranteed by Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution.

164. Regarding the view in Suresh Koushal’s case to the effect that the Delhi High Court in Naz Foundation case had erroneously relied upon international precedents in its anxiety to protect the so-called rights of LGBT persons, the nine-Judge Bench was of the opinion that the aforesaid view in Suresh Koushal (supra) was unsustainable. The rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population, as per the decision in Puttaswamy (supra), cannot be construed to be “so-called rights” as the expression “so-called” seems to suggest the exercise of liberty in the garb of a right which is illusory.

165. The Court regarded such a construction in Suresh Koushal’s case as inappropriate of the privacy based claims of the LGBT population, for their rights are not at all “so-called” but are real rights founded on sound constitutional doctrine. The Court went on to observe that the rights of the LGBT community inhere in the right to life, dwell in privacy and dignity and they constitute the essence of liberty and freedom. Further, the Court observed that sexual orientation being an essential component of identity, equal protection demands equal protection of the identity of every individual without discrimination.

166. Speaking in the same tone and tenor, Kaul, J., while concurring with the view of Chandrachud, J., observed that the right to privacy cannot be denied even if there is a minuscule fraction of the population which is affected. He was of the view that the majoritarian concept does not apply to constitutional rights and the Courts are often called upon to take what may be categorized as a non-majoritarian view.

167. Kaul, J. went on to opine that one’s sexual orientation is undoubtedly an attribute of privacy and in support of this view, he referred to the observations made in Mosley (supra) which read thus:-

“130… It is not simply a matter of personal privacy v. the public interest. The modern perception is that there is a public interest in respecting personal privacy. It is thus a question of taking account of conflicting public interest considerations and evaluating them according to increasingly well recognized criteria.

131. When the courts identify an infringement of a person’s Article 8 rights, and in particular in the context of his freedom to conduct his sex life and personal relationships as he wishes, it is right to afford a remedy and to vindicate that right. The only permitted exception is where there is a countervailing public interest which in the particular circumstances is strong enough to outweigh it; that is to say. because one at least of the established “limiting principles” comes into play. Was it necessary and proportionate for the intrusion to take place, for example, in order to expose illegal activity or to prevent the public from being significantly misled by public claims hitherto made by the individual concerned (as with Naomi Campbell’s public denials of drug- taking)? Or was it necessary because the information, in the words of the Strasbourg court in Von Hannover at (60) and (76). would make a contribution to “a debate of general interest”? That is, of course, a very high test, it is yet to be determined how far that doctrine will be taken in the courts of this jurisdiction in relation to photography in public places. If taken literally, it would mean a very significant change in what is permitted. It would have a profound effect on the tabloid and celebrity culture to which we have become accustomed in recent years.””

168. After the nine-Judge bench decision in Puttaswamy (supra), the challenge to the vires of Section 377 IPC has been stronger than ever. It needs to be underscored that in the said decision, the nine-Judge Bench has held that sexual orientation is also a facet of a person’s privacy and that the right to privacy is a fundamental right under the Constitution of India.

169. The observation made in Suresh Koushal (supra) that gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders constitute a very minuscule part of the population is perverse due to the very reason that such an approach would be violative of the equality principle enshrined under Article 14 of the Constitution. The mere fact that the percentage of population whose fundamental right to privacy is being abridged by the existence of Section 377 in its present form is low does not impose a limitation upon this Court from protecting the fundamental rights of those who are so affected by the present Section 377 IPC.

170. The constitutional framers could have never intended that the protection of fundamental rights was only for the majority population. If such had been the intention, then all provisions in Part III of the Constitution would have contained qualifying words such as ‘majority persons’ or ‘majority citizens’. Instead, the provisions have employed the words ‘any person’ and ‘any citizen’ making it manifest that the constitutional courts are under an obligation to protect the fundamental rights of every single citizen without waiting for the catastrophic situation when the fundamental rights of the majority of citizens get violated.

171. Such a view is well supported on two counts, namely, one that the constitutional courts have to embody in their approach a telescopic vision wherein they inculcate the ability to be futuristic and do not procrastinate till the day when the number of citizens whose fundamental rights are affected and violated grow in figures. In the case at hand, whatever be the percentage of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders, this Court is not concerned with the number of persons belonging to the LGBT community. What matters is whether this community is entitled to certain fundamental rights which they claim and whether such fundamental rights are being violated due to the presence of a law in the statute book. If the answer to both these questions is in the affirmative, then the constitutional courts must not display an iota of doubt and must not hesitate in striking down such provision of law on the account of it being violative of the fundamental rights of certain citizens, however minuscule their percentage may be.

172. A second count on which the view in Suresh Koushal (supra) becomes highly unsustainable is that the language of both Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution is not reflective of such an intention. A cursory reading of both the Articles divulges that the right to move the Supreme Court and the High Courts under Articles 32 and 226 respectively is not limited to a situation when there is violation of the fundamental rights of a large chunk of populace.

173. Such a view is also fortified by several landmark judgments of the Supreme Court such as D.K. Basu v. State of W.B. (1997) 1 SCC 416 wherein the Court was concerned with the fundamental rights of only those persons who were put under arrest and which again formed a minuscule fraction of the total populace. Another recent case wherein the Supreme Court while discharging its constitutional duty did not hesitate to protect the fundamental right to die with dignity is Common Cause (A Regd. Society) (supra) wherein the SupremeCourt stepped in to protect the said fundamental right of those who may have slipped into permanent vegetative state, who again form a very minuscule part of the society.

174. Such an approach reflects the idea as also mooted by Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. While propounding this view, we are absolutely conscious of the concept of reasonable classification and the fact that even single person legislation could be valid as held in Chiranjit Lal Chowdhury v. Union of India (1950) 1 SCR 869 which regarded the classification to be reasonable from both procedural and substantive points of view. 175. We are aware that the legislature is fully competent to enact laws which are applicable only to a particular class or group. But, for the classification to be valid, it must be founded on an intelligible differentia and the differentia must have a rational nexus with the object sought to be achieved by a particular provision of law.

176. That apart, since it is alleged that Section 377 IPC in its present form violates a fundamental right protected by Article 21 of the Constitution, that is, the right to personal liberty, it has to not only stand the test of Article 21 but it must also stand the test of Article 19 which is to say that the restriction imposed by it has to be reasonable and also that of Article 14 which is to say that Section 377 must not be arbitrary.

177. Whether Section 377 stands the trinity test of Articles 14, 19 and 21 as propounded in the case of Maneka Gandhi (supra) will be ascertained and determined at a later stage of this judgment when we get into the interpretative dissection of Section 377 IPC.

M. Doctrine of progressive realization of rights

178. When we talk about the rights guaranteed under the Constitution and the protection of these rights, we observe and comprehend a manifest ascendance and triumphant march of such rights which, in turn, paves the way for the doctrine of progressive realization of the rights under the Constitution. This doctrine invariably reminds us about the living and dynamic nature of a Constitution. Edmund Burke, delineating upon the progressive and the perpetual growing nature of a Constitution, had said that a Constitution is ever-growing and it is perpetually continuous as it embodies the spirit of a nation. It is enriched at the present by the past experiences and influences and makes the future richer than the present.

179. In N.M. Thomas (supra), Krishna Iyer, J., in his concurring opinion, observed thus:-

“Law, including constitutional law, can no longer go it alone’ but must be illumined in the interpretative process by sociology and allied fields of knowledge. Indeed, the term ‘constitutional law’ symbolizes an intersection of law and politics, wherein issues of political power are acted on by persons trained in the legal tradition, working in judicial institutions, following the procedures of law, thinking as lawyers think. So much so, a wider perspective is needed to resolve issues of constitutional law.”

And again:-

“An overview of the decided cases suggests the need to re-interpret the dynamic import of the ‘equality clauses’ and, to stress again, beyond reasonable doubt, that the paramount law. which is organic and regulates our nation’s growing life, must take in its sweep ethics, economics, politics and sociology’.”

The learned Judge, expanding the horizon of his concern, reproduced the lament of Friedman:-

“It would be tragic if the law were so petrified as to be unable to respond to the unending challenge of evolutionary or revolutionary changes in society.”

The main assumptions which Friedman makes are:

“first, the law is, in Holmes’ phrase, not a brooding omnipotence in the sky’, but a flexible instrument of social order, dependent on the political values of the society which it purports to regulate….”

Naturally surges the interrogation, what are the challenges of changing values to which the guarantee of equality must respond and how?”

180. Further, Krishna Iyer, J. referred to the classic statement made by Chief Justice Marshall in McCulloch v. Maryland (1816) 17 U$ 316 which was also followed by Justice Brennan in Kazenbach v. Morgan (1966) 384 U$ 641 The said observation reads thus:-

“Let the end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of the constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consist with the letter and spirit of the constitution, are constitutional.”

181. In Manoj Narula (supra), the Court recognized the dynamic nature of the Indian Constitution and observed that it is a living document with capabilities of enormous dynamism. It is a Constitution made for a progressive society and the working of such a Constitution depends upon the prevalent atmosphere and conditions.

182. In Government of NCT of Delhi (supra), the Court, while contemplating on what is it that makes a Constitution a dynamic and a living document, observed that it is the philosophy of ‘constitutional culture’ which, as a set of norms and practices, breathes life into the words of the great document and it constantly enables the words to keep stride with the rapid and swift changes occurring in the society and the responsibility of fostering a constitutional culture rests upon the shoulders of the State. Thereafter, the Court went on to observe:-

“The Constitutional Courts, while interpreting the constitutional provisions, have to take into account the constitutional culture, bearing in mind its flexible and evolving nature, so that the provisions are given a meaning which reflect the object and purpose of the Constitution.”

And again, it proceeded to reproduce the wise words of Justice Brennan:-

“We current Justices read the Constitution in the only way that we can: as Twentieth Century Americans. We look to the history of the time of framing and to the intervening history of interpretation. But the ultimate question must be, what do the words of the text mean in our time? For the genius of the Constitution rests not in any static meaning it might have had in a world that is dead and gone, but in the adaptability of its great principles to cope with current problems and current needs. What the constitutional fundamentals meant to the wisdom of other times cannot be their measure to the vision of our time. Similarly, what those fundamentals mean for us, our descendants will learn, cannot be the measure to the vision of their time.”

183. We have discussed, in brief, the dynamic and progressive nature of the Constitution to accentuate that rights under the Constitution are also dynamic and progressive, for they evolve with the evolution of a society and with the passage of time. The rationale behind the doctrine of progressive realization of rights is the dynamic and ever growing nature of the Constitution under which the rights have been conferred to the citizenry.

184. The constitutional courts have to recognize that the constitutional rights would become a dead letter without their dynamic, vibrant and pragmatic interpretation. Therefore, it is necessary for the constitutional courts to inculcate in their judicial interpretation and decision making a sense of engagement and a sense of constitutional morality so that they, with the aid of judicial creativity, are able to fulfill their foremost constitutional obligation, that is, to protect the rights bestowed upon the citizens of our country by the Constitution.

185. Here, it is also apposite to refer to the words of Lord Roskill in his presidential address to the Bentham Club at University College of London on February 29, 1984 on the subject ‘Law Lords, Reactionaries or Reformers’ which read as follows:-

“Legal policy now stands enthroned and will I hope remain one of the foremost considerations governing the development by the House of Lords of the common law. What direction should this development now take? I can think of several occasions upon which we have all said to ourselves:-

“this case requires a policy decision what is the right policy decision?” The answer is, and I hope will hereafter be, to follow that route which is most consonant with the current needs of the society, and which will be seen to be sensible and will pragmatically thereafter be easy to apply. No doubt the Law Lords will continue to be the targets for those academic lawyers who will seek intellectual perfection rather than imperfect pragmatism. But much of the common law and virtually all criminal law, distasteful as it may be to some to have to acknowledge it. is a blunt instrument by means of which human beings, whether they like it or not, are governed and subject to which they are required to live, and blunt instruments are rarely perfect intellectually or otherwise. By definition they operate bluntly and not sharply.”

[Emphasis supplied]

186. What the words of Lord Roskill suggest is that it is not only the interpretation of the Constitution which needs to be pragmatic, due to the dynamic nature of a Constitution, but also the legal policy of a particular epoch must be in consonance with the current and the present needs of the society, which are sensible in the prevalent times and at the same time easy to apply.

187. This also gives birth to an equally important role of the State to implement the constitutional rights effectively. And of course, when we say State, it includes all the three organs, that is, the legislature, the executive as well as the judiciary. The State has to show concerned commitment which would result in concrete action. The State has an obligation to take appropriate measures for the progressive realization of economic, social and cultural rights.

188. The doctrine of progressive realization of rights, as a natural corollary, gives birth to the doctrine of non-retrogression. As per this doctrine, there must not be any regression of rights. In a progressive and an ever-improving society, there is no place for retreat. The society has to march ahead.

189. The doctrine of non-retrogression sets forth that the State should not take measures or steps that deliberately lead to retrogression on the enjoyment of rights either under the Constitution or otherwise.

190. The aforesaid two doctrines lead us to the irresistible conclusion that if we were to accept the law enunciated in Suresh Koushal’s case, it would definitely tantamount to a retrograde step in the direction of the progressive interpretation of the Constitution and denial of progressive realization of rights. It is because Suresh Koushal’s view gets wrongly embedded with the minuscule facet and assumes criminality on the bedrock being guided by a sense of social morality. It discusses about health which is no more a phobia and is further moved by the popular morality while totally ignoring the concepts of privacy, individual choice and the orientation. Orientation, in certain senses, does get the neuro-impulse to express while seeing the other gender. That apart, swayed by data, Suresh Koushal fails to appreciate that the sustenance of fundamental rights does not require majoritarian sanction. Thus, the ruling becomes sensitively susceptible.

N. International perspective

(i) United States

191. The Supreme Court of the United States in Obergefell, et al. v. Hodges, Director, Ohio Department of Health, et al. 576 U$ (2015), highlighting the plight of homosexuals, observed that until the mid-20th century, same-sex intimacy had long been condemned as immoral by the State itself in most Western nations and a belief was often embodied in the criminal law and for this reason, homosexuals, among others, were not deemed to have dignity in their own distinct identity. The Court further noted that truthful declaration by same-sex couples of what was in their hearts had to remain unspoken and even when a greater awareness of the humanity and integrity of homosexual persons came in the period after World War II, the argument that gays and lesbians had a just claim to dignity was in conflict with both law and widespread social conventions. The Court also observed that same-sex intimacy remained a crime in many States and that gays and lesbians were prohibited from most government employment, barred from military service, excluded under immigration laws, targeted by the police and burdened in their rights to associate.

192. The Court further observed that what the statutes in question seek to control is a personal relationship, whether or not entitled to formal recognition in the law, that is within the liberty of persons to choose without being punished as criminals. Further, the Court acknowledged that adults may choose to enter upon a relationship in the confines of their homes and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons and that when sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring. The Court held that such liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to make this choice.

193. In the case of Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins 490 U.$ 228 (1989) , the Supreme Court of the United States, while evaluating the legal relevance of sex stereotyping, observed thus:-

“…we are beyond the day when an employer could evaluate employees by assuming or insisting that they matched the stereotype associated with their group, for, “‘[i]n forbidding employers to discriminate against individuals because of their sex, Congress intended to strike at the entire spectrum of disparate treatment of men and women resulting from sex stereotypes.””

194. In the case of Kimberly Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College of Indian 830 F.3d 698 (7th Cir. 2016) while holding that discrimination amongst employees based on their sexual orientation amounts to discrimination based on sex, the Court observed as under:-

“We would be remiss not to consider the EEOC’s recent decision in which it concluded that “sexual orientation is inherently a ‘sex-based consideration,’ and an allegation of discrimination based on sexual orientation is necessarily an allegation of sex discrimination under Title VII.” Baldwin v. Foxx, EEOC Appeal No. 0120133080, 2015 WL 4397641, at *5, *10 (July 16, 2015). The EEOC, the body charged with enforcing Title VII, came to this conclusion for three primary reasons. First, it concluded that “sexual orientation discrimination is sex discrimination because it necessarily entails treating an employee less favorably because of the employee’s sex.” Id. at *5 (proffering the example of a woman who is suspended for placing a photo of her female spouse on her desk, and a man who faces no consequences for the same act).

Second, it explained that “sexual orientation discrimination is also sex discrimination because it is associational discrimination on the basis of sex,” in which an employer discriminates against lesbian, gay, or bisexual employees based on who they date or marry. Id. at *6-7. Finally, the EEOC described sexual orientation discrimination as a form of discrimination based on gender stereotypes in which employees are harassed or punished for failing to live up to societal norms about appropriate masculine and feminine behaviors, mannerisms, and appearances. Id. In coming to these conclusions, the EEOC noted critically that “courts have attempted to distinguish discrimination based on sexual orientation from discrimination based on sex, even while noting that the “borders [between the two classes] are imprecise.” Id. at *8 (quoting Simonton, 232 F.3d at 35).

[Underlining is ours]

195. In the case of Lawrence v. Texas 539 U.$ 558 (2003) , while dealing with the issue of decriminalization of sexual conduct between homosexuals, the U.S. Supreme Court observed that the said issue neither involved minors nor persons who might be injured or coerced or who are situated in relationships where consent might not easily be refused nor did it involve public conduct or prostitution nor the question whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter. The Court further observed that the issue related to two adults who, with full and mutual consent of each other, engaged in sexual practices common to a homosexual lifestyle. The Court declared that the petitioners were entitled to respect for their private lives and that the State could not demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime, for their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without the intervention of the State.

196. In Roberts v. United States Jaycees 468 U.$. 609 (1984), the Supreme Court of the United States observed:-

“Our decisions have referred to constitutionally protected “freedom of association” in two distinct senses. In one line of decisions, the Court has concluded that choices to enter into and maintain certain intimate human relationships must be secured against undue intrusion by the State because of the role of such relationships in safeguarding the individual freedom that is central to our constitutional scheme. In this respect, freedom of association receives protection as a fundamental element of personal liberty. In another set of decisions, the Court has recognized a right to associate for the purpose of engaging in those activities protected by the First Amendment ~ speech, assembly, petition for the redress of grievances, and the exercise of religion. The Constitution guarantees freedom of association of this kind as an indispensable means of preserving other individual liberties. The intrinsic and instrumental features of constitutionally protected association may, of course, coincide.”

[Emphasis added]

(ii) Canada

197. The Supreme Court of Canada, in Delwin Vriend and others v. Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Alberta and others (1998) 1 SCR 593, while interpreting a breach of Section 15(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, arrived at the conclusion that ‘sex’ includes sexual orientation. Section 15(1) of the Charter reads thus:-

“Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or physical disability.”

198. In Delwin Vriend, the Supreme Court of Canada, relying on the reasoning adopted by it in Egan v. Canada (supra), applied its well-known test of grounds analogous to those specified textually. The Egan test is:-

“In Egan, it was said that there are two aspects which are relevant in determining whether the distinction created by the law constitutes discrimination. First, “whether the equality right was denied on the basis of a personal characteristic which is either enumerated in s. 15(1) or which is analogous to those enumerated”. Second “whether that distinction has the effect on the claimant of imposing a burden, obligation or disadvantage not imposed upon others or of withholding or limiting access to benefits or advantages which are available to others” (para. 131).

A discriminatory distinction was also described as one which is “capable of either promoting or perpetuating the view that the individual adversely affected by this distinction is less capable, or less worthy of recognition or value as a human being or as a member of Canadian society, equally deserving of concern, respect, and consideration” (Egan, at para. 56, per L’Heureux – Dube J.). It may as well be appropriate to consider whether the unequal treatment is based on “the stereotypical application of presumed group or personal characteristics” (Miron, at para. 128, per McLachlin J.)

In Egan, it was held, on the basis of “historical social, political and economic disadvantage suffered by homosexuals” and the emerging consensus among legislatures (at para. 176), as well as previous judicial decisions (at para. 177), that sexual orientation is a ground analogous to those listed in s. 15(1). Sexual orientation is “a deeply personal characteristic that is either unchangeable or changeable only at unacceptable personal costs” (para. 5). It is analogous to the other personal characteristics enumerated in s. 15(1); and therefore this step of the test is satisfied.”

199. Thereafter, the Court in Delwin Vriend (supra) observed that perhaps the most important outcome is the psychological harm which may ensue from the state of affairs as the fear of discrimination (by LGBT) would logically lead them to concealment of true identity and this is harmful to their personal confidence and self-esteem. The Court held that this is a clear example of a distinction which demeans the individual and strengthens and perpetrates the view that gays and

lesbians are less worthy of protection as individuals in Canada’s society and the potential harm to the dignity and perceived worth of gay and lesbian individuals constitutes a particularly cruel form of discrimination.

(iii) South Africa

200. The Constitutional Court of South Africa in National Coalition for Gay & Lesbian Equality (supra) made the following relevant observations:-

“Its symbolic effect is to state that in the eyes of our legal system all gay men are criminals. The stigma thus attached to a significant proportion of our population is manifest. But the harm imposed by the criminal law is far more than symbolic. As a result of the criminal offence, gay men are at risk of arrest, prosecution and conviction of the offence of sodomy simply because they seek to engage in sexual conduct which is part of their experience of being human. Just as apartheid legislation rendered the lives of couples of different racial groups perpetually at risk, the sodomy offence builds insecurity and vulnerability into the daily lives of gay men. There can be no doubt that the existence of a law which punishes a form of sexual expression for gay men degrades and devalues gay men in our broader society. As such it is a palpable invasion of their dignity and a breach of section 10 of the Constitution.”

(iv) United Kingdom

201. In Euan Sutherland v. United Kingdom2001 ECHR 234, the issue before the European Commission of Human Rights was whether the difference in age limit for consent for sexual activities for homosexuals and heterosexuals, the age limit being 16 years in the case of heterosexuals and 18 years in the case of homosexuals, is justified. While considering the same, the Commission observed that no objective and reasonable justification exists for the maintenance of a higher minimum age of consent in case of male homosexuals as compared to heterosexuals and that the application discloses discriminatory treatment in the exercise of the applicant’s right to respect for private life under Article 8 of the Convention. The Commission further observed that sexual orientation was usually established before the age of puberty in both boys and girls and referred to evidence that reducing the age of consent would unlikely affect the majority of men engaging in homosexual activity, either in general or within specific age groups. The Council of the British Medical Association (BMA) concluded in its Report that the age of consent for homosexual men should be set at 16 since the then existing law might inhibit efforts to improve the sexual health of young homosexual and bisexual men. An equal age of consent was also supported by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Health Education Authority and the National Association of Probation Officers as well as by other bodies and organizations concerned with health and social welfare. It is further noted that equality of treatment in respect of the age of consent is now recognized by the great majority of Member States of the Council of Europe.

(v) Other Courts/Jurisdictions

202. In Ang Ladlad LGBT Party v. Commission of Elections , the Supreme Court of the Republic of the Philippines observed:- “Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society, and this freedom applies not only to those that are favorably received but also to those that offend, shock, or disturb. Any restriction imposed in this sphere must be proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued. Absent any compelling state interest, it is not for the COMELEC or this Court to impose its views on the populace.” Elaborating further, the Court held:-

“It follows that both expressions concerning one’s homosexuality and the activity of forming a political association that supports LGBT individuals are protected as well.”

The Court navigated through European and United Nations Judicial decisions and held:-

“In the area of freedom of expression, for instance, United States courts have ruled that existing free speech doctrines protect gay and lesbian rights to expressive conduct. In order to justify the prohibition of a particular expression of opinion, public institutions must show that their actions were caused by “something more than a mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint.”

203. Further, in Toonen’s case, the Human Rights Committee made the following relevant observations:-

“I concur with this view, as the common denominator for the grounds “race, colour and sex” are biological or genetic factors. This being so, the criminalization of certain behaviour operating under Sections 122(a), (c) and 123 of the Tasmanian Criminal Code must be considered incompatible with article 26 of the Covenant.

Firstly, these provisions of the Tasmanian Criminal Code prohibit sexual intercourse between men and between women, thereby making a distinction between heterosexuals and homosexuals. Secondly, they criminalize other sexual contacts between consenting men without at the same time criminalizing such contacts between women. These provisions therefore set aside the principle of equality before the law. It should be emphasized that it is the criminalization as such that constitutes discrimination of which individuals may claim to be victims, and thus violates article 26, notwithstanding the fact that the law has not been enforced over a considerable period of time: the designated behaviour none the less remains a criminal offence.”

204. In Dudgeon (supra), the European Court of Human Rights made the following observations with respect to homosexuality:-

“It cannot be maintained in these circumstances that there is a “pressing social need” to make such acts criminal offences, there being no sufficient justification provided by the risk of harm to vulnerable sections of society requiring protection or by the effects on the public. On the issue of proportionality, the Court considers that such justifications as there are for retaining the law in force unamended are outweighed by the detrimental effects which the very existence of the legislative provisions in question can have on the life of a person of homosexual orientation like the applicant. Although members of the public who regard homosexuality as immoral may be shocked, offended or disturbed by the commission by others of private homosexual acts, this cannot on its own warrant the application of penal sanctions when it is consenting adults alone who are involved.”

[Emphasis supplied]

O. Comparative analysis of Section 375 and Section 377 IPC

205. Let us, in the obtaining situation, conduct a comparative analysis of the offence of rape and unnatural offences as defined under Section 375 and Section 377 of the IPC respectively. Section 375 IPC defines the offence of rape and reads as under:-

“Section 375. Rape-A man is said to commit “rape” if he –

(a) penetrates his penis, to any extent, into the vagina, mouth, urethra or anus of a woman or makes her to do so with him or any other person; or

(b) inserts, to any extent, any object or a part of the body, not being the penis, into the vagina, the urethra or anus of a woman or makes her to do so with him or any other person; or

(c) manipulates any part of the body of a woman so as to cause penetration into the vagina, urethra, anus or any part of body of such woman or makes her to do so with him or any other person; or

(d) applies his mouth to the vagina, anus, urethra of a woman or makes her to do so with him or any other person, under the circumstances falling under any of the following seven descriptions: –

First. – Against her will.

Secondly. – Without her consent.

Thirdly. – With her consent, when her consent has been obtained by putting her or any person in whom she is interested, in fear of death or of hurt.

Fourthly. – With her consent, when the man knows that he is not her husband and that her consent is given because she believes that he is another man to whom she is or believes herself to be lawfully married.

Fifthly. – With her consent when, at the time of giving such consent, by reason of unsoundness of mind or intoxication or the administration by him personally or through another of any stupefying or unwholesome substance, she is unable to understand the nature and consequences of that to which she gives consent.

Sixthly. – With or without her consent, when she is under eighteen years of age.

Seventhly. – When she is unable to communicate consent.

Explanation I.- For the purposes of this section, “vagina” shall also include labia majora.

Explanation 2. – Consent means an unequivocal voluntary agreement when the woman by words, gestures or any form of verbal or non-verbal communication, communicates willingness to participate in the specific sexual act:

Provided that a woman who does not physically resist to the act of penetration shall not by the reason only of that fact, be regarded as consenting to the sexual activity.

Exception I.- A medical procedure or intervention shall not constitute rape.

Exception 2. – Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.’.

206. A cursory reading of Section 375 IPC divulges that it is a gender specific provision for the protection of women as only a man can commit the offence of rape. The Section has been divided into two parts. The former part, comprising of Clauses (a) to (d), simply describes what acts committed by a man with a woman would amount to rape provided that the said acts are committed in the circumstances falling under any of the seven descriptions as stipulated by the latter part of the Section.

207. It is in this way that the latter part of Section 375 IPC becomes important as it lays down the circumstances, either of which must be present, for an act committed by a man with a woman to come within the sweep of the offence of rape. To put it differently, for completing the offence of rape, any of the circumstances described in the latter part of Section 375 must be present. Let us now dissect each of the seven descriptions appended to Section 375 IPC which specify the absence of a willful and informed consent for constituting the offence of rape.

208. The first description provides that any of the acts described in the former part of Section 375 IPC would amount to rape if such acts are committed against the will of the woman. The second description stipulates that the acts described in the former part would amount to rape if such acts are committed without the consent of the woman. As per the third description, the acts would amount to rape even if the woman has given her consent but the said consent has been obtained by putting her or any person in whom she is interested, in fear of death or of hurt. As per the fourth description, the acts would amount to rape when the woman has given her consent but the same was given by her under the belief that she is or believes herself to be lawfully married to the man committing the acts stated in the former part of the Section.The fifth description provides that the acts described in the former part would amount to rape if the woman gives her consent but at the time of giving such consent, she is unable to understand the nature and consequences of the acts to which she consents due to the reason of unsoundness of mind or intoxication or the administration of any stupefying or unwholesome substance either by the man who commits the acts or through another third person. The sixth description is plain and simple as it stipulates that the acts described in the former part of the Section would amount to rape, irrespective of the fact whether the woman has given her consent or not, if, at the time when the acts were committed, the woman was below the age of eighteen years. Coming to the seventh and the last description, it provides that the acts prescribed in the former part would amount to rape if the woman is unable to communicate her consent.

209. Explanation 2 to Section 375 IPC gives the definition of consent for the purpose of Section 375 to the effect that consent means an unequivocal voluntary agreement by the woman through words, gestures or any form of verbal or non-verbal communication whereby she communicates her willingness to participate in any of the sexual acts described in the former part of Section 375 IPC.

210. We have scrutinized the anatomy of the seven descriptions contained in the latter part of Section 375 IPC along with Explanation 2 to Section 375 IPC to emphasize and accentuate that the element of absence of consent is firmly ingrained in all the descriptions contained in the latter part of Section 375 IPC and the absence of a willful and informed consent is sine qua non to designate the acts contained in the former part of Section 375 IPC as rape.

211. Presently, we proceed to scan the anatomy of Section 377 of IPC and x-ray the provision to study its real nature and content. It reads thus:-

“Section 377. Unnatural offences.- Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation.- Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offence described in this section.”

212. Section 377 IPC, unlike Section 375, is a gender-neutral provision as it uses the word ‘whoever’. The word ‘carnal’, as per the Black’s Law Dictionary means of the body, relating to the body, fleshy or sexual. ‘Sexual intercourse’ has been defined in Black’s Law Dictionary as a contact between a male and a female’s organ.

213. Another expression which has been employed in Section 377 is ‘against the order of nature’. The phrase ‘against the order of nature’ has neither been defined in Section 377 IPC nor in any other provision of the IPC. The foundation on which Section 377 IPC makes carnal intercourse an offence is the precept that such carnal intercourse is against the order of nature. This brings us to the important question as to what is ‘against the order of nature’?

214. In Khanu (supra), where the question before the Court was whether coitus per os (mouth contact with the male genitals) amounts to carnal intercourse against the order of nature, the Court ruled in the affirmative observing that the natural object of intercourse is that there should be the possibility of conception of human beings which in the case of coitus per os is impossible. Thus, the most common argument against homosexuality and criminalization of carnal intercourse even between consenting adults of opposite sex is that traditionally, the essential purpose of sex is to procreate.

215. With the passage of time and evolution of the society, procreation is not the only reason for which people choose to come together, have live-in relationships, perform coitus or even marry. They do so for a whole lot of reasons including emotional companionship. Homer Clark writes:-

“But the fact is that the most significant function of marriage today seems to be that it furnishes emotional satisfactions to be found in no other relationships. For many people it is the refuge from the coldness and impersonality of contemporary existence.”

216. In the contemporary world where even marriage is now not equated to procreation of children, the question that would arise is whether homosexuality and carnal intercourse between consenting adults of opposite sex can be tagged as ‘against the order of nature’. It is the freedom of choice of two consenting adults to perform sex for procreation or otherwise and if their choice is that of the latter, it cannot be said to be against the order of nature. Therefore, sex, if performed differently, as per the choice of the consenting adults, does not per se make it against the order of nature.

217. Section 377 criminalises even voluntary carnal intercourse not only between homosexuals but also between heterosexuals. The major difference between the language of Section 377 and Section 375 is that of the element of absence consent which has been elaborately incorporated in the seven descriptions contained in the latter part of Section 375 IPC. It is the absence of willful and informed consent embodied in the seven descriptions to Section 375 which makes the offence of rape criminal.

218. On the other hand, Section 377 IPC contains no such descriptions/exceptions embodying the absence of willful and informed consent and criminalises even voluntary carnal intercourse both between homosexuals as well as between heterosexuals. While saying so, we gain strength and support from the fact that the legislature, in its wisdom, while enacting Section 375 IPC in its amended form after the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, has not employed the words “subject to any other provision of the IPC”. The implication of the absence of these words simply indicates that Section 375 IPC which does not criminalize consensual carnal intercourse between heterosexuals is not subject to Section 377 IPC.

219. Section 377, so far as it criminalises carnal intercourse between heterosexuals is legally unsustainable in its present form for the simple reason that Section 375 IPC clearly stipulates that carnal intercourse between a man and a woman with the willful and informed consent of the woman does not amount to rape and is not penal.

220. Despite the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 coming into force, by virtue of which Section 375 was amended, whereby the words ‘sexual intercourse’ in Section 375 were replaced by four elaborate clauses from (a) to (d) giving a wide definition to the offence of rape, Section 377 IPC still remains in the statute book in the same form. Such an anomaly, if allowed to persist, may result in a situation wherein a heterosexual couple who indulges in carnal intercourse with the willful and informed consent of each other may be held liable for the offence of unnatural sex under Section 377 IPC, despite the fact that such an act would not be rape within the definition as provided under Section 375 IPC.

221. Drawing an analogy, if consensual carnal intercourse between a heterosexual couple does not amount to rape, it definitely should not be labelled and designated as unnatural offence under Section 377 IPC. If any proclivity amongst the heterosexual population towards consensual carnal intercourse has been allowed due to the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, such kind of proclivity amongst any two persons including LGBT community cannot be treated as untenable so long as it is consensual and it is confined within their most private and intimate spaces.

222. There is another aspect which needs to be discussed, which is whether criminalisation of carnal intercourse under Section 377 serves any useful purpose under the prevalent criminal law. Delineating on this aspect, the European Commission of Human Rights in Dudgeon (supra) opined thus:-

“The 1967 Act, which was introduced into Parliament as a Private Member’s Bill, was passed to give effect to the recommendations concerning homosexuality made in 1957 in the report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution established under the chairman ship of Sir John Wolfenden (the “Wolfenden Committee” and “Wolfenden report”). The Wolfenden Committee regarded the function of the criminal law in this field as:

“to preserve public order and decency, to protect the citizen from what is offensive or injurious, and to provide sufficient safeguards against exploitation and corruption of others, particularly those who are specially vulnerable because they are young, weak in body or mind, inexperienced, or in a state of special physical, official, or economic dependence”, but not “to intervene in the private lives of citizens, or to seek to enforce any particular pattern of behaviour, further than is necessary to carry out the purposes we have outlined”.

The Wolfenden Committee concluded that homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private was part of the “realm of private morality and immorality which is, in brief and crude terms, not the law’s business” and should no longer be criminal”

[Underlining is ours]

223. At the very least, it can be said that criminalisation of consensual carnal intercourse, be it amongst homosexuals, heterosexuals, bi-sexuals or transgenders, hardly serves any legitimate public purpose or interest. Per contra, we are inclined to believe that if Section 377 remains in its present form in the statute book, it will allow the harassment and exploitation of the LGBT community to prevail. We must make it clear that freedom of choice cannot be scuttled or abridged on the threat of criminal prosecution and made paraplegic on the mercurial stance of majoritarian perception.

P. The litmus test for survival of Section 377 IPC

224. Having discussed the various principles and concepts and bearing in mind the sacrosanctity of the fundamental rights which guides the constitutional courts, we shall now proceed to deal with the constitutionality of Section 377 IPC on the bedrock of the principles enunciated in Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.

225. It is axiomatic that the expression ‘life or personal liberty’ in Article 21 embodies within itself a variety of rights. In Maneka Gandhi (supra), Bhagwati, J. (as he then was) observed:-

“The expression ‘personal liberty’ in Article 21 is of the widest amplitude and it covers a variety of rights which go to constitute the personal liberty of man and some of them have been raised to the status of distinct fundamental rights and given additional protection under Article 19…”

226. In Anuj Garg (supra), while dealing with the constitutional validity of Section 30 of the Punjab Excise Act, 1914 prohibiting employment of “any man under the age of 25 years” or “any woman”, the Court, holding it ultra vires, ruled thus:-

“31. … It is their life; subject to constitutional, statutory and social interdicts- a citizen of India should be allowed to live her life on her own terms.”

And again:-

“35. Privacy rights prescribe autonomy to choose profession whereas security concerns texture methodology of delivery of this assurance. But it is a reasonable proposition that the measures to safeguard such a guarantee of autonomy should not be so strong that the essence of the guarantee is lost. State protection must not translate into censorship.”

227. In Common Cause (A Regd. Society) (supra), the Court, in the context of right to dignity, observed:-

“Right to life and liberty as envisaged under Article 21 is meaningless unless it encompasses within its sphere individual dignity and right to dignity includes the right to carry such functions and activities as would constitute the meaningful expression of the human self.”

228. In Puttaswamy (supra), the right to privacy has been declared to be a fundamental right by this Court as being a facet of life and personal liberty protected under Article 21 of the Constitution.

229. In view of the above authorities, we have no hesitation to say that Section 377 IPC, in its present form, abridges both human dignity as well as the fundamental right to privacy and choice of the citizenry, howsoever small. As sexual orientation is an essential and innate facet of privacy, the right to privacy takes within its sweep the right of every individual including that of the LGBT to express their choices in terms of sexual inclination without the fear of persecution or criminal prosecution.

230. The sexual autonomy of an individual to choose his/her sexual partner is an important pillar and an insegregable facet of individual liberty. When the liberty of even a single person of the society is smothered under some vague and archival stipulation that it is against the order of nature or under the perception that the majority population is peeved when such an individual exercises his/her liberty despite the fact that the exercise of such liberty is within the confines of his/her private space, then the signature of life melts and living becomes a bare subsistence and resultantly, the fundamental right of liberty of such an individual is abridged.

231. While saying so, we are absolutely conscious of the fact that the citizenry may be deprived of their right to life and personal liberty if the conditions laid down in Article 21 are fulfilled and if, at the same time, the procedure established by law as laid down in Maneka Gandhi (supra) is satisfied. Article 21 requires that for depriving a person of his right to life and personal liberty, there has to be a law and the said law must prescribe a fair procedure. The seminal point is to see whether Section 377 withstands the sanctity of dignity of an individual, expression of choice, paramount concept of life and whether it allows an individual to lead to a life that one’s natural orientation commands. That apart, more importantly, the question is whether such a gender-neutral offence, with the efflux of time, should be allowed to remain in the statute book especially when there is consent and such consent elevates the status of bodily autonomy. Hence, the provision has to be tested on the principles evolved under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.

232. In Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration and others (1978) 4 SCC 494, Krishna Iyer, J. opined that what is punitively outrageous, scandalizingly unusual or cruel and rehabilitatively counterproductive, is unarguably unreasonable and arbitrary and is shot down by Article 14 and 19 and if inflicted with procedural unfairness, falls foul of Article 21.

233. We, first, must test the validity of Section 377 IPC on the anvil of Article 14 of the Constitution. What Article 14 propounds is that ‘all like should be treated alike’. In other words, it implies equal treatment for all equals. Though the legislature is fully empowered to enact laws applicable to a particular class, as in the case at hand in which Section 377 applies to citizens who indulge in carnal intercourse, yet the classification, including the one made under Section 377 IPC, has to satisfy the twin conditions to the effect that the classification must be founded on an intelligible differentia and the said differentia must have a rational nexus with the object sought to be achieved by the provision, that is, Section 377 IPC.

234. In M. Nagaraj and others v. Union of India and others(2006) 8 SCC 212, it has been held:-

“The gravamen of Article 14 is equality of treatment. Article 14 confers a personal right by enacting a prohibition which is absolute. By judicial decisions, the doctrine of classification is read into Article 14. Equality of treatment under Article 14 is an objective test. It is not the test of intention. Therefore, the basic principle underlying Article 14 is that the law must operate equally on all persons under like circumstances.”

235. In E.P. Royappa v. State of Tamil Nadu and another (1974) 4 SCC 3, this Court observed that equality is a dynamic concept with many aspects and dimensions and it cannot be “cribbed, cabined and confined” within traditional and doctrinaire limits. It was further held that equality is antithetic to arbitrariness, for equality and arbitrariness are sworn enemies; one belongs to the rule of law in a republic while the other, to the whim and caprice of an absolute monarch.

236. In Budhan Choudhry v. The State of Bihar AIR 1955 SC 191, while delineating on the concept of reasonable classification, the Court observed thus:-

“It is now well-established that while article 14 forbids class legislation, it does not forbid reasonable classification for the purposes of legislation. In order, however, to pass the test of permissible classification two conditions must be fulfilled, namely, (i) that the classification must be founded on an intelligible differentia which distinguishes persons or things that are grouped together from others left out of the group and (ii) that differentia must have a rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by the statute in question. The classification may be founded on different bases; namely, geographical, or according to objects or occupations or the like. What is necessary is that there must be a nexus between the basis of classification and the object of the Act under consideration. It is also well established by the decisions of this Court that article 14 condemns discrimination not only by a substantive law but also by a law of procedure.”

237. A perusal of Section 377 IPC reveals that it classifies and penalizes persons who indulge in carnal intercourse with the object to protect women and children from being subjected to carnal intercourse. That being so, now it is to be ascertained whether this classification has a reasonable nexus with the object sought to be achieved. The answer is in the negative as the non-consensual acts which have been criminalized by virtue of Section 377 IPC have already been designated as penal offences under Section 375 IPC and under the POCSO Act. Per contra, the presence of this Section in its present form has resulted in a distasteful and objectionable collateral effect whereby even ‘consensual acts’, which are neither harmful to children nor women and are performed by a certain class of people (LGBTs) owning to some inherent characteristics defined by their identity and individuality, have been woefully targeted. This discrimination and unequal treatment meted out to the LGBT community as a separate class of citizens is unconstitutional for being violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.

238. In Shayara Bano (supra), the Court observed that manifest arbitrariness of a provision of law can also be a ground for declaring a law as unconstitutional. Opining so, the Court observed thus:-

“The test of manifest arbitrariness, therefore, as laid down in the aforesaid judgments would apply to invalidate legislation as well as subordinate legislation under Article 14. Manifest arbitrariness, therefore, must be something done by the legislature capriciously, irrationally and/or without adequate determining principle. Also, when something is done which is excessive and disproportionate, such legislation would be manifestly arbitrary. We are, therefore, of the view that arbitrariness in the sense of manifest arbitrariness as pointed out by us above would apply to negate legislation as well under Article 14.”

239. In view of the law laid down in Shayara Bano (supra) and given the fact that Section 377 criminalises even consensual sexual acts between adults, it fails to make a distinction between consensual and non-consensual sexual acts between competent adults. Further, Section 377 IPC fails to take into account that consensual sexual acts between adults in private space are neither harmful nor contagious to the society. On the contrary, Section 377 trenches a discordant note in respect of the liberty of persons belonging to the LGBT community by subjecting them to societal pariah and dereliction. Needless to say, the Section also interferes with consensual acts of competent adults in private space. Sexual acts cannot be viewed from the lens of social morality or that of traditional precepts wherein sexual acts were considered only for the purpose of procreation. This being the case, Section 377 IPC, so long as it criminalises consensual sexual acts of whatever nature between competent adults, is manifestly arbitrary.

240. The LGBT community possess the same human, fundamental and constitutional rights as other citizens do since these rights inhere in individuals as natural and human rights. We must remember that equality is the edifice on which the entire non-discrimination jurisprudence rests. Respect for individual choice is the very essence of liberty under law and, thus, criminalizing carnal intercourse under Section 377 IPC is irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary. It is true that the principle of choice can never be absolute under a liberal Constitution and the law restricts one individual’s choice to prevent harm or injury to others. However, the organisation of intimate relations is a matter of complete personal choice especially between consenting adults. It is a vital personal right falling within the private protective sphere and realm of individual choice and autonomy. Such progressive proclivity is rooted in the constitutional structure and is an inextricable part of human nature.

241. In the adverting situation, we must also examine whether Section 377, in its present form, stands the test of Article 19 of the Constitution in the sense of whether it is unreasonable and, therefore, violative of Article 19. In Chintaman Rao v. State of Madhya Pradesh8 AIR 1951 SC 118 this Court, in the context of reasonable restrictions under Article 19, opined thus:-

“The phrase “reasonable restriction” connotes that the limitation imposed on a person in enjoyment of the right should not be arbitrary or of an excessive nature, beyond what is required in the interests of the public. The word “reasonable” implies intelligent care and deliberation, that is, the choice of a course which reason dictates. Legislation which arbitrarily or excessively invades the right cannot be said to contain the quality of reasonableness and unless it strikes a proper balance between the freedom guaranteed in article 19(1)(g) and the social control permitted by clause (6) of article 19, it must be held to be wanting in that quality.”

242. In S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram and others (1989) 2 SCC 574 the Court observed, though in a different context, thus:-

” … Our commitment of freedom of expression demands that it cannot be suppressed unless the situations created by allowing the freedom are pressing and the community interest is endangered. The anticipated danger should not be remote, conjectural or far-fetched. It should have proximate and direct nexus with the expression.”

243. In S. Khushboo (supra), this Court, while observing that ‘morality and decency’ on the basis of which reasonable restrictions can be imposed on the rights guaranteed under Article 19 should not be amplified beyond a rational and logical limit, ruled that even though the constitutional freedom of speech and expression is not absolute and can be subjected to reasonable restrictions on grounds such as `decency and morality’ among others, yet it is necessary to tolerate unpopular views in the socio-cultural space.

244. In the case of Shreya Singhal v. Union of India (2015) 5 SCC 1, this Court, while striking down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, had observed that when a provision is vague and overboard in the sense that it criminalises protected speech and speech of innocent nature, resultantly, it has a chilling effect and is liable to be struck down. The Court opined:-

“We, therefore, hold that the Section is unconstitutional also on the ground that it takes within its sweep protected speech and speech that is innocent in nature and is liable therefore to be used in such a way as to have a chilling effect on free speech and would, therefore, have to be struck down on the ground of overbreadth.”

245. In the obtaining situation, we need to check whether public order, decency and morality as grounds to limit the fundamental right of expression including choice can be accepted as reasonable restrictions to uphold the validity of Section 377 IPC. We are of the conscious view that Section 377 IPC takes within its fold private acts of adults including the LGBT community which are not only consensual but are also innocent, as such acts neither cause disturbance to the public order nor are they injurious to public decency or morality. The law is et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugiumA man’s house is his castle. Sir Edward Coke92 said:“The house of everyone is to him as his castle and fortress, as well for his defence against injury and violence as for his repose.

246. That apart, any display of affection amongst the members of the LGBT community towards their partners in the public so long as it does not amount to indecency or has the potentiality to disturb public order cannot be bogged down by majority perception. Section 377 IPC amounts to unreasonable restriction as it makes carnal intercourse between consenting adults within their castle a criminal offence which is manifestly not only overboard and vague but also has a chilling effect on an individual’s freedom of choice.

247. In view of the test laid down in the aforesaid authorities, Section 377 IPC does not meet the criteria of proportionality and is violative of the fundamental right of freedom of expression including the right to choose a sexual partner. Section 377 IPC also assumes the characteristic of unreasonableness, for it becomes a weapon in the hands of the majority to seclude, exploit and harass the LGBT community. It shrouds the lives of the LGBT community in criminality and constant fear mars their joy of life. They constantly face social prejudice, disdain and are subjected to the shame of being their very natural selves. Thus, an archaic law which is incompatible with constitutional values cannot be allowed to be preserved.

248. Bigoted and homophobic attitudes dehumanize the transgenders by denying them their dignity, personhood and above all, their basic human rights. It is important to realize that identity and sexual orientation cannot be silenced by oppression. Liberty, as the linchpin of our constitutional values, enables individuals to define and express their identity and individual identity has to be acknowledged and respected.

249. The very existence of Section 377 IPC criminalising transgenders casts a great stigma on an already oppressed and discriminated class of people. This stigma, oppression and prejudice has to be eradicated and the transgenders have to progress from their narrow claustrophobic spaces of mere survival in hiding with their isolation and fears to enjoying the richness of living out of the shadows with full realization of their potential and equal opportunities in all walks of life. The ideals and objectives enshrined in our benevolent Constitution can be achieved only when each and every individual is empowered and enabled to participate in the social mainstream and in the journey towards achieving equality in all spheres, equality of opportunities in all walks of life, equal freedoms and rights and, above all, equitable justice. This can be achieved only by inclusion of all and exclusion of none from the mainstream.

250. We must realize that different hues and colours together make the painting of humanity beautiful and this beauty is the essence of humanity. We need to respect the strength of our diversity so as to sustain our unity as a cohesive unit of free citizens by fostering tolerance and respect for each others’ rights thereby progressing towards harmonious and peaceful co-existence in the supreme bond of humanity. Attitudes and mentality have to change to accept the distinct identity of individuals and respect them for who they are rather than compelling them to ‘become’ who they are not. All human beings possess the equal right to be themselves instead of transitioning or conditioning themselves as per the perceived dogmatic notions of a group of people. To change the societal bias and root out the weed, it is the foremost duty of each one of us to “stand up and speak up” against the slightest form of discrimination against transgenders that we come across. Let us move from darkness to light, from bigotry to tolerance and from the winter of mere survival to the spring of life ” as the herald of a New India ” to a more inclusive society.

251. It is through times of grave disappointment, denunciation, adversity, grief, injustice and despair that the transgenders have stood firm with their formidable spirit, inspired commitment, strong determination and infinite hope and belief that has made them look for the rainbow in every cloud and lead the way to a future that would be the harbinger of liberation and emancipation from a certain bondage indescribable in words – towards the basic recognition of dignity and humanity of all and towards leading a life without pretence eschewing duality and ambivalence. It is their momentous “walk to freedom” and journey to a constitutional ethos of dignity, equality and liberty and this freedom can only be fulfilled in its truest sense when each of us realize that the LGBT community possess equal rights as any other citizen in the country under the magnificent charter of rights – our Constitution.

252. Thus analysed, Section 377 IPC, so far as it penalizes any consensual sexual activity between two adults, be it homosexuals (man and a man), heterosexuals (man and a woman) and lesbians (woman and a woman), cannot be regarded as constitutional. However, if anyone, by which we mean both a man and a woman, engages in any kind of sexual activity with an animal, the said aspect of Section 377 IPC is constitutional and it shall remain a penal offence under Section 377 IPC. Any act of the description covered under Section 377 IPC done between the individuals without the consent of any one of them would invite penal liability under Section 377 IPC.

Q. Conclusions

253. In view of the aforesaid analysis, we record our conclusions in seriatim:-

(i) The eminence of identity which has been luculently stated in the NALSA case very aptly connects human rights and the constitutional guarantee of right to life and liberty with dignity. With the same spirit, we must recognize that the concept of identity which has a constitutional tenability cannot be pigeon-holed singularly to one’s orientation as it may keep the individual choice at bay. At the core of the concept of identity lies self-determination, realization of one’s own abilities visualizing the opportunities and rejection of external views with a clear conscience that is in accord with constitutional norms and values or principles that are, to put in a capsule, “constitutionally permissible”.

(ii) In Suresh Koushal (supra), this Court overturned the decision of the Delhi High Court in Naz Foundation (supra) thereby upholding the constitutionality of Section 377 IPC and stating a ground that the LGBT community comprised only a minuscule fraction of the total population and that the mere fact that the said Section was being misused is not a reflection of the vires of the Section. Such a view is constitutionally impermissible.

(iii) Our Constitution is a living and organic document capable of expansion with the changing needs and demands of the society. The Courts must commemorate that it is the Constitution and its golden principles to which they bear their foremost allegiance and they must robe themselves with the armoury of progressive and pragmatic interpretation to combat the evils of inequality and injustice that try to creep into the society. The role of the Courts gains more importance when the rights which are affected belong to a class of persons or a minority group who have been deprived of even their basic rights since time immemorial.

(iv) The primary objective of having a constitutional democracy is to transform the society progressively and inclusively. Our Constitution has been perceived to be transformative in the sense that the interpretation of its provisions should not be limited to the mere literal meaning of its words; instead they ought to be given a meaningful construction which is reflective of their intent and purpose in consonance with the changing times. Transformative constitutionalism not only includes within its wide periphery the recognition of the rights and dignity of individuals but also propagates the fostering and development of an atmosphere wherein every individual is bestowed with adequate opportunities to develop socially, economically and politically. Discrimination of any kind strikes at the very core of any democratic society. When guided by transformative constitutionalism, the society is dissuaded from indulging in any form of discrimination so that the nation is guided towards a resplendent future.

(v) Constitutional morality embraces within its sphere several virtues, foremost of them being the espousal of a pluralistic and inclusive society. The concept of constitutional morality urges the organs of the State, including the Judiciary, to preserve the heterogeneous nature of the society and to curb any attempt by the majority to usurp the rights and freedoms of a smaller or minuscule section of the populace. Constitutional morality cannot be martyred at the altar of social morality and it is only constitutional morality that can be allowed to permeate into the Rule of Law. The veil of social morality cannot be used to violate fundamental rights of even a single individual, for the foundation of constitutional morality rests upon the recognition of diversity that pervades the society.

(vi) The right to live with dignity has been recognized as a human right on the international front and by number of precedents of this Court and, therefore, the constitutional courts must strive to protect the dignity of every individual, for without the right to dignity, every other right would be rendered meaningless. Dignity is an inseparable facet of every individual that invites reciprocative respect from others to every aspect of an individual which he/she perceives as an essential attribute of his/her individuality, be it an orientation or an optional expression of choice. The Constitution has ladened the judiciary with the very important duty to protect and ensure the right of every individual including the right to express and choose without any impediments so as to enable an individual to fully realize his/her fundamental right to live with dignity.

(vii) Sexual orientation is one of the many biological phenomena which is natural and inherent in an individual and is controlled by neurological and biological factors. The science of sexuality has theorized that an individual exerts little or no control over who he/she gets attracted to. Any discrimination on the basis of one’s sexual orientation would entail a violation of the fundamental right of freedom of expression.

(viii) After the privacy judgment in Puttaswamy (supra), the right to privacy has been raised to the pedestal of a fundamental right. The reasoning in Suresh Koushal (supra), that only a minuscule fraction of the total population comprises of LGBT community and that the existence of Section 377 IPC abridges the fundamental rights of a very minuscule percentage of the total populace, is found to be a discordant note. The said reasoning in Suresh Koushal (supra), in our opinion, is fallacious, for the framers of our Constitution could have never intended that the fundamental rights shall be extended for the benefit of the majority only and that the Courts ought to interfere only when the fundamental rights of a large percentage of the total populace is affected. In fact, the said view would be completely against the constitutional ethos, for the language employed in Part III of the Constitution as well as the intention of the framers of our Constitution mandates that the Courts must step in whenever there is a violation of the fundamental rights, even if the right/s of a single individual is/are in peril.

(ix) There is a manifest ascendance of rights under the Constitution which paves the way for the doctrine of progressive realization of rights as such rights evolve with the evolution of the society. This doctrine, as a natural corollary, gives birth to the doctrine of non-retrogression, as per which there must not be atavism of constitutional rights. In the light of the same, if we were to accept the view in Suresh Koushal (supra), it would tantamount to a retrograde step in the direction of the progressive interpretation of the Constitution and denial of progressive realization of rights.

(x) Autonomy is individualistic. Under the autonomy principle, the individual has sovereignty over his/her body. He/she can surrender his/her autonomy wilfully to another individual and their intimacy in privacy is a matter of their choice. Such concept of identity is not only sacred but is also in recognition of the quintessential facet of humanity in a person’s nature. The autonomy establishes identity and the said identity, in the ultimate eventuate, becomes a part of dignity in an individual.

(xi) A cursory reading of both Sections 375 IPC and 377 IPC reveals that although the former Section gives due recognition to the absence of ‘wilful and informed consent’ for an act to be termed as rape, per contra, Section 377 does not contain any such qualification embodying in itself the absence of ‘wilful and informed consent’ to criminalize carnal intercourse which consequently results in criminalizing even voluntary carnal intercourse between homosexuals, heterosexuals, bisexuals and transgenders. Section 375 IPC, after the coming into force of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, has not used the words ‘subject to any other provision of the IPC’. This indicates that Section 375 IPC is not subject to Section 377 IPC.

(xii) The expression ‘against the order of nature’ has neither been defined in Section 377 IPC nor in any other provision of the IPC. The connotation given to the expression by various judicial pronouncements includes all sexual acts which are not intended for the purpose of procreation. Therefore, if coitus is not performed for procreation only, it does not per se make it ‘against the order of nature’.

(xiii) Section 377 IPC, in its present form, being violative of the right to dignity and the right to privacy, has to be tested, both, on the pedestal of Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution as per the law laid down in Maneka Gandhi (supra) and other later authorities.

(xiv) An examination of Section 377 IPC on the anvil of Article 14 of the Constitution reveals that the classification adopted under the said Section has no reasonable nexus with its object as other penal provisions such as Section 375 IPC and the POCSO Act already penalize non-consensual carnal intercourse. Per contra, Section 377 IPC in its present form has resulted in an unwanted collateral effect whereby even ‘consensual sexual acts’, which are neither harmful to children nor women, by the LGBTs have been woefully targeted thereby resulting in discrimination and unequal treatment to the LGBT community and is, thus, violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.

(xv) Section 377 IPC, so far as it criminalises even consensual sexual acts between competent adults, fails to make a distinction between non-consensual and consensual sexual acts of competent adults in private space which are neither harmful nor contagious to the society. Section 377 IPC subjects the LGBT community to societal pariah and dereliction and is, therefore, manifestly arbitrary, for it has become an odious weapon for the harassment of the LGBT community by subjecting them to discrimination and unequal treatment. Therefore, in view of the law laid down in Shayara Bano (supra), Section 377 IPC is liable to be partially struck down for being violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.

(xvi) An examination of Section 377 IPC on the anvil of Article 19(1)(a) reveals that it amounts to an unreasonable restriction, for public decency and morality cannot be amplified beyond a rational or logical limit and cannot be accepted as reasonable grounds for curbing the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and choice of the LGBT community. Consensual carnal intercourse among adults, be it homosexual or heterosexual, in private space, does not in any way harm the public decency or morality. Therefore, Section 377 IPC in its present form violates Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

(xvii) Ergo, Section 377 IPC, so far as it penalizes any consensual sexual relationship between two adults, be it homosexuals (man and a man), heterosexuals (man and a woman) or lesbians (woman and a woman), cannot be regarded as constitutional. However, if anyone, by which we mean both a man and a woman, engages in any kind of sexual activity with an animal, the said aspect of Section 377 is constitutional and it shall remain a penal offence under Section 377 IPC. Any act of the description covered under Section 377 IPC done between two individuals without the consent of any one of them would invite penal liability under Section 377 IPC.

(xviii) The decision in Suresh Koushal (supra), not being in consonance with what we have stated hereinabove, is overruled.

254. The Writ Petitions are, accordingly, disposed of. There shall be no order as to costs.

R.F. Nariman, J.

1. “The love that dare not speak its name” is how the love that exists between same-sex couples was described by Lord Alfred Douglas, the lover of Oscar Wilde, in his poem Two Loves published in 1894 in Victorian England.

2. The word “homosexual” is not derived from “homo” meaning man, but from “homo” meaning same. The word “lesbian” is derived from the name of the Greek island of Lesbos, where it was rumored that female same-sex couples proliferated. What we have before us is a relook at the constitutional validity of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which was enacted in the year 1860 (over 150 years ago) insofar as it criminalises consensual sex between adult same-sex couples.

3. These cases have had a chequered history. Writ petitions were filed before the Delhi High Court challenging the constitutional validity of Section 377 of the Penal Code insofar as it criminalizes consensual sex between adult same-sex couples within the confines of their homes or other private places. A Division Bench of the Delhi High Court in Naz Foundation v. Government of NCT of Delhi (“Naz Foundation”), 111 DRJ 1 (2009), after considering wide-ranging arguments on both sides, finally upheld the plea of the petitioners in the following words:

“132. We declare that Section 377 IPC, insofar it criminalises consensual sexual acts of adults in private, is violative of Articles 21, 14 and 15 of the Constitution. The provisions of Section 377 IPC will continue to govern non-consensual penile non-vaginal sex and penile non-vaginal sex involving minors. By ‘adult’ we mean everyone who is 18 years of age and above. A person below 18 would be presumed not to be able to consent to a sexual act. This clarification will hold till, of course, Parliament chooses to amend the law to effectuate the recommendation of the Law Commission of India in its 172nd Report which we believe removes a great deal of confusion. Secondly, we clarify that our judgment will not result in the re-opening of criminal cases involving Section 377 IPC that have already attained finality.

We allow the writ petition in the above terms.

4. Despite the fact that no appeal was filed by the Union of India, in appeals filed by private individuals and groups, the Supreme Court in Suresh Kumar Koushal and Anr. v. Naz Foundation and Ors. (“Suresh Kumar Koushal”), (2014) 1 SCC 1, reversed the judgment of the High Court. Reviews that were filed against the aforesaid judgment, including by the Union of India, were dismissed by this Court.

5. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court delivered an important judgment reported as National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India (“NALSA”), (2014) 5 SCC 438, which construed Articles 15 and 21 of the Constitution of India as including the right to gender identity and sexual orientation, and held that just like men and women, transgenders could enjoy all the fundamental rights that other citizens of India could enjoy. Thereafter, in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Anr. v. Union of India and Ors. (“Puttaswamy”), (2017) 10 SCC 1, a nine-Judge Bench of this Court unanimously declared that there is a fundamental right of privacy which enured in favour of all persons, the concomitant of which was that the right to make choices that were fundamental to a person’s way of living could not be interfered with by the State without compelling necessity and/or harm caused to other individuals.

6. The impetus of this decision is what led to a three-Judge Bench order of 08.01.2018, which referred to the judgment of Puttaswamy (supra) and other arguments made by Shri Datar, to refer the correctness of Suresh Kumar Koushal’s case (supra) to a larger Bench. This is how the matter has come to us.

History of Section 377

7. In the western world, given the fact that both Judaism and Christianity outlawed sexual intercourse by same-sex couples, offences relating thereto were decided by ecclesiastical courts. It is only as a result of Henry VIII of England breaking with the Roman Catholic Church that legislation in his reign, namely the Buggery Act of 1533, prohibited “the detestable and abominable offence” of buggery committed with mankind or beast.

8. Between 1806, when reliable figures begin, and 1900, 8,921 men were indicted for sodomy, gross indecency or other ‘unnatural misdemeanours’ in England and Wales. Ninety men per year were, on average, indicted for homosexual offences in this period. About a third as many were arrested and their case considered by magistrates. Most of the men convicted were imprisoned, but between 1806 and 1861, when the death penalty for sodomy was finally abolished, 404 men were sentenced to death. Fifty-six were executed, and the remainder were either imprisoned or transported to Australia for life. Two such men, James Pratt and John Smith, were the last to be executed in Britain for sodomy on 27 November, 1835.

9. During the reign of the East India Company in India, Parliament established what was called the Indian Law Commission. In 1833, Thomas Babington Macaulay was appointed to chair the Commission.

10. The Indian Law Commission, with Macaulay as its head, submitted the Draft Penal Code to the Government of India on 14.10.1837. This draft consisted of 488 clauses. After the First Report submitted on 23.07.1846, the Second Report of Her Majesty’s Commissioners for revising and consolidating the law was submitted by C.H. Cameron and D. Eliott on 24.06.1847. These Commissioners concluded that the Draft Penal Code was sufficiently complete, and, with slight modifications, fit to be acted upon. The revised edition of the Penal Code was then forwarded to the Judges of the Supreme Court at Calcutta on 30.05.1851, and also to the Judges of the Sudder Court at Calcutta.

11. The revised edition of the Penal Code as prepared by Mr. Bethune, the Legislative member of the Legislative Council of India, together with the views of the Chief Justice and Mr. Justice Buller of the Supreme Court at Calcutta, as well as those of Mr. Justice Colvile were sent to the Company in London. The Court of Directors in London were anxious to see the Penal Code enacted as early as possible. They, therefore, constituted a Council in which Sir Barnes Peacock was made the fourth member.

12. This Council or Committee prepared a revised Penal Code which was then referred to a Select Committee in 1857. Given the Indian Mutiny of 1857, the Code was passed soon thereafter in October, 1860 and brought into force on 01.01.1862. Sir James Fitzjames Stephen proclaimed that:

“The Indian Penal Code is to the English criminal law what a manufactured article ready for use is to the materials out of which it is made. It is to the French Penal Code and, I may add, to the North Germany Code of 1871, what a finished picture is to a sketch. It is far simpler, and much better expressed, than Livingston’s Code for Louisiana; and its practical success has been complete”.

13. He further described the Penal Code as:-

“the criminal law of England freed from all technicalities and superfluities, systematically arranged and modified in some few particulars (they are surprisingly few), to suit circumstances of British India.”

14. According to Lord Macaulay, a good Code should have the qualities of precision and comprehensibility. In a letter to Lord Auckland, the Governor General of India in Council, which accompanied his draft Penal Code, he stated:

“There are two things which a legislator should always have in view while he is framing laws: the one is that they should be as far as possible precise; the other that they should be easily understood. That a law, and especially a penal law, should be drawn in words which convey no meaning to the people who are to obey it, is an evil. On the other hand, a loosely worded law is no law, and to whatever extent a legislature uses vague expressions, to that extent it abdicates its functions, and resigns the power of making law to the Courts of Justice.”

15. Stung to the quick, when criticized as to the delay in bringing out the Code, he observed in a Minute to Lord Auckland as follows:

“…when I remember the slow progress of law reforms at home and when I consider that our Code decides hundreds of questions… every one of which if stirred in England would give occasion to voluminous controversy and to many animated debates, I must acknowledge that I am inclined to fear that we have been guilty rather of precipitation than of delay.”

16. Earlier, he had described the core objective of his project in his 04.06.1835 Minute to the Council which could be paraphrased as follows:-

It should be more than a mere digest of existing laws, covering all contingencies, and ‘nothing that is not in the Code ought to be law’.

It should suppress crime with the least infliction of suffering and allow for the ascertaining of the truth at the smallest possible cost of time and money.

Its language should be clear, unequivocal and concise. Every criminal act should be separately defined, its language followed precisely in indictment and conduct found to fall clearly within the definition.

Uniformity was to be the chief end and special definitions, procedures or other exceptions to account for different races or sects should not be included without clear and strong reasons.

17. It is interesting to note that Lord Macaulay’s Draft was substantially different from what was enacted as Section 377. Macaulay’s original draft read:-

“361. Whoever, intending to gratify unnatural lust, touches for that purpose any person, or any animal, or is by his own consent touched by any person, for the purpose of gratifying unnatural lust, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to fourteen years and must not be less than two years, and shall be liable to fine.

362. Whoever, intending to gratify unnatural lust, touches for that purpose any person without that person’s free and intelligent consent, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to life and must not be less than seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

18. What is remarkable for the time in which he lived is the fact that Lord Macaulay would punish touching another person for the purpose of gratifying “unnatural lust” without their “free and intelligent consent” with a term of imprisonment extendable to life (but not less than seven years) while the penalty for the same offence, when consensual, would be imprisonment for a maximum term of fourteen years (but not less than two years). Even in this most prudish of all periods of English history, Lord Macaulay recognized a lesser sentence for the crime of “unnatural lust”, if performed with consent. Living in the era in which he lived, he clearly eschewed public discussion on this subject, stating:-

“Clause 361 and 362 relate to an odious class of offences respecting which it is desirable that as little as possible should be said. We leave, without comment, to the judgment of his Lordship in Council the two clauses which we have provided for these offences. We are unwilling to insert, either in the text or in the notes, anything which could give rise to public discussion on this revolting subject; as we are decidedly of the opinion that the injury which would be done to the morals of the community by such discussion would far more than compensate for any benefits which might be derived from legislative measures framed with the greatest precision.”

19. At what stage of the proceedings before the various persons and committees after 1837, Section 377 finally took shape, is not clear. What is clear is that it is the Committee of Sir Barnes Peacock which finally sent the draft equivalent of Section 377 for enactment.

20. The Indian Penal Code, given its long life of over 150 years, has had surprisingly few amendments made to it. The 42nd Law Commission Report, early in this country’s history, did not recommend the amendment or deletion of Section 377. But B. P. Jeevan Reddy, J.’s Law Commission Report of the year 2000 (the 172nd Report) recommended its deletion consequent to changes made in the preceding sections, which made it clear that anal sex between consenting adults, whether same-sex or otherwise, would not be penalized.

Law in the United Kingdom

21. As has been mentioned earlier in this judgment, the first enactment prohibiting same-sex intercourse was passed in the year 1533 in the reign of Henry VIII. The death penalty was prescribed even for consenting adults who indulged in this “abomination”. The trial of persons such as Oscar Wilde is what led to law reform in the U.K., albeit 60 years later.

22. The Marquess of Queensberry’s son, Lord Alfred Douglas, was having an affair with Oscar Wilde, which the Marquess discovered. At Oscar Wilde’s club, the Marquess left a note describing Oscar Wilde as a “somdomite” which led to one of the most celebrated defamation actions in England. In the course of his cross-examination of Oscar Wilde, Sir Edward Carson was able to draw from his famous witness the fact that boys could be plain or ugly, which would have led to the truth of establishing the charge against Oscar Wilde. Rather than go on with the trial, Oscar Wilde hastily withdrew his action for defamation. But that was not the end. A prosecution under the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 followed, in which Oscar Wilde was convicted and sent to jail for a period of two years. He never quite recovered, for after his jail sentence was served out, he died a broken and impoverished man in Paris at the early age of 46.

23. The winds of change slowly blew over the British Isles and finally, post the Second World War, what is known as the Wolfenden Committee was appointed on 24.08.1954, inter alia to consider the law and practice relating to homosexual offences and the treatment of persons convicted of such offences by the courts. The Committee Report, even though it is of a vintage of September 1957, makes interesting reading. In paragraphs 31 and 32 of the Report, the Committee opined:-

“31. Even if it could be established that homosexuality were a disease, it is clear that many individuals, however their state is reached, present social rather than medical problems and must be dealt with by social, including penological, methods. This is especially relevant when the claim that homosexuality is an illness is taken to imply that its treatment should be a medical responsibility. Much more important than the academic question whether homosexuality is a disease is the practical question whether a doctor should carry out any part or all of the treatment. Psychiatrists deal regularly with problems of personality which are not regarded as diseases, and conversely the treatment of cases of recognized psychiatric illness may not be strictly medical but may best be carried out by non-medical supervision or environmental change. Examples would be certain cases of senile dementia or chronic schizophrenia which can best be managed at home. In fact, the treatment of behavior disorders, even when medically supervised, is rarely confined to psychotherapy or to treatment of a strictly medical kind. This is not to deny that expert advice should be sought in very many homosexual cases. We shall have something more to say on these matters in connection with the treatment of offenders.

32. The claim that homosexuality is an illness carries the further implication that the sufferer cannot help it and therefore carries a diminished responsibility for his actions. Even if it were accepted that homosexuality could properly be described as a “disease”, we should not accept this corollary. There are no prima facie grounds for supposing that because a particular person’s sexual propensity happens to lie in the direction of persons of his or her own sex it is any less controllable than that of those whose propensity is for persons of the opposite sex. We are informed that patients in mental hospitals, with few exceptions, show clearly by their behavior that they can and do exercise a high degree of responsibility and self-control; for example, only a small minority need to be kept in locked wards.The existence of varying degrees of self-control is a matter of daily experience – the extent to which coughing can be controlled is an example – and the capacity for self-control can vary with the personality structure or with temporary physical or emotional conditions. The question which is important for us here is whether the individual suffers from a condition which causes diminished responsibility. This is a different question from the question whether he was responsible in the past for the causes or origins of his present condition.That is an interesting enquiry and may be of relevance in other connections; but our concern is with the behavior which flows from the individual’s present condition and with the extent to which he is responsible for that behavior, whatever may have been the causes of the condition from which it springs. Just as expert opinion can give valuable assistance in deciding on the appropriate ways of dealing with a convicted person, so can it help in assessing the additional factors that may affect his present responsibility?”

24. It then went on to note in paragraph 36 that the evidence before them showed that homosexuality existed in all levels of society and was prevalent in all trades and professions. In paragraph 53, the main arguments for retention of the existing law were set out. Insofar as societal health was concerned, the Committee rejected this for lack of evidence. It went on to state:-

“54. As regards the first of these arguments, it is held that conduct of this kind is a cause of the demoralization and decay of civilisations, and that therefore, unless we wish to see our nation degenerate and decay, such conduct must be stopped, by every possible means. We have found no evidence to support this view, and we cannot feel it right to frame the laws which should govern this country in the present age by reference to hypothetical explanations of the history of other peoples in ages distant in time and different in circumstances from our own. In so far as the basis of this argument can be precisely formulated, it is often no more than the expression of revulsion against what is regarded as unnatural, sinful or disgusting. Many people feel this revulsion, for one or more of these reasons.

But moral conviction or instinctive feeling, however strong, is not a valid basis for overriding the individual’s privacy and for bringing within the ambit of the criminal law private sexual behaviour of this kind. It is held also that if such men are employed in certain professions or certain branches of the public service their private habits may render them liable to threats of blackmail or to other pressures which may make them “bad security risks.” If this is true, it is true also of some other categories of persons: for example, drunkards, gamblers and those who become involved in compromising situations of a heterosexual kind; and while it may be a valid ground for excluding from certain forms of employment men who indulge in homosexual behaviour, it does not, in our view, constitute a sufficient reason for making their private sexual behaviour an offence in itself.”

(Emphasis supplied)

25. Insofar as the damaging effects on family life were concerned, this was rejected by stating:-

“55. The second contention, that homosexual behaviour between males has a damaging effect on family life, may well be true. Indeed, we have had evidence, that it often is; cases in which homosexual behaviour on the part of the husband has broken up a marriage are by no means rare, and there are also cases in which a man in whom the homosexual component is relatively weak nevertheless derives such satisfaction from homosexual outlets that he does not enter upon a marriage which might have been successfully and happily consummated. We deplore this damage to what we regard as the basic unit of society; but cases are also frequently encountered in which a marriage has been broken up by homosexual behaviour on the part of the wife, and no doubt some women, too, derive sufficient satisfaction from homosexual outlets to prevent their marrying. We have had no reasons shown to us which would lead us to believe that homosexual behaviour between males inflicts any greater damage on family life than adultery, fornication or lesbian behaviour.

These practices are all reprehensible from the point of view of harm to the family, but it is difficult to see why on this ground male homosexual behaviour alone among them should be a criminal offence. This argument is not to be taken as saying that society should condone or approve male homosexual behaviour. But where adultery, fornication and lesbian behaviour are not criminal offences there seems to us to be no valid ground, on the basis of damage to the family, for so regarding homosexual behaviour between men. Moreover, it has to be recognized that the mere existence of the condition of homosexuality in one of the partners can result in an unsatisfactory marriage, so that for a homosexual to marry simply for the sake of conformity with the accepted structure of society or in the hope of curing his condition may result in disaster.”

26. And in rejecting the allegation that men indulging in such practices with other men may turn their attention to boys, the Committee said:-

“56. We have given anxious consideration to the third argument, that an adult male who has sought as his partner another adult male may turn from such a relationship and seek as his partner a boy or succession of boys. We should certainly not wish to countenance any proposal which might tend to increase offences against minors. Indeed, if we thought that any recommendation for a change in the law would increase the danger to minors, we should not make it. But in this matter, we have been much influenced by our expert witnesses. They are in no doubt that whatever may be the origins of the homosexual condition, there are two recognisably different categories among adult male homosexuals. There are those who seek as partners other adult males, and there are paedophiliacs, that is to say men who seek as partners boys who have not reached puberty.

57. We are authoritatively informed that a man who has homosexual relations with an adult partner seldom turns to boys, and vice-versa, though it is apparent from the police reports we have seen and from other evidence submitted to us that such cases do happen.”

27. Finally, the Committee stated:

“60. We recognise that a proposal to change a law which has operated for many years so as to make legally permissible acts which were formerly unlawful, is open to criticisms which might not be made in relation to a proposal to omit, from a code of laws being formulated de novo, any provision making these acts illegal. To reverse a long-standing tradition is a serious matter and not to be suggested lightly. But the task entrusted to us, as we conceive it, is to state what we regard as a just and equitable law. We therefore do not think it appropriate that consideration of this question should be unduly influenced by a regard for the present law, much of which derives from traditions whose origins are obscure.

61. Further, we feel bound to say this. We have outlined the arguments against a change in the law, and we recognise their weight. We believe, however, that they have been met by the counter-arguments we have already advanced. There remains one additional counter-argument which we believe to be decisive, namely, the importance which society and the law ought to give to individual freedom of choice and action in matters of private morality. Unless a deliberate attempt is to be made by society, acting through the agency of the law, to equate the sphere of crime with that of sin, there must remain a realm of private morality and immorality which is, in brief and crude terms, not the law’s business. To say this is not to condone or encourage private immorality. On the contrary, to emphasise the personal and private responsibility of the individual for his own actions, and that is a responsibility which a mature agent can properly be expected to carry for himself without the threat of punishment from the law.

62. We accordingly recommend that homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence.”

28. Change came slowly. It was only in 1967 that the Wolfenden Committee Report was acted upon by the British Parliament by enacting the Sexual Offences Act, 1967, which abolished penal offences involving consenting same-sex adults.

29. In 2017, the United Kingdom passed the Policing and Crimes Act which served as an amnesty law to pardon persons who were cautioned or convicted under legislations that outlawed homosexual acts.

The Law in the United States

30. At the time that the United States achieved independence in 1776, the law in all the States insofar as same-sex offences were concerned, was the English law. This state of affairs continued until challenges were made in the last century to state statutes which criminalized sodomy. One such case, namely, Bowers v. Hardwick (“Bowers”), 92 L. Ed. 2d 140 (1986), reached the United States Supreme Court in the year 1986. By a 5:4 decision, the United States Supreme Court upheld a Georgia statute criminalizing sodomy and its applicability to the commission of that act with another adult male in the bedroom of the respondent’s home. Justice White, who spoke for the majority of the Court, did this on several grounds.

31. First and foremost, he stated that there was no right to privacy that extended to homosexual sodomy. No connection between family, marriage, or procreation and homosexuality had been demonstrated to the court. The next ground for upholding such law was that proscriptions against such conduct had ancient roots. Stanley v. Georgia (“Stanley”), 22 L. Ed. 2d 542 (1969), where the Court held that the First Amendment prohibits conviction for possessing and reading obscene material in the privacy of one’s home, was brushed aside stating that Stanley itself recognized that its holding offered no protection for possession of drugs, firearms or stolen goods in the home.Therefore, such a claimed fundamental right could not possibly exist when adultery, incest and other sexual crimes are punished, even though they may be committed in the home. Another important rationale was that the Georgia law was based on a notion of morality, which is a choice that could legitimately be exercised by a State Legislature. Chief Justice Burger, concurring, again relied heavily on ‘ancient roots’, stating that throughout the history of western civilization, homosexual sodomy was outlawed in the Judeo-Christian tradition, which the Georgia legislature could well follow.Justice Powell, concurring with the majority, found that to imprison a person upto 20 years for a single, private, consensual act of sodomy within the home would be a cruel and unusual punishment within the meaning of the Eighth Amendment. However, since no trial had taken place on the facts, and since the respondent did not raise any such Eighth Amendment issue, Justice Powell concurred with the majority.

32. The dissenting opinion of four Justices makes interesting reading. Justice Blackmun, who spoke for four dissenters, began with the classical definition of the old privacy right which is the “right to be let alone”, and quoted from Justice Holmes’ article The Path of the Law, stating:-

“[i]t is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since, and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past.”

33. So much, then, for history and its “ancient roots”. Justice Blackmun’s dissent then went on to consider the famous judgment in Wisconsin v. Yoder, 32 L. Ed. 2d 15 (1972), in which the Court had upheld the fundamental right of the Amish community not to send their children to schools, stating that a way of life that is odd or even erratic but interferes with no rights or interests of others is not to be condemned because it is different. Referring to Judeo-Christian values, the Court said that the fact that certain religious groups condemn the behavior of sodomy gives the State no licence to impose their moral judgment on the entire citizenry of the United States. Ending with a John Stuart Mill type of analysis, the dissent stated:-

“44. This case involves no real interference with the rights of others, for the mere knowledge that other individuals do not adhere to one’s value system cannot be a legally cognizable interest, cf. Diamond v. Charles, 476 U.S. 54, 65-66, 106 S. Ct. 1697, 1705, 90 L.Ed.2d 48 (1986), let alone an interest that can justify invading the houses, hearts, and minds of citizens who choose to live their lives differently.”

34. Justice Stevens, also in a powerfully worded dissent, specifically stated that the protection of privacy extends to intimate choices made by unmarried as well as married persons.

35. It took the United States 17 years to set aside this view of the law and to accept the dissenting judgments in Bowers (supra).

36. In Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), by a majority of 6:3, Justice Anthony Kennedy, speaking for the majority, set aside the judgment in Bowers (supra), accepting that the dissenting judgments in that case were correct. In a tilt at the history analysis of the majority judgment in Bowers (supra), the Court found that earlier sodomy laws were not directed at homosexuals at large, but instead sought to prohibit non-procreative sexual activity more generally, and were not enforced against consenting adults acting in private. After citing from Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey (“Casey”), 505 U.S. 833 (1992), the majority held – “our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code.” The majority judgment then referred to a Model Penal Code that the American Law Institute took out in 1955, making it clear that it did not provide for criminal penalties for consensual same-sex relationships conducted in private.The judgment then went on to refer to the Wolfenden Committee Report and the Sexual Offences Act,1967 in the United Kingdom and referred to the European Court’s decision in Dudgeon v. United Kingdom, 45 Eur. Ct. H. R. (1981). It then referred to Romer v. Evans (“Romer”), 517 U.S. 620 (1996), where the Court struck down a class-based legislation which deprived homosexuals of State anti-discrimination laws as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The majority then found that the 1986 decision of Bowers (supra), had “sustained serious erosion” through their recent decisions in Casey (supra) and Romer (supra), and had, therefore, to be revisited. Justice O’Connor concurred in the judgment but side-stepped rather than overruled Bowers (supra). Justice Scalia, with whom the Chief Justice and Justice Thomas joined, found no reason to undo the Bowers (supra) verdict stating that stare decisis should carry the day. An interesting passage in Justice Scalia’s judgment reads as follows:-

“Let me be clear that I have nothing against homosexuals, or any other group, promoting their agenda through normal democratic means. Social perceptions of sexual and other morality change over time, and every group has the right to persuade its fellow citizens that its view of such matters is the best. That homosexuals have achieved some success in that enterprise is attested to by the fact that Texas is one of the few remaining States that criminalize private, consensual homosexual acts. But persuading one’s fellow citizens is one thing, and imposing one’s views in absence of democratic majority will is something else. I would no more require a State to criminalize homosexual acts-or, for that matter, display any moral disapprobation of them-than I would forbid it to do so. What Texas has chosen to do is well within the range of traditional democratic action, and its hand should not be stayed through the invention of a brand-new “constitutional right” by a Court that is impatient of democratic change. It is indeed true that “later generations can see that laws once assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.” thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress,” [ante, at 579]; and when that happens, later generations can repeal those laws. But it is the premise of our system that those judgments are to be made by the people, and not imposed by a governing caste that knows best.”

37. Before coming to our own judgments, we may quickly survey some of the judgments of the courts of other democratic nations. The European Community decisions, beginning with Dudgeon v. United Kingdom (supra) and continuing with Norris v. Ireland, Application no. 10581/83, and Modinos v. Cyprus, 16 EHRR 485 (1993), have all found provisions similar to Section 377 to be violative of Article 8 of the European Human Rights Convention, 1948 in which everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence, and no interference can be made with these rights unless the law is necessary in a democratic society inter alia for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

38. In El-Al Israel Airlines Ltd. v. Jonathan Danielwitz, H.C.J. 721/94, the Supreme Court of Israel, speaking through Barak, J., recognized a same-sex relationship so that a male companion could be treated as being a companion for the receipt of a free or discounted aeroplane ticket. The Court held:-

“14…..The principle of equality demands that the existence of a rule that treats people differently is justified by the nature and substance of the issue. The principle of equality therefore presumes the existence of objective reasons that justify a difference (a distinction, dissimilarity). Discrimination – which is the opposite of equality – exists therefore in those situations where a different law for people who are (de facto) different from one another is based on reasons that are insufficient to justify a distinction between them in a free and democratic society. In Justice Or’s words, discrimination is ‘different treatment without an objective justification’ (Hoppert v. ‘Yad VaShem’ Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Memorial Authority [12], at p. 360). President Agranat discussed this and pointed out:

‘The principle of equality, which is merely the opposite of discrimination and which, for reasons of justice and fairness, the law of every democratic country aspires to achieve, means that people must be treated equally for a particular purpose, when no real differences that are relevant to this purpose exist between them. If they are not treated equally, we have a case of discrimination. However, if the difference or differences between different people are relevant for the purpose under discussion, it is a permitted distinction to treat them differently for that purpose, provided that those differences justify this. In this context, the concept of “equality” therefore means “relevant equality”, and it requires, with regard to the purpose under discussion, “equality of treatment” for those persons in this state. By contrast, it will be a permitted distinction if the different treatment of different persons derives from their being for the purpose of the treatment, in a state of relevant inequality, just as it will be discrimination if it derives from their being in a state of inequality that is not relevant to the purpose of the treatment’ (FH 10/69 Boronovski v. Chief Rabbis [16], at p. 35).

Therefore, a particular law will create discrimination when two individuals, who are different from one another (factual inequality), are treated differently by the law, even though the factual difference between them does not justify different treatment in the circumstances. Discrimination is therefore based on the factors of arbitrariness, injustice and unreasonableness.

XXX

17. We have seen, therefore, that giving a benefit to a (permanent) employee for a spouse or recognized companion of the opposite sex and not giving the same benefit for a same-sex companion amounts to a violation of equality. What is the nature of this discrimination? Indeed, all discrimination is prohibited, but among the different kinds of discrimination, there are varying degrees. The severity of the discrimination is determined by the severity of the violation of the principle of equality. Thus, for example, we consider discrimination on the basis of race, religion, nationality, language, ethnic group and age to be particularly serious. In this framework, the Israeli legal system attaches great importance to the need to guarantee equality between the sexes and to prevent discrimination on the basis of sex (see HCJ 153/87 Shakdiel v. Minister of Religious Affairs [19]; Poraz v. Mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa [6]).”

(Emphasis supplied)

39. An instructive recent judgment from Trinidad and Tobago in Jason Jones v. Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago, Claim No. CV 2017-00720, followed our judgment in Puttaswamy (supra) in order to strike down Section 13 of the Sexual Offences Act, 1986 on the ground that the State cannot criminalise sexual relations of the same sex between consenting adults. The court concluded:-

“168. Having regard to the evidence and submissions before this court on all sides, there is no cogent evidence that the legislative objective is sufficiently important to justify limiting the claimant’s rights. Mr. Hosein’s stated objectives of:

168.1. Maintaining traditional family and values that represent society;

168.2. Preserving the legislation as it is and clarifying the law; and

168.3. Extending the offence in section 16 to women and reduce it to serious indecency from gross indecency; do not counterbalance the claimant’s limit of his fundamental right of which he has given evidence.

Instead, the court accepts the claimant’s position that the law as it stands is not sufficiently important to justify limiting his fundamental rights and that he has proven it on a balance of probabilities.”

40. To similar effect is the judgment of the High Court of Fiji in Dhirendra Nadan v. State, Case No. HAA0085 of 2005, where a Section similar to Section 377 was held to be inconsistent with the constitutional right of privacy and invalid to the extent that the law criminalises acts constituting private consensual sexual conduct “against the course of nature” between adults.

41. The South African Supreme Court, by a decision of 1999 in The National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality v. The Minister of Home Affairs, Case CCT 10/99, after referring to various judgments of other courts, also found a similar section to be inconsistent with the fundamental rights under its Constitution.

42. Another important decision is that of the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Toonen v. Australia, Communication No. 488/1992, U.N. Doc CCPR/C/50/D/488/1992 (1994), dated 31.03.1994. The Committee was called upon to determine whether Mr. Nicholas Toonen, who resided in the state of Tasmania, had been the victim of arbitrary interference with his privacy, and whether he had been discriminated against on the basis of his sexual orientation of being a homosexual. The Committee found:-

“8.2 Inasmuch as Article 17 is concerned, it is undisputed that adult consensual sexual activity in private is covered by the concept of “privacy”, and that Mr. Toonen is actually and currently affected by the continued existence of the Tasmanian laws. The Committee considers that Sections 122 (a), (c) and 123 of the Tasmanian Criminal Code “interfere” with the author’s privacy, even if these provisions have not been enforced for a decade. In this context, it notes that the policy of the Department of Public Prosecutions not to initiate criminal proceedings in respect of private homosexual conduct does not amount to a guarantee that no actions will be brought against homosexuals in the future, particularly in the light of undisputed statements of the Director of Public Prosecutions of Tasmania in 1988 and those of members of the Tasmanian Parliament. The continued existence of the challenged provisions therefore continuously and directly “interferes” with the author’s privacy.

8.3 The prohibition against private homosexual behaviour is provided for by law, namely, Sections 122 and 123 of the Tasmanian Criminal Code. As to whether it may be deemed arbitrary, the Committee recalls that pursuant to its General Comment 16 on article 17, the “introduction of the concept of arbitrariness is intended to guarantee that even interference provided for by the law should be in accordance with the provisions, aims and objectives of the Covenant and should be, in any event, reasonable in the circumstances”.(4) The Committee interprets the requirement of reasonableness to imply that any interference with privacy must be proportional to the end sought and be necessary in the circumstances of any given case.

XXX

8.5 As far as the public health argument of the Tasmanian authorities is concerned, the Committee notes that the criminalization of homosexual practices cannot be considered a reasonable means or proportionate measure to achieve the aim of preventing the spread of AIDS/HIV. The Australian Government observes that statutes criminalizing homosexual activity tend to impede public health programmes “by driving underground many of the people at the risk of infection”. Criminalization of homosexual activity thus would appear to run counter to the implementation of effective education programmes in respect of the HIV/AIDS prevention. Secondly, the Committee notes that no link has been shown between the continued criminalization of homosexual activity and the effective control of the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus.

XXX

8.7 The State party has sought the Committee’s guidance as to whether sexual orientation may be considered an “other status” for the purposes of article 26. The same issue could arise under article 2, paragraph 1, of the Covenant. The Committee confines itself to noting, however, that in its view the reference to “sex” in articles 2, paragraph 1, and 26 is to be taken as including sexual orientation.

XXX

10. Under article 2(3)(a) of the Covenant, the author, victim of a violation of articles 17, paragraph 1, juncto 2, paragraph 1, of the Covenant, is entitled to a remedy. In the opinion of the Committee, an effective remedy would be the repeal of Sections 122(a), (c) and 123 of the Tasmanian Criminal Code.”

43. As a result of these findings, the Australian Parliament, on 19.12.1994, passed the Human Rights (Sexual Conduct) Act, 1994, Section 4 of which reads as under:-

“4. Arbitrary interferences with privacy

(1) Sexual conduct involving only consenting adults acting in private is not to be subject, by or under any law of the Commonwealth, a State or a Territory, to any arbitrary interference with privacy within the meaning of Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

(2) For the purposes of this section, an adult is a person who is 18 years old or more.”

Recent Judgments of this Court

44. Anuj Garg and Ors. v. Hotel Association of India and Ors., (2008) 3 SCC 1, is an important decision of this Court, which dealt with the constitutional validity of another pre-constitution enactment, namely, Section 30 of the Punjab Excise Act of 1914, which prohibited employment of any woman in any part of premises in which liquor is consumed by the public. Sinha, J. adverted to the fact that when the original Act was enacted, the concept of equality between the two sexes was unknown. The Constitution changed all that when it enacted Articles 14 and 15. What is of importance is that when discrimination is made between two sets of persons, the classification must be founded on some rational criteria having regard to the societal conditions as they exist presently, and not as they existed in the early 20th century or even earlier. This was felicitously stated by the learned Judge as follows:-

“7. The Act is a pre-constitutional legislation. Although it is saved in terms of Article 372 of the Constitution, challenge to its validity on the touchstone of Articles 14, 15 and 19 of the Constitution of India, is permissible in law. While embarking on the questions raised, it may be pertinent to know that a statute although could have been held to be a valid piece of legislation keeping in view the societal condition of those times, but with the changes occurring therein both in the domestic as also international arena, such a law can also be declared invalid.

8. In John Vallamattom v. Union of India, (2003) 6 SCC 611, this Court, while referring to an amendment made in UK in relation to a provision which was in pari materia with Section 118 of Indian Succession Act, observed (SCC p. 624, para 28):

“28…The constitutionality of a provision, it is trite, will have to be judged keeping in view the interpretative changes of the statute affected by passage of time.” Referring to the changing legal scenario and having regard to the Declaration on the Right to Development adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights as also Article 18 of the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, it was held (John Vallamattom case, SCC p. 625, para 33):

“33. It is trite that having regard to Article 13(1) of the Constitution, the constitutionality of the impugned legislation is required to be considered on the basis of laws existing on 26-1-1950, but while doing so the court is not precluded from taking into consideration the subsequent events which have taken place thereafter. It is further trite that the law although may be constitutional when enacted but with passage of time the same may be held to be unconstitutional in view of the changed situation.”

XXX

26. When a discrimination is sought to be made on the purported ground of classification, such classification must be founded on a rational criteria. The criteria which in absence of any constitutional provision and, it will bear repetition to state, having regard to the societal conditions as they prevailed in early 20th century, may not be a rational criteria in the 21st century. In the early 20th century, the hospitality sector was not open to women in general. In the last 60 years, women in India have gained entry in all spheres of public life. They have also been representing people at grass root democracy. They are now employed as drivers of heavy transport vehicles, conductors of service carriages, pilots, et. al. Women can be seen to be occupying Class IV posts to the post of a Chief Executive Officer of a Multinational Company. They are now widely accepted both in police as also army services.”

45. The Court went on to hold that “proportionality” should be a standard capable of being called reasonable in a modern democratic society (See paragraph 36). In a significant paragraph, the learned Judge held:-

“43. Instead of prohibiting women employment in the bars altogether the State should focus on factoring in ways through which unequal consequences of sex differences can be eliminated. It is the State’s duty to ensure circumstances of safety which inspire confidence in women to discharge the duty freely in accordance to the requirements of the profession they choose to follow. Any other policy inference (such as the one embodied under Section 30) from societal conditions would be oppressive on the women and against the privacy rights.”

46. The learned Judge then went on to further hold that the standard of judicial scrutiny of legislations, which on their face effect discrimination, is as follows:-

“46. It is to be borne in mind that legislations with pronounced “protective discrimination” aims, such as this one, potentially serve as double-edged swords. Strict scrutiny test should be employed while assessing the implications of this variety of legislations. Legislation should not be only assessed on its proposed aims but rather on the implications and the effects. The impugned legislation suffers from incurable fixations of stereotype morality and conception of sexual role. The perspective thus arrived at is outmoded in content and stifling in means.

47. No law in its ultimate effect should end up perpetuating the oppression of women. Personal freedom is a fundamental tenet which cannot be compromised in the name of expediency until and unless there is a compelling State purpose. Heightened level of scrutiny is the normative threshold for judicial review in such cases.”

47. Finally, the Court held:-

“50. The test to review such a protective discrimination statute would entail a two-pronged scrutiny:

(a) the legislative interference (induced by sex discriminatory legislation in the instant case) should be justified in principle,

(b) the same should be proportionate in measure.

51. The Court’s task is to determine whether the measures furthered by the State in the form of legislative mandate, to augment the legitimate aim of protecting the interests of women are proportionate to the other bulk of well-settled gender norms such as autonomy, equality of opportunity, right to privacy, et al. The bottomline in this behalf would be a functioning modern democratic society which ensures freedom to pursue varied opportunities and options without discriminating on the basis of sex, race, caste or any other like basis.

In fine, there should be a reasonable relationship of proportionality between the means used and the aim pursued.”

48. The Section which had been struck down by the High Court was held to be arbitrary and unreasonable by this Court as well.

49. Close on the heels of this Court’s judgment in Suresh Kumar Koushal (supra) is this Court’s judgment in NALSA (supra). In this case, the Court had to grapple with the trauma, agony and pain of the members of the transgender community. The Court referred to Section 377 in the following words:

“19. Section 377 IPC found a place in the Penal Code, 1860, prior to the enactment of the Criminal Tribes Act that criminalised all penile non-vaginal sexual acts between persons, including anal sex and oral sex, at a time when transgender persons were also typically associated with the proscribed sexual practices. Reference may be made to the judgment of the Allahabad High Court in Queen Empress v. Khairati, ILR (1884) 6 All 204, wherein a transgender person was arrested and prosecuted under Section 377 on the suspicion that he was a “habitual sodomite” and was later acquitted on appeal. In that case, while acquitting him, the Sessions Judge stated as follows: (ILR pp. 204-05)

“… ‘This case relates to a person named Khairati, over whom the police seem to have exercised some sort of supervision, whether strictly regular or not, as a eunuch. The man is not a eunuch in the literal sense, but he was called for by the police when on a visit to his village, and was found singing dressed as a woman among the women of a certain family. Having been subjected to examination by the Civil Surgeon (and a subordinate medical man), he is shown to have the characteristic mark of a habitual catamite-the distortion of the orifice of the anus into the shape of a trumpet-and also to be affected with syphilis in the same region in a manner which distinctly points to unnatural intercourse within the last few months.'”

Even though, he was acquitted on appeal, this case would demonstrate that Section 377, though associated with specific sexual acts, highlighted certain identities, including hijras and was used as an instrument of harassment and physical abuse against hijras and transgender persons.”

50. The Court went on to explain the concepts of gender identity and sexual orientation, and relied heavily upon Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in Relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. The Court then went on to hold:

“60. The principles discussed hereinbefore on TGs and the international conventions, including Yogyakarta Principles, which we have found not inconsistent with the various fundamental rights guaranteed under the Indian Constitution, must be recognised and followed, which has sufficient legal and historical justification in our country.”

51. Insofar as Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution were concerned, the Court held:

“66. Articles 15 and 16 sought to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, recognising that sex discrimination is a historical fact and needs to be addressed. The Constitution-makers, it can be gathered, gave emphasis to the fundamental right against sex discrimination so as to prevent the direct or indirect attitude to treat people differently, for the reason of not being in conformity with stereotypical generalisations of binary genders. Both gender and biological attributes constitute distinct components of sex. The biological characteristics, of course, include genitals, chromosomes and secondary sexual features, but gender attributes include one’s self-image, the deep psychological or emotional sense of sexual identity and character. The discrimination on the ground of “sex” under Articles 15 and 16, therefore, includes discrimination on the ground of gender identity. The expression “sex” used in Articles 15 and 16 is not just limited to biological sex of male or female, but intended to include people who consider themselves to be neither male nor female.”

52. Insofar as Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and transgenders were concerned, the Court held:

“72. Gender identity, therefore, lies at the core of one’s personal identity, gender expression and presentation and, therefore, it will have to be protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. A transgender’s personality could be expressed by the transgender’s behaviour and presentation. State cannot prohibit, restrict or interfere with a transgender’s expression of such personality, which reflects that inherent personality. Often the State and its authorities either due to ignorance or otherwise fail to digest the innate character and identity of such persons. We, therefore, hold that values of privacy, self-identity, autonomy and personal integrity are fundamental rights guaranteed to members of the transgender community under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India and the State is bound to protect and recognise those rights.”

53. In a significant paragraph relating to the personal autonomy of an individual, this Court held:

“75. Article 21, as already indicated, guarantees the protection of “personal autonomy” of an individual. In Anuj Garg v. Hotel Assn. of India [(2008) 3 SCC 1] (SCC p. 15, paras 34-35), this Court held that personal autonomy includes both the negative right of not to be subject to interference by others and the positive right of individuals to make decisions about their life, to express themselves and to choose which activities to take part in. Self-determination of gender is an integral part of personal autonomy and self-expression and falls within the realm of personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”

54. The conclusion therefore was:-

“83. We, therefore, conclude that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity includes any discrimination, exclusion, restriction or preference, which has the effect of nullifying or transposing equality by the law or the equal protection of laws guaranteed under our Constitution, and hence we are inclined to give various directions to safeguard the constitutional rights of the members of the TG community.”

55. Dr. A.K. Sikri, J., in a separate concurring judgment, spoke of the fundamental and universal principle of the right of choice given to every individual, which is an inseparable part of human rights. He then went on to hold:-

“116.1. Though in the past TGs in India were treated with great respect, that does not remain the scenario any longer. Attrition in their status was triggered with the passing of the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871 which deemed the entire community of hijra persons as innately “criminal” and “adapted to the systematic commission of non-bailable offences”. This dogmatism and indoctrination of the Indian people with aforesaid presumption, was totally capricious and nefarious. There could not have been more harm caused to this community with the passing of the aforesaid brutal legislation during the British Regime with the vicious and savage mind-set. To add insult to the irreparable injury caused, Section 377 of the Penal Code was misused and abused as there was a tendency, in the British period, to arrest and prosecute TG persons under Section 377 merely on suspicion. To undergo this sordid historical harm caused to TGs of India, there is a need for incessant efforts with effervescence.”

56. And in paragraphs 125 and 129, he outlined the role of our Court as follows:-

“125. The role of the Court is to understand the central purpose and theme of the Constitution for the welfare of the society. Our Constitution, like the law of the society, is a living organism. It is based on a factual and social reality that is constantly changing. Sometimes a change in the law precedes societal change and is even intended to stimulate it. Sometimes, a change in the law is the result in the social reality. When we discuss about the rights of TGs in the constitutional context, we find that in order to bring about complete paradigm shift, the law has to play more predominant role. As TGs in India, are neither male nor female, treating them as belonging to either of the aforesaid categories, is the denial of these constitutional rights. It is the denial of social justice which in turn has the effect of denying political and economic justice.

XXX

129. As we have pointed out above, our Constitution inheres liberal and substantive democracy with the rule of law as an important and fundamental pillar. It has its own internal morality based on dignity and equality of all human beings. The rule of law demands protection of individual human rights. Such rights are to be guaranteed to each and every human being. These TGs, even though insignificant in numbers, are still human beings and therefore they have every right to enjoy their human rights.”

57. In an unusual final order, the Court declared:-

“135. We, therefore, declare:

135.1. Hijras, eunuchs, apart from binary genders, be treated as “third gender” for the purpose of safeguarding their rights under Part III of our Constitution and the laws made by Parliament and the State Legislature.

135.2. Transgender persons’ right to decide their self-identified gender is also upheld and the Centre and State Governments are directed to grant legal recognition of their gender identity such as male, female or as third gender.

135.3. We direct the Centre and the State Governments to take steps to treat them as Socially and Educationally Backward Classes of citizens and extend all kinds of reservation in cases of admission in educational institutions and for public appointments.

135.4. The Centre and State Governments are directed to operate separate HIV serosurveillance centres since hijras/transgenders face several sexual health issues.

135.5. The Centre and State Governments should seriously address the problems being faced by hijras/transgenders such as fear, shame, gender dysphoria, social pressure, depression, suicidal tendencies, social stigma, etc. and any insistence for SRS for declaring one’s gender is immoral and illegal.

135.6. The Centre and State Governments should take proper measures to provide medical care to TGs in the hospitals and also provide them separate public toilets and other facilities.

135.7. The Centre and State Governments should also take steps for framing various social welfare schemes for their betterment.

135.8. The Centre and State Governments should take steps to create public awareness so that TGs will feel that they are also part and parcel of the social life and be not treated as untouchables.

135.9. The Centre and the State Governments should also take measures to regain their respect and place in the society which once they enjoyed in our cultural and social life.”

58. Puttaswamy (supra) is the next important nail in the coffin of section 377 insofar as it pertains to consensual sex between same-sex adults. In this judgment, Chandrachud, J. referred approvingly to the NALSA (supra) judgment in paragraph 96 and went on to hold that privacy is intrinsic to freedom and liberty. In referring to Suresh Kumar Koushal (supra), Chandrachud, J. referred to the judgment as “another discordant note” which directly bears upon the evolution of constitutional jurisprudence on the right to privacy. Chandrachud, J. went on to castigate the judgment in Suresh Kumar Koushal (supra), and held:-

“144. Neither of the above reasons can be regarded as a valid constitutional basis for disregarding a claim based on privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution. That “a miniscule fraction of the country’s population constitutes lesbians, gays, bisexuals or transgenders” (as observed in the judgment of this Court) is not a sustainable basis to deny the right to privacy. The purpose of elevating certain rights to the stature of guaranteed fundamental rights is to insulate their exercise from the disdain of majorities, whether legislative or popular. The guarantee of constitutional rights does not depend upon their exercise being favourably regarded by majoritarian opinion.

The test of popular acceptance does not furnish a valid basis to disregard rights which are conferred with the sanctity of constitutional protection. Discrete and insular minorities face grave dangers of discrimination for the simple reason that their views, beliefs or way of life does not accord with the “mainstream”. Yet in a democratic Constitution founded on the Rule of Law, their rights are as sacred as those conferred on other citizens to protect their freedoms and liberties. Sexual orientation is an essential attribute of privacy. Discrimination against an individual on the basis of sexual orientation is deeply offensive to the dignity and self-worth of the individual. Equality demands that the sexual orientation of each individual in society must be protected on an even platform. The right to privacy and the protection of sexual orientation lie at the core of the fundamental rights guaranteed by Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution.

145. The view in Koushal [Suresh Kumar Koushal v. Naz Foundation, (2014) 1 SCC 1 : (2013) 4 SCC (Cri) 1] that the High Court had erroneously relied upon international precedents “in its anxiety to protect the so-called rights of LGBT persons” is similarly, in our view, unsustainable. The rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population cannot be construed to be “so-called rights”. The expression “so-called” seems to suggest the exercise of a liberty in the garb of a right which is illusory. This is an inappropriate construction of the privacy-based claims of the LGBT population. Their rights are not “so-called” but are real rights founded on sound constitutional doctrine. They inhere in the right to life. They dwell in privacy and dignity. They constitute the essence of liberty and freedom. Sexual orientation is an essential component of identity. Equal protection demands protection of the identity of every individual without discrimination.

146. The decision in Koushal [Suresh Kumar Koushal v. Naz Foundation, (2014) 1 SCC 1 : (2013) 4 SCC (Cri) 1] presents a de minimis rationale when it asserts that there have been only two hundred prosecutions for violating Section 377. The de minimis hypothesis is misplaced because the invasion of a fundamental right is not rendered tolerable when a few, as opposed to a large number of persons, are subjected to hostile treatment. The reason why such acts of hostile discrimination are constitutionally impermissible is because of the chilling effect which they have on the exercise of the fundamental right in the first place.

For instance, pre-publication restraints such as censorship are vulnerable because they discourage people from exercising their right to free speech because of the fear of a restraint coming into operation. The chilling effect on the exercise of the right poses a grave danger to the unhindered fulfilment of one’s sexual orientation, as an element of privacy and dignity. The chilling effect is due to the danger of a human being subjected to social opprobrium or disapproval, as reflected in the punishment of crime. Hence the Koushal [Suresh Kumar Koushal v. Naz Foundation, (2014) 1 SCC 1 : (2013) 4 SCC (Cri) 1] rationale that prosecution of a few is not an index of violation is flawed and cannot be accepted. Consequently, we disagree with the manner in which Koushal [Suresh Kumar Koushal v. Naz Foundation, (2014) 1 SCC 1 : (2013) 4 SCC (Cri) 1] has dealt with the privacy-dignity based claims of LGBT persons on this aspect.

147. Since the challenge to Section 377 is pending consideration before a larger Bench of this Court, we would leave the constitutional validity to be decided in an appropriate proceeding.”

59. In an important paragraph, the learned Judge finally held:

“323. Privacy includes at its core the preservation of personal intimacies, the sanctity of family life, marriage, procreation, the home and sexual orientation. Privacy also connotes a right to be left alone. Privacy safeguards individual autonomy and recognises the ability of the individual to control vital aspects of his or her life. Personal choices governing a way of life are intrinsic to privacy. Privacy protects heterogeneity and recognises the plurality and diversity of our culture. While the legitimate expectation of privacy may vary from the intimate zone to the private zone and from the private to the public arenas, it is important to underscore that privacy is not lost or surrendered merely because the individual is in a public place. Privacy attaches to the person since it is an essential facet of the dignity of the human being.”

60. Nariman, J., in his judgment, which was concurred in by three other learned Judges, recognized the privacy of choice which protects an individual’s autonomy over fundamental personal choices as follows:-

“521. In the Indian context, a fundamental right to privacy would cover at least the following three aspects:

For instance, we can ground physical privacy or privacy relating to the body in Articles 19(1)(d) and (e) read with Article 21; ground personal information privacy under Article 21; and the privacy of choice in Articles 19(1)(a) to (c), 20(3), 21 and 25. The argument based on “privacy” being a vague and nebulous concept need not, therefore, detain us.”

61. Kaul, J., in a separate judgment, also joined Chandrachud, J. in castigating Suresh Kumar Koushal’s judgment as follows:

“647. There are two aspects of the opinion of Dr D.Y. Chandrachud, J., one of which is common to the opinion of Rohinton F. Nariman, J., needing specific mention. While considering the evolution of constitutional jurisprudence on the right to privacy he has referred to the judgment in Suresh Kumar Koushal v. Naz Foundation [Suresh Kumar Koushal v. Naz Foundation, (2014) 1 SCC 1 : (2013) 4 SCC (Cri) 1]. In the challenge laid to Section 377 of the Penal Code before the Delhi High Court, one of the grounds of challenge was that the said provision amounted to an infringement of the right to dignity and privacy. The Delhi High Court, inter alia, observed [Naz Foundation v. Govt. (NCT of Delhi), 2009 SCC OnLine Del 1762 : 2010 Cri LJ 94] that the right to live with dignity and the right to privacy both are recognised as dimensions of Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

The view of the High Court, however did not find favour with the Supreme Court and it was observed that only a miniscule fraction of the country’s population constitutes lesbians, gays, bisexuals or transgenders and thus, there cannot be any basis for declaring the section ultra vires of provisions of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution. The matter did not rest at this, as the issue of privacy and dignity discussed by the High Court was also observed upon. The sexual orientation even within the four walls of the house thus became an aspect of debate.

I am in agreement with the view of Dr D.Y. Chandrachud, J., who in paras 144 to 146 of his judgment, states that the right to privacy cannot be denied, even if there is a miniscule fraction of the population which is affected. The majoritarian concept does not apply to constitutional rights and the courts are often called up on to take what may be categorised as a non-majoritarian view, in the check and balance of power envisaged under the Constitution of India. One’s sexual orientation is undoubtedly an attribute of privacy. The observations made in Mosley v. News Group Papers Ltd. [Mosley v. News Group Papers Ltd., 2008 EWHC 1777 (QB)], in a broader concept may be usefully referred to:

“130. … It is not simply a matter of personal privacy Vs. the public interest. The modern perception is that there is a public interest in respecting personal privacy. It is thus a question of taking account of conflicting public interest considerations and evaluating them according to increasingly well-recognised criteria.

131. When the courts identify an infringement of a person’s Article 8 rights, and in particular in the context of his freedom to conduct his sex life and personal relationships as he wishes, it is right to afford a remedy and to vindicate that right. The only permitted exception is where there is a countervailing public interest which in the particular circumstances is strong enough to outweigh it; that is to say, because one at least of the established “limiting principles” comes into play.

Was it necessary and proportionate for the intrusion to take place, for example, in order to expose illegal activity or to prevent the public from being significantly misled by public claims hitherto made by the individual concerned (as with Naomi Campbell’s public denials of drug-taking)? Or was it necessary because the information, in the words of the Strasbourg Court in Von Hannover [Von Hannover v. Germany, (2004) 40 EHRR 1] at pp. 60 and 76, would make a contribution to “a debate of general interest”? That is, of course, a very high test, it is yet to be determined how far that doctrine will be taken in the courts of this jurisdiction in relation to photography in public places.

If taken literally, it would mean a very significant change in what is permitted. It would have a profound effect on the tabloid and celebrity culture to which we have become accustomed in recent years.”

62. Close upon the heels of these three judgments are three other important recent decisions. In Common Cause v. Union of India, 2018 5 SCC 1, a case dealing with euthanasia, Dipak Misra, C.J., states as under:-

“166. The purpose of saying so is only to highlight that the law must take cognizance of the changing society and march in consonance with the developing concepts. The need of the present has to be served with the interpretative process of law. However, it is to be seen how much strength and sanction can be drawn from the Constitution to consummate the changing ideology and convert it into a reality. The immediate needs are required to be addressed through the process of interpretation by the Court unless the same totally falls outside the constitutional framework or the constitutional interpretation fails to recognise such dynamism.

The Constitution Bench in Gian Kaur [Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab, (1996) 2 SCC 648 : 1996 SCC (Cri) 374], as stated earlier, distinguishes attempt to suicide and abetment of suicide from acceleration of the process of natural death which has commenced. The authorities, we have noted from other jurisdictions, have observed the distinctions between the administration of lethal injection or certain medicines to cause painless death and non-administration of certain treatment which can prolong the life in cases where the process of dying that has commenced is not reversible or withdrawal of the treatment that has been given to the patient because of the absolute absence of possibility of saving the life.

To explicate, the first part relates to an overt act whereas the second one would come within the sphere of informed consent and authorised omission. The omission of such a nature will not invite any criminal liability if such action is guided by certain safeguards. The concept is based on non-prolongation of life where there is no cure for the state the patient is in and he, under no circumstances, would have liked to have such a degrading state. The words “no cure” have to be understood to convey that the patient remains in the same state of pain and suffering or the dying process is delayed by means of taking recourse to modern medical technology.

It is a state where the treating physicians and the family members know fully well that the treatment is administered only to procrastinate the continuum of breath of the individual and the patient is not even aware that he is breathing. Life is measured by artificial heartbeats and the patient has to go through this undignified state which is imposed on him. The dignity of life is denied to him as there is no other choice but to suffer an avoidable protracted treatment thereby thus indubitably casting a cloud and creating a dent in his right to live with dignity and face death with dignity, which is a preserved concept of bodily autonomy and right to privacy. In such a stage, he has no old memories or any future hopes but he is in a state of misery which nobody ever desires to have. Some may also silently think that death, the inevitable factum of life, cannot be invited.

To meet such situations, the Court has a duty to interpret Article 21 in a further dynamic manner and it has to be stated without any trace of doubt that the right to life with dignity has to include the smoothening of the process of dying when the person is in a vegetative state or is living exclusively by the administration of artificial aid that prolongs the life by arresting the dignified and inevitable process of dying. Here, the issue of choice also comes in. Thus analysed, we are disposed to think that such a right would come within the ambit of Article 21 of the Constitution.

L. Right of self-determination and individual autonomy

167. Having dealt with the right to acceleration of the process of dying a natural death which is arrested with the aid of modern innovative technology as a part of Article 21 of the Constitution, it is necessary to address the issues of right of self-determination and individual autonomy.

168. John Rawls says that the liberal concept of autonomy focuses on choice and likewise, self-determination is understood as exercised through the process of choosing [Rawls, John, Political Liberalism, 32, 33 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993)]. The respect for an individual human being and in particular for his right to choose how he should live his own life is individual autonomy or the right of self-determination. It is the right against non-interference by others, which gives a competent person who has come of age the right to make decisions concerning his or her own life and body without any control or interference of others. Lord Hoffman, in Reeves v. Commr. of Police of the Metropolis [Reeves v. Commr. of Police of the Metropolis, (2000) 1 AC 360 : (1993) 3 WLR 363 (HL)] has stated: (AC p. 369 B)

“… Autonomy means that every individual is sovereign over himself and cannot be denied the right to certain kinds of behaviour, even if intended to cause his own death.”

XXX

202.8. An inquiry into Common Law jurisdictions reveals that all adults with capacity to consent have the right of self-determination and autonomy. The said rights pave the way for the right to refuse medical treatment which has acclaimed universal recognition. A competent person who has come of age has the right to refuse specific treatment or all treatment or opt for an alternative treatment, even if such decision entails a risk of death. The “Emergency Principle” or the “Principle of Necessity” has to be given effect to only when it is not practicable to obtain the patient’s consent for treatment and his/her life is in danger. But where a patient has already made a valid Advance Directive which is free from reasonable doubt and specifying that he/she does not wish to be treated, then such directive has to be given effect to.”

63. In the same case, Chandrachud J. went on to hold:

“437. Under our Constitution, the inherent value which sanctifies life is the dignity of existence. Recognising human dignity is intrinsic to preserving the sanctity of life. Life is truly sanctified when it is lived with dignity. There exists a close relationship between dignity and the quality of life. For, it is only when life can be lived with a true sense of quality that the dignity of human existence is fully realised. Hence, there should be no antagonism between the sanctity of human life on the one hand and the dignity and quality of life on the other hand. Quality of life ensures dignity of living and dignity is but a process in realising the sanctity of life.

438. Human dignity is an essential element of a meaningful existence. A life of dignity comprehends all stages of living including the final stage which leads to the end of life. Liberty and autonomy are essential attributes of a life of substance. It is liberty which enables an individual to decide upon those matters which are central to the pursuit of a meaningful existence. The expectation that the individual should not be deprived of his or her dignity in the final stage of life gives expression to the central expectation of a fading life: control over pain and suffering and the ability to determine the treatment which the individual should receive. When society assures to each individual a protection against being subjected to degrading treatment in the process of dying, it seeks to assure basic human dignity. Dignity ensures the sanctity of life. The recognition afforded to the autonomy of the individual in matters relating to end-of-life decisions is ultimately a step towards ensuring that life does not despair of dignity as it ebbs away.

XXX

441. The protective mantle of privacy covers certain decisions that fundamentally affect the human life cycle. [Richard Delgado, “Euthanasia Reconsidered- The Choice of Death as an Aspect of the Right of Privacy”, Arizona Law Review (1975), Vol. 17, at p. 474.] It protects the most personal and intimate decisions of individuals that affect their life and development. [Ibid.] Thus, choices and decisions on matters such as procreation, contraception and marriage have been held to be protected. While death is an inevitable end in the trajectory of the cycle of human life of individuals are often faced with choices and decisions relating to death. Decisions relating to death, like those relating to birth, sex, and marriage, are protected by the Constitution by virtue of the right of privacy. The right to privacy resides in the right to liberty and in the respect of autonomy. [T.L. Beauchamp, “The Right to Privacy and the Right to Die”, Social Philosophy and Policy (2000), Vol. 17, at p. 276.] The right to privacy protects autonomy in making decisions related to the intimate domain of death as well as bodily integrity. Few moments could be of as much importance as the intimate and private decisions that we are faced regarding death. [Ibid.] Continuing treatment against the wishes of a patient is not only a violation of the principle of informed consent, but also of bodily privacy and bodily integrity that have been recognised as a facet of privacy by this Court.”

64. Similarly, in Shafin Jahan v. Asokan K.M., 2018 SCC Online 343, this Court was concerned with the right of an adult citizen to make her own marital choice. The learned Chief Justice referred to Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India as follows:-

“28. Thus, the pivotal purpose of the said writ is to see that no one is deprived of his/her liberty without sanction of law. It is the primary duty of the State to see that the said right is not sullied in any manner whatsoever and its sanctity is not affected by any kind of subterfuge. The role of the Court is to see that the detenue is produced before it, find out about his/her independent choice and see to it that the person is released from illegal restraint. The issue will be a different one when the detention is not illegal. What is seminal is to remember that the song of liberty is sung with sincerity and the choice of an individual is appositely respected and conferred its esteemed status as the Constitution guarantees. It is so as the expression of choice is a fundamental right under Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution, if the said choice does not transgress any valid legal framework. Once that aspect is clear, the enquiry and determination have to come to an end.

XXX

54. It is obligatory to state here that expression of choice in accord with law is acceptance of individual identity. Curtailment of that expression and the ultimate action emanating therefrom on the conceptual structuralism of obeisance to the societal will destroy the individualistic entity of a person. The social values and morals have their space but they are not above the constitutionally guaranteed freedom. The said freedom is both a constitutional and a human right. Deprivation of that freedom which is ingrained in choice on the plea of faith is impermissible.

Faith of a person is intrinsic to his/her meaningful existence. To have the freedom of faith is essential to his/her autonomy; and it strengthens the core norms of the Constitution. Choosing a faith is the substratum of individuality and sans it, the right of choice becomes a shadow. It has to be remembered that the realization of a right is more important than the conferment of the right. Such actualization indeed ostracises any kind of societal notoriety and keeps at bay the patriarchal supremacy. It is so because the individualistic faith and expression of choice are fundamental for the fructification of the right. Thus, we would like to call it indispensable preliminary condition.”

65. In another recent judgment of a three-Judge Bench, in Shakti Vahini v. Union of India, 2018 SCC Online SC 275, which dealt with honour killings, this Court held:-

“44. Honour killing guillotines individual liberty, freedom of choice and one’s own perception of choice. It has to be sublimely borne in mind that when two adults consensually choose each other as life partners, it is a manifestation of their choice which is recognized under Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution. Such a right has the sanction of the constitutional law and once that is recognized, the said right needs to be protected and it cannot succumb to the conception of class honour or group thinking which is conceived of on some notion that remotely does not have any legitimacy.

45. The concept of liberty has to be weighed and tested on the touchstone of constitutional sensitivity, protection and the values it stands for. It is the obligation of the Constitutional Courts as the sentinel on qui vive to zealously guard the right to liberty of an individual as the dignified existence of an individual has an inseparable association with liberty. Without sustenance of liberty, subject to constitutionally valid provisions of law, the life of a person is comparable to the living dead having to endure cruelty and torture without protest and tolerate imposition of thoughts and ideas without a voice to dissent or record a disagreement.

The fundamental feature of dignified existence is to assert for dignity that has the spark of divinity and the realization of choice within the parameters of law without any kind of subjugation. The purpose of laying stress on the concepts of individual dignity and choice within the framework of liberty is of paramount importance. We may clearly and emphatically state that life and liberty sans dignity and choice is a phenomenon that allows hollowness to enter into the constitutional recognition of identity of a person.

46. The choice of an individual is an inextricable part of dignity, for dignity cannot be thought of where there is erosion of choice. True it is, the same is bound by the principle of constitutional limitation but in the absence of such limitation, none, we mean, no one shall be permitted to interfere in the fructification of the said choice. If the right to express one’s own choice is obstructed, it would be extremely difficult to think of dignity in its sanctified completeness.

When two adults marry out of their volition, they choose their path; they consummate their relationship; they feel that it is their goal and they have the right to do so. And it can unequivocally be stated that they have the right and any infringement of the said right is a constitutional violation. The majority in the name of class or elevated honour of clan cannot call for their presence or force their appearance as if they are the monarchs of some indescribable era who have the power, authority and final say to impose any sentence and determine the execution of the same in the way they desire possibly harbouring the notion that they are a law unto themselves or they are the ancestors of Caesar or, for that matter, Louis the XIV. The Constitution and the laws of this country do not countenance such an act and, in fact, the whole activity is illegal and punishable as offence under the criminal law.”

Mental Healthcare Act, 2017

66. Parliament is also alive to privacy interests and the fact that persons of the same-sex who cohabit with each other are entitled to equal treatment.

67. A recent enactment, namely the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, throws a great deal of light on recent parliamentary legislative understanding and acceptance of constitutional values as reflected by this Court’s judgments. Section 2(s) of the Act defines mental illness, which reads as under:

“2(s) “mental illness” means a substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory that grossly impairs judgment, behaviour, capacity to recognise reality or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life, mental conditions associated with the abuse of alcohol and drugs, but does not include mental retardation which is a condition of arrested or incomplete development of mind of a person, specially characterised by subnormality of intelligence;”

68. This definition throws to the winds all earlier misconceptions of mental illness including the fact that same-sex couples who indulge in anal sex are persons with mental illness. At one point of time, the thinking in Victorian England and early on in America was that homosexuality was to be considered as a mental disorder. The amicus curiae brief of the American Psychiatric Association in support of the petitioners in Lawrence v. Texas (supra) has put paid to this notion. This brief set out the research that has been done in this area as follows:

“D. The Recognition That Homosexuality Is Not A “Mental Disorder”

The American mental health professions concluded more than a quarter-century ago that homosexuality is not a mental disorder. That conclusion was reached after decades of study of homosexuality by independent researchers, as well as numerous attempts by practitioners in the mental-health professions to effectuate a change in individuals’ sexual orientation. During the first half of the 20th century, many mental health professionals regarded homosexuality as a pathological condition, but that perspective reflected untested assumptions supported largely by clinical impressions of patients seeking therapy and individuals whose conduct brought them into the criminal justice system. See J.C. Gonsiorek, The Empirical Basis for the Demise of the Illness Model of Homosexuality, in Homosexuality: Research Implications for Public Policy 115 (J.C. Gonsiorek & J.D. Weinrich eds., 1991).

Those assumptions were not subjected to rigorous scientific scrutiny with nonclinical, nonincarcerated samples until the latter half of the century. Once the notion that homosexuality is linked to mental illness was empirically tested, it proved to be based on untenable assumptions and value judgments.

In one of the first rigorous examinations of the mental health status of homosexuality, Dr. Evelyn Hooker administered a battery of standard psychological tests to homosexual and heterosexual men who were matched for age, IQ, and education. See Evelyn Hooker, The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual, 21 J. Projective Techniques 17-31 (1957). None of the men was in therapy at the time of the study.

Based on the ratings of expert judges who were kept unaware of the men’s sexual orientation, Hooker determined that homosexual and heterosexual men could not be distinguished from one another on the basis of the psychological testing, and that a similar majority of the two groups appeared to be free of psychopathology. She concluded from her data that homosexuality is not inherently associated with psychopathology and that “homosexuality as a clinical entity does not exist.” Id. at 18-19. Hooker’s findings were followed over the next two decades by numerous studies, using a variety of research techniques, which similarly concluded that homosexuality is not related to psychopathology or social maladjustment.

In 1973, in recognition that scientific data do not indicate that a homosexual orientation is inherently associated with psychopathology, amicus American Psychiatric Association’s Board of Trustees voted to remove homosexuality from the Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. That resolution stated that “homosexuality per se implies no impairment in judgment, stability, reliability, or general social or vocational capabilities.” Am. Psychiatric Ass’n, Position Statement on Homosexuality and Civil Rights (Dec. 15, 1973), printed in 131 Am. J. Psychiatry 497 (1974).

That decision was upheld by a vote of the Psychiatric Association’s membership the following year. After a thorough review of the scientific evidence, amicus American Psychological Association adopted the same position in 1975, and urged all mental health professionals to help dispel the stigma of mental illness that had long been associated with homosexual orientation. See Am. Psychol. Ass’n, Minutes of the Annual Meeting of the Council of Representatives, 30 Am. Psychologist 620, 633 (1975). Amicus National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has adopted a similar policy. See NASW, Policy Statement on Lesbian and Gay Issues (Aug. 1993) (approved by NASW Delegate Assembly), reprinted in NASW, Social Work Speaks: NASW Policy Statements 162 (3d ed. 1994).

Of course, as is the case for heterosexuals, some homosexuals have mental illnesses, psychological disturbances, or poor social adjustment. Gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals also may be at somewhat greater risk for some kinds of psychological problems because of stresses associated with the experiences of social stigma and prejudice (see pp. 23-27, infra). But research conducted over four decades has established that “homosexuality in and of itself bears no necessary relationship to psychological adjustment.” The efforts to “cure” homosexuality that were prevalent in earlier generations- which included hypnosis, administration of hormones, aversive conditioning with electric shock or nausea-inducing drugs, lobotomy, electroshock, and castration- are now regarded by the mental-health professions as regrettable.”

69. It also outlined the prejudice, discrimination and violence that has been encountered by gay people, as follows:

“A. Discrimination, Prejudice, And Violence Encountered By Gay People

Lesbians and gay men in the United States encounter extensive prejudice, discrimination, and violence because of their sexual orientation. Intense prejudice against gay men and lesbians was widespread throughout much of the 20th century; public opinion studies routinely showed that, among large segments of the public, gay people were the target of strong antipathy. Although a shift in public opinion concerning homosexuality occurred in the 1990s, hostility toward gay men and lesbians remains common in contemporary American society. Prejudice against bisexuals appears to exist at comparable levels. Discrimination against gay people in employment and housing also appears to remain widespread.

The severity of this anti-gay prejudice is reflected in the consistently high rate of anti-gay harassment and violence in American society. Numerous surveys indicate that verbal harassment and abuse are nearly universal experiences of gay people. Although physical violence is less common, substantial numbers of gay people report having experienced crimes against their person or property because of their sexual orientation. In 2001, the most recent year for which FBI statistics are available, there were 1,375 reported bias motivated incidents against gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals. That figure likely represents only a fraction of such crimes, because reporting of hate crimes by law enforcement agencies is voluntary, the thoroughness of police statistics differs widely among jurisdictions, and many victims do not report their experiences to police because they fear further harassment or lack confidence that the assailants will be caught.

Although homosexuality is not a mental disorder, this societal prejudice against gay men and lesbians can cause them real and substantial psychological harm. Research indicates that experiencing rejection, discrimination, and violence is associated with heightened psychological distress among gay men and lesbians. These problems are exacerbated by the fact that, because of anti-gay stigma, gay men and lesbians have less access to social support and other resources that assist heterosexuals in coping with stress. Although many gay men and lesbians learn to cope with the social stigma against homosexuality, efforts to avoid that social stigma through attempts to conceal or dissimulate sexual orientation can be seriously damaging to the psychological well-being of gay people. Lesbians and gay men have been found to manifest better mental health to the extent that they feel positively about their sexual orientation and have integrated it into their lives through “coming out” and participating in the gay community. Being able to disclose one’s sexual orientation to others also increases the availability of social support, which is crucial to mental health.”

70. Expressing its approval of the position taken by the American Psychiatric Association, the Indian Psychiatric Society in its recent Position Statement on Homosexuality dated 02.07.2018 has stated:-

“In the opinion of the Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS) homosexuality is not a psychiatric disorder.

This is in line with the position of American Psychiatric Association and The International Classification of Diseases of the World health Organization which removed homosexuality from the list of psychiatric disorders in 1973 and 1992 respectively.

The I.P.S recognizes same-sex sexuality as a normal variant of human sexuality much like heterosexuality and bisexuality. There is no scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be altered by any treatment and that any such attempts may in fact lead to low self-esteem and stigmatization of the person.

The Indian Psychiatric Society further supports de-criminalization of homosexual behavior.”

71. The US Supreme Court, in its decision in Obergefell et al. v. Hodges, Director, Ohio Department of Health, et al., 576 US (2015), also took note of the enormous sufferings of homosexual persons in the time gap between Bowers (supra) and Lawrence v. Texas (supra), in the following words:-

“This is not the first time the Court has been asked to adopt a cautious approach to recognizing and protecting fundamental rights. In Bowers, a bare majority upheld a law criminalizing same-sex intimacy. See 478 U.S., at 186, 190-195.

That approach might have been viewed as a cautious endorsement of the democratic process, which had only just begun to consider the rights of gays and lesbians. Yet, in effect, Bowers upheld state action that denied gays and lesbians a fundamental right and caused them pain and humiliation. As evidenced by the dissents in that case, the facts and principles necessary to a correct holding were known to the Bowers Court. See id., at 199 (Blackmun, J., joined by Brennan, Marshall, and Stevens, JJ., dissenting); id., at 214 (Stevens, J., joined by Brennan and Marshall, JJ., dissenting).

That is why Lawrence held Bowers was “not correct when it was decided.” 539 U.S., at 578. Although Bowers was eventually repudiated in Lawrence, men and women were harmed in the interim, and the substantial effects of these injuries no doubt lingered long after Bowers was overruled. Dignitary wounds cannot always be healed with the stroke of a pen.”

72. The present definition of mental illness in the 2017 Parliamentary statute makes it clear that homosexuality is not considered to be a mental illness. This is a major advance in our law which has been recognized by the Parliament itself. Further, this is buttressed by Section 3 of the Act which reads as follows:-

“3. Determination of Mental Illness.

(1) Mental illness shall be determined in accordance with such nationally or internationally accepted medical standards (including the latest edition of the International Classification of Disease of the World Health Organisation) as may be notified by the Central Government.

(2) No person or authority shall classify a person as a person with mental illness, except for purposes directly relating to the treatment of the mental illness or in other matters as covered under this Act or any other law for the time being in force.

(3) Mental illness of a person shall not be determined on the basis of–

(a) political, economic or social status or membership of a cultural, racial or religious group, or for any other reason not directly relevant to mental health status of the person;

(b) non-conformity with moral, social, cultural, work or political values or religious beliefs prevailing in a person’s community.

(4) Past treatment or hospitalisation in a mental health establishment though relevant, shall not by itself justify any present or future determination of the person’s mental illness.

(5) The determination of a person’s mental illness shall alone not imply or be taken to mean that the person is of unsound mind unless he has been declared as such by a competent court.”

73. Mental illness in our statute has to keep pace with international notions and accepted medical standards including the latest edition of the International Classification of Diseases of the World Health Organization under Section 3(1) of the Act. Under Section 3(3), mental illness shall not be determined on the basis of social status or membership of a cultural group or for any other reason not directly relevant to the mental health of the person. More importantly, mental illness shall not be determined on the basis of non-conformity with moral, social, cultural, work or political values or religious beliefs prevailing in a person’s community. It is thus clear that Parliament has unequivocally declared that the earlier stigma attached to same-sex couples, as persons who are regarded as mentally ill, has gone for good. This is another very important step forward taken by the legislature itself which has undermined one of the basic underpinnings of the judgment in Suresh Kumar Koushal (supra). Section 21(1)(a) is important and set out hereinbelow:

“21. Right to equality and non-discrimination.

(1) Every person with mental illness shall be treated as equal to persons with physical illness in the provision of all healthcare which shall include the following, namely:-

(a) there shall be no discrimination on any basis including gender, sex, sexual orientation, religion, culture, caste, social or political beliefs, class or disability;”

74. This Section is parliamentary recognition of the fact that gay persons together with other persons are liable to be affected with mental illness, and shall be treated as equal to the other persons with such illness as there is to be no discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Section 30 is extremely important and reads as under:

“30. Creating awareness about mental health and illness and reducing stigma associated with mental illness.

The appropriate Government shall take all measures to ensure that,-

(a) the provisions of this Act are given wide publicity through public media, including television, radio, print and online media at regular intervals;

(b) the programmes to reduce stigma associated with mental illness are planned, designed, funded and implemented in an effective manner;

(c) the appropriate Government officials including police officers and other officers of the appropriate Government are given periodic sensitisation and awareness training on the issues under this Act.”

75. Section 115 largely does away with one other outmoded Section of the Indian Penal Code, namely, Section 309. This Section reads as follows.

“115. Presumption of severe stress in case of attempt to commit suicide. (1) Notwithstanding anything contained in section 309 of the Indian Penal Code any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to have severe stress and shall not be tried and punished under the said Code.

(2) The appropriate Government shall have a duty to provide care, treatment and rehabilitation to a person, having severe stress and who attempted to commit suicide, to reduce the risk of recurrence of attempt to commit suicide.”

76. Instead of the inhumane Section 309 which has remained on the statute book for over 150 years, Section 115 makes it clear that Section 309 is rendered largely ineffective, and on the contrary, instead of committing a criminal offence, any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed to have severe stress and shall not be tried and punished under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code. More importantly, the Government has an affirmative duty to provide care, treatment and rehabilitation to such a person to reduce the risk of recurrence of that person’s attempt to commit suicide. This parliamentary declaration under Section 115 again is in keeping with the present constitutional values, making it clear that humane measures are to be taken by the Government in respect of a person who attempts to commit suicide instead of prosecuting him for the offence of attempt to commit suicide.

77. And finally, Section 120 of the Act reads as under:-

“120. Act to have overriding effect. The provisions of this Act shall have overriding effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than this Act.”

78. The Latin maxim cessant ratione legis, cessat ipsa lex, meaning when the reason for a law ceases, the law itself ceases, is a rule of law which has been recognized by this Court in H.H. Shri Swamiji of Shri Amar Mutt v. Commissioner, Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Dept, 1979 4 SCC 642 at paragraph 29, and State of Punjab v. Devans Modern Breweries Ltd., (2004) 11 SCC 26 at paragraph 335. It must not be forgotten that Section 377 was the product of the Victorian era, with its attendant puritanical moral values. Victorian morality must give way to constitutional morality as has been recognized in many of our judgments. Constitutional morality is the soul of the Constitution, which is to be found in the Preamble of the Constitution, which declares its ideals and aspirations, and is also to be found in Part III of the Constitution, particularly with respect to those provisions which assure the dignity of the individual. The rationale for Section 377, namely Victorian morality, has long gone and there is no reason to continue withas Justice Holmes said in the lines quoted above in this judgmenta law merely for the sake of continuing with the law when the rationale of such law has long since disappeared.

79. Given our judgment in Puttaswamy (supra), in particular, the right of every citizen of India to live with dignity and the right to privacy including the right to make intimate choices regarding the manner in which such individual wishes to live being protected by Articles 14, 19 and 21, it is clear that Section 377, insofar as it applies to same-sex consenting adults, demeans them by having them prosecuted instead of understanding their sexual orientation and attempting to correct centuries of the stigma associated with such persons.

80. The Union of India, seeing the writing on the wall, has filed an affidavit in which it has not opposed the Petitioners but left the matter to be considered by the wisdom of this Court. Some of the intervenors have argued in favour of the retention of Section 377 qua consenting adults on the grounds that homosexual acts are not by themselves proscribed by Section 377. Unless there is penetration in the manner pointed out by the explanation to the Section, no offence takes place. They have also added that the Section needs to be retained given the fact that it is only a parliamentary reflection of the prevailing social mores of today in large segments of society. According to them, this furthers a compelling state interest to reinforce morals in public life which is not disproportionate in nature. We are afraid that, given the march of events in constitutional law by this Court, and parliamentary recognition of the plight of such persons in certain provisions of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, it will not be open for a constitutional court to substitute societal morality with constitutional morality, as has been stated by us hereinabove. Further, as stated in S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal and Anr., (2010) 5 SCC 600, at paragraphs 46 and 50, this Court made it clear that notions of social morality are inherently subjective and the criminal law cannot be used as a means to unduly interfere with the domain of personal autonomy. Morality and criminality are not co-extensive – sin is not punishable on earth by Courts set up by the State but elsewhere; crime alone is punishable on earth. To confuse the one with the other is what causes the death knell of Section 377, insofar as it applies to consenting homosexual adults.

81. Another argument raised on behalf of the intervenors is that change in society, if any, can be reflected by amending laws by the elected representatives of the people. Thus, it would be open to the Parliament to carve out an exception from Section 377, but this Court should not indulge in taking upon itself the guardianship of changing societal mores. Such an argument must be emphatically rejected. The very purpose of the fundamental rights chapter in the Constitution of India is to withdraw the subject of liberty and dignity of the individual and place such subject beyond the reach of majoritarian governments so that constitutional morality can be applied by this Court to give effect to the rights, among others, of ‘discrete and insular’ minorities. 304 U.$. 144 (1938) One such minority has knocked on the doors of this Court as this Court is the custodian of the fundamental rights of citizens. These fundamental rights do not depend upon the outcome of elections. And, it is not left to majoritarian governments to prescribe what shall be orthodox in matters concerning social morality. The fundamental rights chapter is like the north star in the universe of constitutionalism in India. Constitutional morality always trumps any imposition of a particular view of social morality by shifting and different majoritarian regimes.

82. Insofar as Article 14 is concerned, this Court in Shayara Bano v. Union of India, (2017) 9 SCC 1, has stated, in paragraph 101, that a statutory provision can be struck down on the ground of manifest arbitrariness, when the provision is capricious, irrational and/or without adequate determining principle, as also if it is excessive or disproportionate. We find that Section 377, in penalizing consensual gay sex, is manifestly arbitrary. Given modern psychiatric studies and legislation which recognizes that gay persons and transgenders are not persons suffering from mental disorder and cannot therefore be penalized, the Section must be held to be a provision which is capricious and irrational. Also, roping in such persons with sentences going upto life imprisonment is clearly excessive and disproportionate, as a result of which, when applied to such persons, Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution would clearly be violated. The object sought to be achieved by the provision, namely to enforce Victorian mores upon the citizenry of India, would be out of tune with the march of constitutional events that has since taken place, rendering the said object itself discriminatory when it seeks to single out same-sex couples and transgenders for punishment.

83. As has been stated in the judgment of Nariman, J. in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, (2015) 5 SCC 1, the chilling effect caused by such a provision would also violate a privacy right under Article 19(1)(a), which can by no stretch of imagination be said to be a reasonable restriction in the interest of decency or morality (See paragraphs 87 to 94).

84. We may hasten to add, that the Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity discussed below, which were also referred to by Radhakrishnan, J. in NALSA (supra), conform to our constitutional view of the fundamental rights of the citizens of India and persons who come to this Court.

85. The International Commission of Jurists and the International Service for Human Rights, on behalf of a coalition of human rights organisations, had undertaken a project to develop a set of international legal principles on the application of international law to human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity to bring greater clarity and coherence to States’ human rights obligations.

86. A distinguished group of human rights experts drafted, developed, discussed and refined these Principles. Following an experts’ meeting held at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia from 6th to 9th November, 2006, 29 distinguished experts from 25 countries with diverse backgrounds and expertise relevant to issues of human rights law unanimously adopted the Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.

87. A few relevant extracts from the Yogyakarta Principles and its Preamble are as follows:-

“Preamble

WE, THE INTERNATIONAL PANEL of EXPERTS IN INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS LAW AND ON SEXUAL ORIENTATION AND GENDER IDENTITY,

XX

XX

UNDERSTANDING ‘sexual orientation’ to refer to each person’s capacity for profound emotional, affectional and sexual attraction to, and intimate and sexual relations with, individuals of a different gender or the same gender or more than one gender;

XX

XX

FOLLOWING AN EXPERTS’ MEETING HELD IN YOGYAKARTA, INDONESIA FROM 6 TO 9 NOVEMBER 2006, HEREBY ADOPT THESE PRINCIPLES:

1. The right to the universal enjoyment of human rights.- All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Human beings of all sexual orientations and gender identities are entitled to the full enjoyment of all human rights.

States shall:

(a) embody the principles of the universality, interrelatedness, interdependence and indivisibility of all human rights in their national constitutions or other appropriate legislation and ensure the practical realisation of the universal enjoyment of all human rights;

(b) amend any legislation, including criminal law, to ensure its consistency with the universal enjoyment of all human rights;

(c) undertake programmes of education and awareness to promote and enhance the full enjoyment of all human rights by all persons, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity;

(d) integrate within State policy and decision making a pluralistic approach that recognises and affirms the interrelatedness and indivisibility of all aspects of human identity including sexual orientation and gender identity.

2. The rights to equality and non-discrimination.- Everyone is entitled to enjoy all human rights without discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Everyone is entitled to equality before the law and the equal protection of the law without any such discrimination whether or not the enjoyment of another human right is also affected. The law shall prohibit any such discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against any such discrimination.

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity includes any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on sexual orientation or gender identity which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing equality before the law or the equal protection of the law, or the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal basis, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms. Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity may be, and commonly is, compounded by discrimination on other grounds including gender, race, age, religion, disability, health and economic status. States shall:

(a) embody the principles of equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in their national constitutions or other appropriate legislation, if not yet incorporated therein, including by means of amendment and interpretation, and ensure the effective realisation of these principles;

(b) repeal criminal and other legal provisions that prohibit or are, in effect, employed to prohibit consensual sexual activity among people of the same-sex who are over the age of consent, and ensure that an equal age of consent applies to both same-sex and different-sex sexual activity;

(c) adopt appropriate legislative and other measures to prohibit and eliminate discrimination in the public and private spheres on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity;

(d) take appropriate measures to secure adequate advancement of persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities as may be necessary to ensure such groups or individuals equal enjoyment or exercise of human rights. Such measures shall not be deemed to be discriminatory;

(e) in all their responses to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, take account of the manner in which such discrimination may intersect with other forms of discrimination;

(f) take all appropriate action, including programmes of education and training, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudicial or discriminatory attitudes or behaviours which are related to the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of any sexual orientation or gender identity or gender expression.

3. The right to recognition before the law.- Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law. Persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities shall enjoy legal capacity in all aspects of life. Each person’s self-defined sexual orientation and gender identity is integral to their personality and is one of the most basic aspects of self-determination, dignity and freedom. No one shall be forced to undergo medical procedures, including sex reassignment surgery, sterilisation or hormonal therapy, as a requirement for legal recognition of their gender identity. No status, such as marriage or parenthood, may be invoked as such to prevent the legal recognition of a person’s gender identity. No one shall be subjected to pressure to conceal, suppress or deny their sexual orientation or gender identity. States shall:

(a) ensure that all persons are accorded legal capacity in civil matters, without discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and the opportunity to exercise that capacity, including equal rights to conclude contracts, and to administer, own, acquire (including through inheritance), manage, enjoy and dispose of property;

(b) take all necessary legislative, administrative and other measures to fully respect and legally recognise each person’s self-defined gender identity;

(c) take all necessary legislative, administrative and other measures to ensure that procedures exist whereby all State-issued identity papers which indicate a person’s gender/sex- including birth certificates, passports, electoral records and other documents- reflect the person’s profound self-defined gender identity;

(d) ensure that such procedures are efficient, fair and non-discriminatory, and respect the dignity and privacy of the person concerned;

(e) ensure that changes to identity documents will be recognised in all contexts where the identification or disaggregation of persons by gender is required by law or policy;

(f) undertake targeted programmes to provide social support for all persons experiencing gender transitioning or reassignment.

XXX

4. The right to life.- Everyone has the right to life. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of life, including by reference to considerations of sexual orientation or gender identity. The death penalty shall not be imposed on any person on the basis of consensual sexual activity among persons who are over the age of consent or on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

States shall:

(a) repeal all forms of crime that have the purpose or effect of prohibiting consensual sexual activity among persons of the same-sex who are over the age of consent and, until such provisions are repealed, never impose the death penalty on any person convicted under them;

(b) remit sentences of death and release all those currently awaiting execution for crimes relating to consensual sexual activity among persons who are over the age of consent;

(c) cease any State-sponsored or State-condoned attacks on the lives of persons based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and ensure that all such attacks, whether by government officials or by any individual or group, are vigorously investigated, and that, where appropriate evidence is found, those responsible are prosecuted, tried and duly punished.

XXX

6. The right to privacy.- Everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, is entitled to the enjoyment of privacy without arbitrary or unlawful interference, including with regard to their family, home or correspondence as well as to protection from unlawful attacks on their honour and reputation. The right to privacy ordinarily includes the choice to disclose or not to disclose information relating to one’s sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as decisions and choices regarding both one’s own body and consensual sexual and other relations with others.

States shall:

(a) take all necessary legislative, administrative and other measures to ensure the right of each person, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, to enjoy the private sphere, intimate decisions, and human relations, including consensual sexual activity among persons who are over the age of consent, without arbitrary interference;

(b) repeal all laws that criminalise consensual sexual activity among persons of the same-sex who are over the age of consent, and ensure that an equal age of consent applies to both same-sex and different-sex sexual activity;

(c) ensure that criminal and other legal provisions of general application are not applied de facto to criminalise consensual sexual activity among persons of the same-sex who are over the age of consent;

(d) repeal any law that prohibits or criminalises the expression of gender identity, including through dress, speech or mannerisms, or that denies to individuals the opportunity to change their bodies as a means of expressing their gender identity;

(e) release all those held on remand or on the basis of a criminal conviction, if their detention is related to consensual sexual activity among persons who are over the age of consent, or is related to gender identity;

(f) ensure the right of all persons ordinarily to choose when, to whom and how to disclose information pertaining to their sexual orientation or gender identity, and protect all persons from arbitrary or unwanted disclosure, or threat of disclosure of such information by others.

XXX

18. Protection from medical abuses.- No person may be forced to undergo any form of medical or psychological treatment, procedure, testing, or be confined to a medical facility, based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Notwithstanding any classifications to the contrary, a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity are not, in and of themselves, medical conditions and are not to be treated, cured or suppressed. States shall:

(a) take all necessary legislative, administrative and other measures to ensure full protection against harmful medical practices based on sexual orientation or gender identity, including on the basis of stereotypes, whether derived from culture or otherwise, regarding conduct, physical appearance or perceived gender norms;

(b) take all necessary legislative, administrative and other measures to ensure that no child’s body is irreversibly altered by medical procedures in an attempt to impose a gender identity without the full, free and informed consent of the child in accordance with the age and maturity of the child and guided by the principle that in all actions concerning children, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration;

(c) establish child protection mechanisms whereby no child is at risk of, or subjected to, medical abuse;

(d) ensure protection of persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities against unethical or involuntary medical procedures or research, including in relation to vaccines, treatments or microbicides for HIV/AIDS or other diseases;

(e) review and amend any health funding provisions or programmes, including those of a development-assistance nature, which may promote, facilitate or in any other way render possible such abuses;

(f) ensure that any medical or psychological treatment or counselling does not, explicitly or implicitly, treat sexual orientation and gender identity as medical conditions to be treated, cured or suppressed.

19. The right to freedom of opinion and expression.- Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. This includes the expression of identity or personhood through speech, deportment, dress, bodily characteristics, choice of name, or any other means, as well as the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, including with regard to human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, through any medium and regardless of frontiers.

States shall:

(a) take all necessary legislative, administrative and other measures to ensure full enjoyment of freedom of opinion and expression, while respecting the rights and freedoms of others, without discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, including the receipt and imparting of information and ideas concerning sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as related advocacy for legal rights, publication of materials, broadcasting, organisation of or participation in conferences, and dissemination of and access to safer-sex information;

(b) ensure that the outputs and the organisation of media that is State-regulated is pluralistic and non-discriminatory in respect of issues of sexual orientation and gender identity and that the personnel recruitment and promotion policies of such organisations are non-discriminatory on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity;

(c) take all necessary legislative, administrative and other measures to ensure the full enjoyment of the right to express identity or personhood, including through speech, deportment, dress, bodily characteristics, choice of name or any other means;

(d) ensure that notions of public order, public morality, public health and public security are not employed to restrict, in a discriminatory manner, any exercise of freedom of opinion and expression that affirms diverse sexual orientations or gender identities;

(e) ensure that the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression does not violate the rights and freedoms of persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities;

(f) ensure that all persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, enjoy equal access to information and ideas, as well as to participation in public debate.”

(Emphasis supplied)

88. These principles give further content to the fundamental rights contained in Articles 14, 15, 19 and 21, and viewed in the light of these principles also, Section 377 will have to be declared to be unconstitutional.

89. Given the aforesaid, it has now to be decided as to whether the judgment in Suresh Kumar Koushal (supra) is correct. Suresh Kumar Koushal’s judgment (supra) first begins with the presumption of constitutionality attaching to pre-constitutional laws, such as the Indian Penal Code. The judgment goes on to state that pre-constitutional laws, which have been adopted by Parliament and used with or without amendment, being manifestations of the will of the people of India through Parliament, are presumed to be constitutional. We are afraid that we cannot agree.

90. Article 372 of the Constitution of India continues laws in force in the territory of India immediately before the commencement of the Constitution. That the Indian Penal Code is a law in force in the territory of India immediately before the commencement of this Constitution is beyond cavil. Under Article 372(2), the President may, by order, make such adaptations and modifications of an existing law as may be necessary or expedient to bring such law in accord with the provisions of the Constitution. The fact that the President has not made any adaptation or modification as mentioned in Article 372(2) does not take the matter very much further. The presumption of constitutionality of a statute is premised on the fact that Parliament understands the needs of the people, and that, as per the separation of powers doctrine, Parliament is aware of its limitations in enacting lawsit can only enact laws which do not fall within List II of Schedule VII of the Constitution of India, and cannot transgress the fundamental rights of the citizens and other constitutional provisions in doing so. Parliament is therefore deemed to be aware of the aforesaid constitutional limitations. Where, however, a pre-constitution law is made by either a foreign legislature or body, none of these parameters obtain. It is therefore clear that no such presumption attaches to a pre-constitutional statute like the Indian Penal Code. In fact, in the majority judgment of B.P. Jeevan Reddy, J. in New Delhi Municipal Council v. State of Punjab and Ors., (1997) 7 SCC 339, the Punjab Municipal Act of 1911 was deemed to be a post-constitutional law inasmuch as it was extended to Delhi only in 1950, as a result of which the presumption of constitutionality was raised. Ahmadi, C.J.’s dissenting opinion correctly states that if a pre-constitutional law is challenged, the presumption of constitutional validity would not obtain. The relevant paragraph is extracted below:-

“119. Reddy, J. has taken the view that the Doctrine of Presumption of Constitutionality of Legislations requires the saving of the taxes which these Acts impose upon the commercial activities of State Governments. The Act is a pre-constitutional enactment. The basis of this doctrine is the assumed intention of the legislators not to transgress constitutional boundaries.

It is difficult to appreciate how that intention can be assumed when, at the time that the law was passed, there was no such barrier and the limitation was brought in by a Constitution long after the enactment of the law. (This Court has in a Constitution Bench decision, Gulabbhai Vallabbhai Desai v. Union of India [AIR 1967 SC 1110 : (1967) 1 SCR 602] , (AIR at p. 1117 raised doubts along similar lines). The Framers obviously wanted the law under Article 289(2) to be of a very high standard. Can these laws, which are silent on the most important aspect required by Article 289(2), i.e., the specification of the trading activities of State Governments which would be liable to Union taxation, be said to meet with that standard?”

91. It is a little difficult to subscribe to the view of the Division Bench that the presumption of constitutionality of Section 377 would therefore attach.

92. The fact that the legislature has chosen not to amend the law, despite the 172nd Law Commission Report specifically recommending deletion of Section 377, may indicate that Parliament has not thought it proper to delete the aforesaid provision, is one more reason for not invalidating Section 377, according to Suresh Kumar Koushal (supra). This is a little difficult to appreciate when the Union of India admittedly did not challenge the Delhi High Court judgment striking down the provision in part. Secondly, the fact that Parliament may or may not have chosen to follow a Law Commission Report does not guide the Court’s understanding of its character, scope, ambit and import as has been stated in Suresh Kumar Koushal (supra). It is a neutral fact which need not be taken into account at all. All that the Court has to see is whether constitutional provisions have been transgressed and if so, as a natural corollary, the death knell of the challenged provision must follow.

93. It is a little difficult to appreciate the Court stating that the ambit of Section 377 IPC is only determined with reference to the sexual act itself and the circumstances in which it is executed. It is also a little difficult to appreciate that Section 377 regulates sexual conduct regardless of gender identity and orientation.

94. After 2013, when Section 375 was amended so as to include anal and certain other kinds of sexual intercourse between a man and a woman, which would not be criminalized as rape if it was between consenting adults, it is clear that if Section 377 continues to penalize such sexual intercourse, an anomalous position would result. A man indulging in such sexual intercourse would not be liable to be prosecuted for rape but would be liable to be prosecuted under Section 377. Further, a woman who could, at no point of time, have been prosecuted for rape would, despite her consent, be prosecuted for indulging in anal or such other sexual intercourse with a man in private under Section 377. This would render Section 377, as applied to such consenting adults, as manifestly arbitrary as it would be wholly excessive and disproportionate to prosecute such persons under Section 377 when the legislature has amended one portion of the law in 2013, making it clear that consensual sex, as described in the amended provision, between two consenting adults, one a man and one a woman, would not be liable for prosecution. If, by having regard to what has been said above, Section 377 has to be read down as not applying to anal and such other sex by a male-female couple, then the Section will continue to apply only to homosexual sex. If this be the case, the Section will offend Article 14 as it will discriminate between heterosexual and homosexual adults which is a distinction which has no rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by the Sectionnamely, the criminalization of all carnal sex between homosexual and/or heterosexual adults as being against the order of nature. Viewed either way, the Section falls foul of Article 14.

95. The fact that only a minuscule fraction of the country’s population constitutes lesbians and gays or transgenders, and that in the last 150 years less than 200 persons have been prosecuted for committing the offence under Section 377, is neither here nor there. When it is found that privacy interests come in and the State has no compelling reason to continue an existing law which penalizes same-sex couples who cause no harm to others, on an application of the recent judgments delivered by this Court after Suresh Kumar Koushal (supra), it is clear that Articles 14, 15, 19 and 21 have all been transgressed without any legitimate state rationale to uphold such provision.

96. For all these reasons therefore, we are of the view that, Suresh Kumar Koushal (supra) needs to be, and is hereby, overruled.

97. We may conclude by stating that persons who are homosexual have a fundamental right to live with dignity, which, in the larger framework of the Preamble of India, will assure the cardinal constitutional value of fraternity that has been discussed in some of our judgments (See (1) Nandini Sundar v. State of Chhattisgarh, (2011) 7 SCC 547 at paragraphs 16, 25 and 52; and (2) Subramaniam Swamy v. Union of India (2016) 7 SCC 221 at paragraphs 153 to 156). We further declare that such groups are entitled to the protection of equal laws, and are entitled to be treated in society as human beings without any stigma being attached to any of them. We further declare that Section 377 insofar as it criminalises homosexual sex and transgender sex between consenting adults is unconstitutional.

98. We are also of the view that the Union of India shall take all measures to ensure that this judgment is given wide publicity through the public media, which includes television, radio, print and online media at regular intervals, and initiate programs to reduce and finally eliminate the stigma associated with such persons. Above all, all government officials, including and in particular police officials, and other officers of the Union of India and the States, be given periodic sensitization and awareness training of the plight of such persons in the light of the observations contained in this judgment.

“INDEX CHART”

Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, J

A From denial to freedom

“What makes life meaningful is love. The right that makes us human is the right to love. To criminalize the expression of that right is profoundly cruel and inhumane. To acquiesce in such criminalization, or worse, to recriminalize it, is to display the very opposite of compassion. To show exaggerated deference to a majoritarian Parliament when the matter is one of fundamental rights is to display judicial pusillanimity, for there is no doubt, that in the constitutional scheme, it is the judiciary that is the ultimate interpreter.”

1. The lethargy of the law is manifest yet again.

2. A hundred and fifty eight years ago, a colonial legislature made it criminal, even for consenting adults of the same gender, to find fulfillment in love. The law deprived them of the simple right as human beings to live, love and partner as nature made them. The human instinct to love was caged by constraining the physical manifestation of their sexuality. Gays and lesbians were made subordinate to the authority of a coercive state. A charter of morality made their relationships hateful. The criminal law became a willing instrument of repression. To engage in ‘carnal intercourse’ against ‘the order of nature’ risked being tucked away for ten years in a jail. The offence would be investigated by searching the most intimate of spaces to find tell-tale signs of intercourse. Civilisation has been brutal.

3. Eighty seven years after the law was made, India gained her liberation from a colonial past. But Macaulay’s legacy – the offence under Section 377 of the Penal Code – has continued to exist for nearly sixty eight years after we gave ourselves a liberal Constitution. Gays and lesbians, transgenders and bisexuals continue to be denied a truly equal citizenship seven decades after Independence. The law has imposed upon them a morality which is an anachronism. Their entitlement should be as equal participants in a society governed by the morality of the Constitution. That in essence is what Section 377 denies to them. The shadows of a receding past confront their quest for fulfillment.

4. Section 377 exacts conformity backed by the fear of penal reprisal. There is an unbridgeable divide between the moral values on which it is based and the values of the Constitution. What separates them is liberty and dignity. We must, as a society, ask searching questions to the forms and symbols of injustice. Unless we do that, we risk becoming the cause and not just the inheritors of an unjust society. Does the Constitution allow a quiver of fear to become the quilt around the bodies of her citizens, in the intimacies which define their identities? If there is only one answer to this question, as I believe there is, the tragedy and anguish which Section 377 inflicts must be remedied.

5. The Constitution brought about a transfer of political power. But it reflects above all, a vision of a society governed by justice. Individual liberty is its soul. The constitutional vision of justice accommodates differences of culture, ideology and orientation. The stability of its foundation lies in its effort to protect diversity in all its facets: in the beliefs, ideas and ways of living of her citizens. Democratic as it is, our Constitution does not demand conformity. Nor does it contemplate the mainstreaming of culture. It nurtures dissent as the safety valve for societal conflict. Our ability to recognise others who are different is a sign of our own evolution. We miss the symbols of a compassionate and humane society only at our peril. Section 377 provides for rule by the law instead of the rule of law. The rule of law requires a just law which facilitates equality, liberty and dignity in all its facets. Rule by the law provides legitimacy to arbitrary state behaviour.

6. Section 377 has consigned a group of citizens to the margins. It has been destructive of their identities. By imposing the sanctions of the law on consenting adults involved in a sexual relationship, it has lent the authority of the state to perpetuate social stereotypes and encourage discrimination. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders have been relegated to the anguish of closeted identities. Sexual orientation has become a target for exploitation, if not blackmail, in a networked and digital age. The impact of Section 377 has travelled far beyond the punishment of an offence. It has been destructive of an identity which is crucial to a dignified existence.

7. It is difficult to right the wrongs of history. But we can certainly set the course for the future. That we can do by saying, as I propose to say in this case, that lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders have a constitutional right to equal citizenship in all its manifestations. Sexual orientation is recognised and protected by the Constitution. Section 377 of the Penal Code is unconstitutional in so far as it penalises a consensual relationship between adults of the same gender. The constitutional values of liberty and dignity can accept nothing less.

B “To the wisdom of the Court”

Union Government before the Court

8. After the hearing commenced, the Additional Solicitor General tendered an affidavit. The Union government states that it leaves a decision on the validity of Section 377 ‘to the wisdom of this Court’. Implicit in this is that the government has no view of its own on the subject and rests content to abide by the decision of this Court. During the parleys in Court, the ASG however submitted that the court should confine itself to the reference by ruling upon the correctness of Suresh Kumar Koushal v. Naz Foundation (2014) 1 SCC 1 (“Koushal”).

9. We would have appreciated a categorical statement of position by the government, setting out its views on the validity of Section 377 and on the correctness of Koushal. The ambivalence of the government does not obviate the necessity for a judgment on the issues raised. The challenge to the constitutional validity of Section 377 must squarely be addressed in this proceeding. That is plainly the duty of the Court. Constitutional issues are not decided on concession. The statement of the Union government does not concede to the contention of the petitioners that the statutory provision is invalid. Even if a concession were to be made, that would not conclude the matter for this Court. All that the stand of the government indicates is that it is to the ‘wisdom’ of this Court that the matter is left. In reflecting upon this appeal to our wisdom, it is just as well that we as judges remind ourselves of a truth which can unwittingly be forgotten: flattery is a graveyard for the gullible.

10. Bereft of a submission on behalf of the Union government on a matter of constitutional principle these proceedings must be dealt with in the only manner known to the constitutional court: through an adjudication which fulfills constitutional values and principles.

11. The ASG made a fair submission when he urged that the court should deal with the matter in reference. The submission, to its credit, would have the court follow a path of prudence. Prudence requires, after all, that the Court should address itself to the controversy in the reference without pursuing an uncharted course beyond it. While accepting the wisdom of the approach suggested by the ASG, it is nonetheless necessary to make some prefatory observations on the scope of the reference.

12. The correctness of the decision in Koushal is in question. Koushal [as indeed the decision of the Delhi High Court in Naz Foundation v. Government of NCT of Delhi (2010) Cri LJ 94 (“Naz”)] dealt with the validity of Section 377 which criminalizes even a consensual relationship between adults of the same gender who engage in sexual conduct (‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’). In dealing with the validity of the provision, it is necessary to understand the nature of the constitutional right which LGBT individuals claim. According to them, the right to be in a relationship with a consenting adult of the same gender emanates from the right to life, as a protected value under the Constitution. They ground their right on the basis of an identity resting in their sexual orientation. According to them, their liberty and dignity require both an acknowledgement as well as a protection under the law, of their sexual orientation. Representing their identity, based on sexual orientation, to the world at large and asserting it in their relationship with the community and the state is stated to be intrinsic to the free exercise of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution. Sexual orientation is claimed to be intrinsic to the guarantee against discrimination on the ground of sex. The statutory provision, it has been asserted, also violates the fundamental guarantee against arbitrariness because it unequally targets gay men whose sexual expression falls in the area prohibited by Section 377.

13. In answering the dispute in regard to the validity of Section 377, the court must of necessity understand and explain in a constitutional perspective, the nature of the right which is claimed. The challenge to Section 377 has to be understood from the perspective of a rights discourse. While doing so, it becomes necessary to understand the constitutional source from which the claim emerges. When a right is claimed to be constitutionally protected, it is but necessary for the court to analyze the basis of that assertion. Hence, in answering the reference, it is crucial for the court to place the entitlement of the LGBT population in a constitutional framework. We have approached the matter thus far from the perspective of constitutional analysis. But there is a more simple line of reasoning as well, grounded as we believe, in common-sense. Sexual acts between consenting adults of the same gender constitute one facet – albeit an important aspect – of the right asserted by gay men to lead fulfilling lives. Gay and lesbian relationships are sustained and nurtured in every aspect which makes for a meaningful life. In understanding the true nature of those relationships and the protection which the Constitution affords to them, it is necessary to adopt a perspective which leads to their acceptance as equal members of a humane and compassionate society. Forming a holistic perspective requires the court to dwell on, but not confine itself, to sexuality. Sexual orientation creates an identity on which there is a constitutional claim to the entitlement of a dignified life. It is from that broad perspective that the constitutional right needs to be adjudicated.

C From “The Ashes of the Gay”

“Democracy

It’s coming through a hole in the air,

It’s coming from the feel

that this ain’t exactly real,

or it’s real, but it ain’t exactly there.

From the wars against disorder,

from the sirens night and day,

from the fires of the homeless,

from the ashes of the gay:

Democracy is coming…”

14. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”) has made ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’ an offence. This provision, understood as prohibiting non-peno vaginal intercourse, reflects the imposition of a particular set of morals by a colonial power at a particular point in history. A supposedly alien law, Section 377 has managed to survive for over 158 years, impervious to both the anticolonial struggle as well as the formation of a democratic India, which guarantees fundamental rights to all its citizens. An inquiry into the colonial origins of Section 377 and its postulations about sexuality is useful in assessing the relevance of the provision in contemporary times.

15. Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay, Chairman of the First Law Commission of India and principal architect of the IPC, cited two main sources from which he drew in drafting the Code: the French (Napoleonic) Penal Code, 1810 and Edward Livingston’s Louisiana Code. Lord Macaulay also drew inspiration from the English common law and the British Royal Commission’s 1843 Draft Code. Tracing that origin, English jurist Fitzjames Stephen observes:

“The Indian Penal Code may be described as the criminal law of England freed from all technicalities and superfluities, systematically arranged and modified in some few particulars (they are surprisingly few) to suit the circumstances of British India.”

In order to understand the colonial origins of Section 377, it is necessary to go further back to modern English law’s conception of anal and oral intercourse, which was firmly rooted in Judeo-Christian morality and condemned non-procreative sex. Though Jesus himself does not reference homosexuality or homosexual sex, the “Holiness Code” found in Leviticus provides thus:

“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. [18:22]

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. [19:13]

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them. [20:13]”

Another Judeo-Christian religious interpretation refers to “sodomy”, a term used for anal intercourse that is derived from an interpretation of Genesis 18:20 of the Old Testament, known as the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Briefly, when two angels took refuge in the home of Lot, the men of the town of Sodom surrounded the house and demanded that the angels be sent out so that the men may “know” them (in this interpretation, with sexual connotations). When Lot offered them his two virgin daughters instead, the men of Sodom responded by threatening Lot. The angels then blinded the “Sodomites.” The use of the term “sodomites” to describe those who engaged in anal intercourse emerged in the 13th Century, and the term “sodomy” was used as a euphemism for a number of sexual ‘sins’ two centuries earlier.

16. The preservation of the Judeo-Christian condemnation of homosexuality is also attributed to the Jewish theologian, Philo of Alexandria, who is regarded as the father of the Church Fathers and who reviled homosexuals and called for their execution. The condemnation of homosexuality can also be traced to Roman law. Emperor Justinian’s Code of 529, for instance, stated that persons who engaged in homosexual sex were to be executed. From Rome, the condemnation of homosexuality spread across Europe, where it manifested itself in ecclesiastical law. During the Protestant Reformation, these laws shifted from the ecclesiastical to the criminal domain, beginning with Germany in 1532.

While ecclesiastical laws against homosexual intercourse were well established in England by the 1500s, England’s first criminal (non-ecclesiastical) law was the Buggery Act of 1533, which condemned “the detestable and abominable vice of buggeri committed with mankind or beest.” “Buggery” is derived from the old French word for heretic, “bougre”, and was taken to mean anal intercourse.

17. The Buggery Act, 1533, which was enacted by Henry VIII, made the offence of buggery punishable by death, and continued to exist for nearly 300 years before it was repealed and replaced by the Offences against the Person Act, 1828. Buggery, however, remained a capital offence in England until 1861, one year after the enactment of the IPC. The language of Section 377 has antecedents in the definition of buggery found in Sir Edward Coke’s late 17th Century compilation of English law:

“…Committed by carnal knowledge against the ordinance of the Creator, and order of nature, by mankind with mankind, or with brute beast, or by womankind with brute beast.”

18. The Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885 made “gross indecency” a crime in the United Kingdom, and was used to prosecute homosexuals where sodomy could not be proven. In 1895, Oscar Wilde was arrested under the Act for ‘committing acts of gross indecency with male persons’. During Wilde’s trial, the Prosecutor, referring to homosexual love, asked him, “What is ‘the love that dare not speak its name’?” Wilde responded:

“The love that dare not speak its name” in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. It is that deep spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art, like those of Shakespeare and Michelangelo, and those two letters of mine, such as they are. It is in this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as “the love that dare not speak its name,” and on that account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an older and a younger man, when the older man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so, the world does not understand. The world mocks at it, and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it.”

Wilde was held guilty and was sentenced to two years’ hard labour and subsequently incarcerated.

Following World War II, arrests and prosecutions of homosexuals increased. Alan Turing, the renowned mathematician and cryptographer who was responsible for breaking the Nazi Enigma code during World War II, was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ in 1952. In order to avoid a prison sentence, Turing was forced to agree to chemical castration. He was injected with synthetic female hormones. Less than two years after he began the hormone treatment, Turing committed suicide. The Amendment Act (also known as the Labouchere Amendment) remained in English law until 1967. Turing was posthumously pardoned in 2013, and in 2017, the UK introduced the Policing and Crime Bill, also called the “Turing Law,” posthumously pardoning 50,000 homosexual men and providing pardons for the living.

In the wake of several court cases in which homosexuality had been featured, the British Parliament in 1954 set up the Wolfenden Committee, headed by John Wolfenden, to “consider…the law and practice relating to homosexual offenses and the treatment of persons convicted of such offenses by the courts”, as well as the laws relevant to prostitution and solicitation. The Wolfenden Report of 1957, which was supported by the Church of England, proposed that there ‘must remain a realm of private morality and immorality which is, in brief and crude terms, not the law’s business’ and recommended that homosexual acts between two consenting adults should no longer be a criminal offence.

19. The success of the report led England and Wales to enact The Sexual Offences Act, 1967, which decriminalized private homosexual sex between two men over the age of twenty-one. Britain continued to introduce and amend laws governing same-sex intercourse to make them more equal, including the lowering of the age of consent for gay/bisexual men to sixteen in 2001. In May 2007, in a statement to the UN Human Rights Council, the UK, which imposed criminal prohibitions against same-sex intercourse in its former colonies across the world, committed itself to the cause of worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality. Today, India continues to enforce a law imposed by an erstwhile colonial government, a law that has been long done away with by the same government in its own jurisdiction.

C.I “Arc of the moral universe”

20. Lord Macaulay was greatly influenced by English philosopher and jurist Jeremy Bentham, who coined the term codification and argued for replacing existing laws with clear, concise, and understandable provisions that could be universally applied across the Empire. Ironically, in a 1785 essay, Bentham himself wrote one of the earliest known defences of homosexuality in the English language, arguing against the criminalization of homosexuality. However, this essay was only discovered 200 years after his death.

21. The Law Commission’s 1837 draft of the Penal Code (prepared by Lord Macaulay) contained two sections (Clauses 361 and 362), which are considered the immediate precursors to Section 377:

“OF UNNATURAL OFFENCES

361. Whoever, intending to gratify unnatural lust, touches, for that purpose, any person, or any animal, or is by his own consent touched by any person, for the purpose of gratifying unnatural lust, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to fourteen years and must not be less than two years, and shall also be liable to fine.

362. Whoever, intending to gratify unnatural lust, touches for that purpose any person without that person’s free and intelligent consent, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to life and must not be less than seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

Both the draft clauses are vague in their description of the acts they seek to criminalize. Lord Macaulay also omitted an explanation to the Clauses. In a note presented with the 1837 draft, Lord Macaulay elaborated:

“Clauses 361 and 362 relate to an odious class of offences respecting which it is desirable that as little as possible be said. We leave without comment to the judgment of his Lordship in Council the two Clauses which we have provided for these offences. We are unwilling to insert, either in the text, or in the notes, anything which could give rise to public discussion on this revolting subject; as we are decidedly of opinion that the injury which would be done to the morals of the community by such discussion would far more than compensate for any benefits which might be derived from legislative measures framed with the greatest precision.”

(Emphasis supplied)

So abominable did Macaulay consider these offences that he banished the thought of providing a rationale for their being made culpable. The prospect of a public discussion was revolting. After twenty-five years of revision, the IPC entered into force on 1 January 1862, two years after Lord Macaulay’s death. The IPC was the first codified criminal code in the British Empire. Section 377 of the revised code read as follows:

“Of Unnatural Offences

377. Unnatural Offences.- Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with [imprisonment for life]35, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation.- Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offence described in this section.”

22. The Explanation is unique in that it requires proof of penetration – something that British Law did not. The two clauses in the Draft Code fell somewhere in between, requiring proof of “touch”.

By the time India gained independence in 1947, Britain had introduced Penal Codes similar to the IPC in other former colonies, including Zanzibar (Tanzania) in 1867, Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei in 1871, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1885, Burma (Myanmar) in 1886, East Africa Protectorate (Kenya) in 1897, Sudan in 1889, Uganda in 1902, and Tanganyika (Tanzania) in 1920. Under Article 372(1) of the Indian Constitution, which provides that all laws in force prior to the commencement of the Constitution shall continue to be in force until altered or repealed, the IPC and many other pre-Independence laws were “saved” and allowed to operate in Independent India.

23. While Section 377 has been used to prosecute non-consensual sexual acts, it has also been used to prosecute consensual sexual acts. In (Meharban) Nowshirwan Irani v. Emperor AIR 1934 Sind. 206. for instance, a police officer observed Nowshirwan, a young shopkeeper, engaged in homosexual acts with a young man, Ratansi, through a keyhole in Nowshirwan’s house. The Prosecution argued that the acts were non-consensual, but could not prove coercion. The High Court of Sindh ultimately set aside the conviction based on insufficient evidence. Nevertheless, what should have been an intimate act between two consenting parties in their bedroom became a public scandal and the subject of judicial scrutiny.

In D P Minwalla v. Emperor AIR 1935 Sind. 78., Minawalla and Tajmahomed, were seen having anal intercourse in a lorry and were arrested, charged, and found guilty under Section 377. Tajmahomed was sentenced to four months rigorous imprisonment, and Minawalla, who was charged with abetment, was sentenced to a fine of Rs 100 and imprisonment until the rising of the Bench. Minawalla appealed the decision on the grounds that he was not a consenting partner, and submitted himself to a medical exam. The judge was unconvinced, however, and Minawalla’s original sentence was upheld. The Court, convinced that the acts were consensual, found the men guilty under Section 377.

In Ratan Mia v. State of Assam (1988) Cr. L.J. 960, the Court convicted two men (one aged fifteen and a half, the other twenty) under Section 377 and treated them as equally culpable, as he was unable to cast one of them as the perpetrator and the other as the victim or abettor. Both men were originally sentenced to imprisonment for six months and a fine of Rs 100. After Nur had spent six years in prison and appealed three times, both men’s sentences were reduced to seven days rigorous imprisonment, in view of the fact that they were first time offenders under the age of twenty-one.

Even though the government is not proactively enforcing a law that governs private activities, the psychological impact for homosexuals who are, for all practical purposes, felons in waiting, is damaging in its own right:

“…The true impact of Section 377 on queer lives is felt outside the courtroom and must not be measured in terms of legal cases. Numerous studies, including both documented and anecdotal evidence, tell us that Section 377 is the basis for routine and continuous violence against sexual minorities by the police, the medical establishment, and the state. There are innumerable stories that can be cited – from the everyday violence faced by hijras [a distinct transgender category] and kothis [effeminate males] on the streets of Indian cities to the refusal of the National Human Rights Commission to hear the case of a young man who had been given electro-shock therapy for nearly two years. A recent report by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (Karnataka), showed that Section 377 was used by the police to justify practices such as illegal detention, sexual abuse and harassment, extortion and outing of queer people to their families.”

Before the end of the 19th century, gay rights movements were few and far between. Indeed, when Alfred Douglas, Oscar Wilde’s lover, wrote in his 1890s poem entitled “Two Loves” of “the love that dare not speak its name”, he was alluding to society’s moral disapprobation of homosexuality. The 20th century, however, saw the LGBTIQ community emerge from the shadows worldwide, poised to agitate and demand equal civil rights. LGBTIQ movements focused on issues of intersectionality, the interplay of oppressions arising from being both queer and lower class, coloured, disabled, and so on. Despite the movement making numerous strides forward in the fight for equal rights, incidents of homosexual arrests were nevertheless extant at the turn of the 21st century.

In many cases of unfulfilled civil rights, there is a tendency to operate under the philosophy articulated by Dr. Martin Luther King, that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” It is likely that those who subscribe to this philosophy believe that homosexuals should practice the virtue of patience, and wait for society to understand and accept their way of life. What those who purport this philosophy fail to recognize is that Dr King himself argued against the doctrine of “wait”:

“For years now I have heard the word “wait.” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “wait” has almost always meant “never.” It has been a tranquilizing thalidomide, relieving the emotional stress for a moment, only to give birth to an ill-formed infant of frustration. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our God-given and constitutional rights . . . when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodyness” — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.” (Letter from a Birmingham Jail)

24. Indian citizens belonging to sexual minorities have waited. They have waited and watched as their fellow citizens were freed from the British yoke while their fundamental freedoms remained restrained under an antiquated and anachronistic colonial-era law – forcing them to live in hiding, in fear, and as second-class citizens. In seeking an adjudication of the validity of Section 377, these citizens urge that the acts which the provision makes culpable should be decriminalised. But this case involves much more than merely decriminalising certain conduct which has been proscribed by a colonial law. The case is about an aspiration to realise constitutional rights. It is about a right which every human being has, to live with dignity. It is about enabling these citizens to realise the worth of equal citizenship. Above all, our decision will speak to the transformative power of the Constitution. For it is in the transformation of society that the Constitution seeks to assure the values of a just, humane and compassionate existence to all her citizens.

D An equal love

“Through Love’s Great Power

Through love’s great power to be made whole In mind and body, heart and soul – Through freedom to find joy, or be By dint of joy itself set free In love and in companionhood: This is the true and natural good. To undo justice, and to seek To quash the rights that guard the weak – To sneer at love, and wrench apart The bonds of body, mind and heart With specious reason and no rhyme: This is the true unnatural crime.”50

Article 14 is our fundamental charter of equality:

“The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.”

(Emphasis supplied)

25. In Naz, the Delhi High Court held that Section 377 violates Article 14 of the Constitution since the classification on which it is based does not bear any nexus to the object which the provision seeks to achieve.51 In Koushal, this Court rejected the Naz formulation on the ground that “those who indulge in carnal intercourse in the ordinary course and those who … [do so] against the order of nature constitute different classes.”52 Koushal held on that logic that Section 377 does not suffer from arbitrariness or from an irrational classification.

26. A litany of our decisions – to refer to them individually would be a parade of the familiar – indicates that to be a reasonable classification under Article 14 of the Constitution, two criteria must be met: (i) the classification must be founded on an intelligible differentia; and (ii) the differentia must have a rational nexus to the objective sought to be achieved by the legislation. State of West Bengal v. Anwar Ali Sarkar, AIR (1952) SC 75. There must, in other words, be a causal connection between the basis of classification and the object of the statute. If the object of the classification is illogical, unfair and unjust, the classification will be unreasonable. Deepak Sibal v. Punjab University, (1989) 2 SCC 145.

27. Equating the content of equality with the reasonableness of a classification on which a law is based advances the cause of legal formalism. The problem with the classification test is that what constitutes a reasonable classification is reduced to a mere formula: the quest for an intelligible differentia and the rational nexus to the object sought to be achieved. In doing so, the test of classification risks elevating form over substance. The danger inherent in legal formalism lies in its inability to lay threadbare the values which guide the process of judging constitutional rights. Legal formalism buries the life-giving forces of the Constitution under a mere mantra. What it ignores is that Article 14 contains a powerful statement of values – of the substance of equality before the law and the equal protection of laws.

To reduce it to a formal exercise of classification may miss the true value of equality as a safeguard against arbitrariness in state action. As our constitutional jurisprudence has evolved towards recognizing the substantive content of liberty and equality, the core of Article 14 has emerged out of the shadows of classification. Article 14 has a substantive content on which, together with liberty and dignity, the edifice of the Constitution is built. Simply put, in that avatar, it reflects the quest for ensuring fair treatment of the individual in every aspect of human endeavor and in every facet of human existence.

In E P Royappa v. State of Tamil Nadu (1974) 4 SCC 3, the validity of state action was made subject to the test of arbitrariness:

“Equality is a dynamic concept with many aspects and dimensions and it cannot be “cribbed cabined and confined” within traditional and doctrinaire limits. From a positivistic point of view, equality is antithetic to arbitrariness. In fact equality and arbitrariness are sworn enemies; one belongs to the rule of law in a republic while the other, to the whim and caprice of an absolute monarch. Where an act is arbitrary it is implicit in it that it is unequal both according to political logic and constitutional law and is therefore violative of Art.14…”

Four decades later, the test has been refined in Shayara Bano v. Union of India(2017) 9 SCC 1:

“The expression ‘arbitrarily’ means: in an unreasonable manner, as fixed or done capriciously or at pleasure, without adequate determining principle, not founded in the nature of things, non-rational, not done or acting according to reason or judgment, depending on the will alone.”

28. The wording of Section 377 does not precisely map on to a distinction between homosexuals and heterosexuals but a precise interpretation would mean that it penalizes some forms of sexual expression among heterosexuals while necessarily criminalizing every form of sexual expression and intimacy between homosexuals. For Section 377 to withstand the scrutiny of Article 14, it was necessary for the Court in Koushal to establish the difference between ‘ordinary intercourse’ and ‘intercourse against the order of nature’, the legitimate objective being pursued and the rational nexus between the goal and the classification. However, the Koushal approach has been criticised on the ground that while dealing with Article 14, it fell “short of the minimum standards of judicial reasoning that may be expected from the Supreme Court.” On a review of the prosecutions under Section 377, Koushal conceded that “no uniform test [could] be culled out to classify acts as ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature.'” Yet Koushal upheld the classification of sexual acts in Section 377 without explaining the difference between the classes, or the justification for treating the classes differently.

This lack of reasoning and analysis by the Court has been critiqued in scholarly research on the subject. The following extract sums up the criticism with telling effect:

“The Court says – without an iota of evidence – that there are two classes of persons – those who engage in sexual intercourse in the “ordinary course”, and those who don’t. What is ordinary course? Presumably, heterosexuality. Why is this ordinary course?Perhaps because there are more heterosexuals than homosexuals around, although the Court gives no evidence for that. Well, there are also more black-haired people in India than brown-haired people. Is sex with a brown-haired person against the order of nature because it happens less often?…Where is the rational nexus? What is the legitimate governmental objective? Even if we accept that there is an intelligible differentia here, on what basis do you criminalize – and thus deny equal protection of laws – to one class of persons? The Court gives no answer. Alternatively, “ordinary sex” is penal-vaginal, and every other kind of sex is “against the ordinary course of nature”. Again, no evidence to back that claim up apart from the say-so of the judge.”

At the very outset, we must understand the problem with the usage of the term ‘order of nature’. What is ‘natural’ and what is ‘unnatural’? And who decides the categorization into these two ostensibly distinct and water-tight compartments? Do we allow the state to draw the boundaries between permissible and impermissible intimacies between consenting adults? Homosexuality has been documented in almost 1500 species, who “unfortunately are not blessed with rational capabilities (and the propensity to ‘nurture’ same sex thoughts) as are found in mankind.” An interesting article in this regard notes that, “no species has been found in which homosexual behaviour has not been shown to exist, with the exception of species that never have sex at all, such as sea urchins and aphis.”

29 .In an incisive article, Ambrosino discusses the shift from reproductive instinct to erotic desire and how crucial this shift is to understanding modern notions of sexuality. He analyses how the lines between homosexuality and heterosexuality are blurred, and perhaps even an outdated myth or invention when we understand the fluidity of sexual identities today:

“”No one knows exactly why heterosexuals and homosexuals ought to be different,” wrote Wendell Ricketts, author of the 1984 study Biological Research on Homosexuality. The best answer we’ve got is something of a tautology: “heterosexuals and homosexuals are considered different because they can be divided into two groups on the basis of the belief that they can be divided into two groups.”

Though the hetero/homo divide seems like an eternal, indestructible fact of nature, it simply isn’t. It’s merely one recent grammar humans have invented to talk about what sex means to us.”

He questions the elevated status of ‘normalcy’ in the following words:

“Normal” is a loaded word, of course, and it has been misused throughout history. Hierarchical ordering leading to slavery was at one time accepted as normal, as was a geocentric cosmology. It was only by questioning the foundations of the consensus view that “normal” phenomena were dethroned from their privileged positions.”

There are obvious shortcomings of the human element in the judgment of natural and unnatural:

“Why judge what is natural and ethical to a human being by his or her animal nature? Many of the things human beings value, such as medicine and art, are egregiously unnatural. At the same time, humans detest many things that actually are eminently natural, like disease and death. If we consider some naturally occurring phenomena ethical and others unethical, that means our minds (the things looking) are determining what to make of nature (the things being looked at). Nature doesn’t exist somewhere “out there,” independently of us – we’re always already interpreting it from the inside.”

It has been argued that “the ‘naturalness’ and omnipresence of heterosexuality is manufactured by an elimination of historical specificities about the organisation, regulation and deployment of sexuality across time and space.” It is thus this “closeting of history” that produces the “hegemonic heterosexual” – the ideological construction of a particular alignment of sex, gender and desire that posits itself as natural, inevitable and eternal. Heterosexuality becomes the site where the male sexed masculine man’s desire for the female sexed feminine woman is privileged over all other formsof sexual desire and became a pervasive norm that structures all societal structures.

The expression ‘carnal’ is susceptible to a wide range of meanings. Among them are:

“sexual, sensual, erotic, lustful, lascivious, libidinous, lecherous, licentious, lewd, prurient, salacious, coarse, gross, lubricious, venereal.”

That’s not all. The word incorporates meanings such as: “physical, bodily, corporeal and of the flesh.” The late Middle English origin of ‘carnal’ derives from Christian Latin ‘carnalis’, from caro, carn – ‘flesh’. At one end of the spectrum ‘carnal’ embodies something which relates to the physical feelings and desires of the body. In another sense, the word implies ‘a relation to the body or flesh as the state of basic physical appetites’. In a pejorative sense, it conveys grossness or lewdness. The simple question which we need to ask ourselves is whether liberty and equality can be made to depend on such vagueness of expression and indeterminacy of content. Section 377 is based on a moral notion that intercourse which is lustful is to be frowned upon.

It finds the sole purpose of intercourse in procreation. In doing so, it imposes criminal sanctions upon basic human urges, by targeting some of them as against the order of nature. It does so, on the basis of a social hypocrisy which the law embraces as its own. It would have human beings lead sanitized lives, in which physical relationships are conditioned by a moral notion of what nature does or does not ordain. It would have human beings accept a way of life in which sexual contact without procreation is an aberration and worse still, penal. It would ask of a section of our citizens that while love, they may, the physical manifestation of their love is criminal. This is manifest arbitrariness writ large.

If it is difficult to locate any intelligible differentia between indeterminate terms such as ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’, then it is even more problematic to say that a classification between individuals who supposedly engage in ‘natural’ intercourse and those who engage in ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’ can be legally valid.

In addition to the problem regarding the indeterminacy of the terms, there is a logical fallacy in ascribing legality or illegality to the ostensibly universal meanings of ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ as is pointed out in a scholarly article.68 Basheer, et al make this point effectively:

“From the fact that something occurs naturally, it does not necessarily follow that it is socially desirable. Similarly, acts that are commonly perceived to be ‘unnatural’ may not necessarily deserve legal sanction. Illustratively, consider a person who walks on his hands all the time. Although this may be unnatural, it is certainly not deserving of legal censure.

…In fact, several activities that might be seen to contravene the order of nature (heart transplants, for example) are beneficial and desirable. Even if an unnatural act is harmful to the extent that it justifies criminal sanctions being imposed against it, the reason for proscribing such an act would be that the act is harmful, and not that it is unnatural.”

Indeed, there is no cogent reasoning to support the idea that behaviour that may be uncommon on the basis of mere statistical probability is necessarily abnormal and must be deemed ethically or morally wrong. Even behaviour that may be considered wrong or unnatural cannot be criminalised without sufficient justification given the penal consequences that follow. Section 377 becomes a blanket offence that covers supposedly all types of non-procreative ‘natural’ sexual activity without any consideration given to the notions of consent and harm.

30. The meaning of ‘natural’ as understood in cases such as Khanu v. Emperor AIR (1925) Sind. 286 which interpreted natural sex to mean only sex that would lead to procreation, would lead to absurd consequences. Some of the consequences have been pointed out thus:

“The position of the court was thus that ‘natural’ sexual intercourse is restricted not only to heterosexual coitus, but further only to acts that might possibly result in conception.

Such a formulation of the concept of ‘natural’ sex excludes not only the use of contraception, which is likely to have fallen outside the hegemonic view of normative sexuality at the time, but also heterosexual coitus where one or both partners are infertile, or during the ‘safe’ period of a woman’s menstrual cycle. It is perhaps unnecessary to state that the formulation also excludes oral sex between heterosexual partners and any homosexual act whatsoever.”

The indeterminacy and vagueness of the terms ‘carnal intercourse’ and ‘order of nature’ renders Section 377 constitutionally infirm as violating the equality clause in Article 14.

While it is evident that the classification is invalid, it is useful to understand its purported goal by looking at the legislative history of Section 377. In Macaulay’s first draft of the Penal Code, the predecessor to present day Section 377 was Clause 361 which provided a severe punishment for touching another for the purpose of ‘unnatural’ lust. Macaulay abhorred the idea of any debate or discussion on this ‘heinous crime’. India’s anti-sodomy law was conceived, legislated and enforced by the British without any kind of public discussion.

So abhorrent was homosexuality to the moral notions which he espoused, that Macaulay believed that the idea of a discussion was repulsive. Section 377 reveals only the hatred, revulsion and disgust of the draftsmen towards certain intimate choices of fellow human beings. The criminalization of acts in Section 377 is not based on a legally valid distinction, “but on broad moral proclamations that certain kinds of people, singled out by their private choices, are less than citizens – or less than human.”

31. The Naz judgement has been criticised on the ground that even though it removed private acts between consenting adults from the purview of Section 377, it still retained the section along with its problematic terminology regarding the ‘order of nature’:

“…even though the acts would not be criminal, they would still be categorized as “unnatural” in the law. This is not an idle terminological issue. As Durkheim noted over a hundred years ago, the law also works as a tool that expresses social relations. Hence, this expression itself is problematic from a dignitarian standpoint, otherwise so eloquently referred to by the judgement.”

At this point, we look at some of the legislative changes that have taken place in India’s criminal law since the enactment of the Penal Code. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013 imported certain understandings of the concept of sexual intercourse into its expansive definition of rape in Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, which now goes beyond penile-vaginal penetrative intercourse. It has been argued that if ‘sexual intercourse’ now includes many acts which were covered under Section 377, those acts are clearly not ‘against the order of nature’ anymore. They are, in fact, part of the changed meaning of sexual intercourse itself.

This means that much of Section 377 has not only been rendered redundant but that the very word ‘unnatural’ cannot have the meaning that was attributed to it before the 2013 amendment. Section 375 defines the expression rape in an expansive sense, to include any one of several acts committed by a man in relation to a woman. The offence of rape is established if those acts are committed against her will or without the free consent of the woman. Section 375 is a clear indicator that in a heterosexual context, certain physical acts between a man and woman are excluded from the operation of penal law if they are consenting adults. Many of these acts which would have been within the purview of Section 377, stand excluded from criminal liability when they take place in the course of consensual heterosexual contact. Parliament has ruled against them being regarded against the ‘order of nature’, in the context of Section 375. Yet those acts continue to be subject to criminal liability, if two adult men or women were to engage in consensual sexual contact. This is a violation of Article 14.

Nivedita Menon opposes the idea that ‘normal’ sexuality springs from nature and argues that this idea of ‘normal’ sexuality is a cultural and social construct::

“Consider the possibility that rules of sexual conduct are as arbitrary as traffic rules, created by human societies to maintain a certain sort of order, and which could differ from place to place — for example, you drive on the left in India and on the right in the USA. Further, let us say you question the sort of social order that traffic rules keep in place. Say you believe that traffic rules in Delhi are the product of a model of urban planning that privileges the rich and penalizes the poor, that this order encourages petrol-consuming private vehicles and discourages forms of transport that are energy-saving — cycles, public transport, pedestrians. You would then question that model of the city that forces large numbers of inhabitants to travel long distances every day simply to get to school andwork. You could debate the merits of traffic rules and urban planning on the grounds of convenience, equity and sustainability of natural resources — at least, nobody could seriously argue that any set of traffic rules is natural.”

32. The struggle of citizens belonging to sexual minorities is located within the larger history of the struggles against various forms of social subordination in India. The order of nature that Section 377 speaks of is not just about non-procreative sex but is about forms of intimacy which the social order finds “disturbing”.

This includes various forms of transgression such as inter-caste and inter-community relationships which are sought to be curbed by society. What links LGBT individuals to couples who love across caste and community lines is the fact that both are exercising their right to love at enormous personal risk and in the process disrupting existing lines of social authority. Thus, a re-imagination of the order of nature as being not only about the prohibition of non-procreative sex but instead about the limits imposed by structures such as gender, caste, class, religion and community makes the right to love not just a separate battle for LGBT individuals, but a battle for all.

E Beyond physicality: sex, identity and stereotypes

“Only in the most technical sense is this a case about who may penetrate whom where. At a practical and symbolical level it is about the status, moral citizenship and sense of self-worth of a significant section of the community. At a more general and conceptual level, it concerns the nature of the open, democratic and pluralistic society contemplated by the Constitution.”

33. The Petitioners contend that (i) Section 377 discriminates on the basis of sex and violates Articles 15 and 16; and (ii) Discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation is in fact, discrimination on the ground of sex. The intervenors argue that (i) Section 377 criminalizes acts and not people; (ii) It is not discriminatory because the prohibition on anal and oral sex applies equally to both heterosexual and homosexual couples; and (iii) Article 15 prohibits discrimination on the ground of ‘sex’ which cannot be interpreted so broadly as to include ‘sexual orientation’.

34. When the constitutionality of a law is challenged on the ground that it violates the guarantees in Part III of the Constitution, what is determinative is its effect on the infringement of fundamental rights Re. the Kerala Education Bill, AIR 1958 SC 956 at para 26; Sakal Papers v Union of India, AIR 1962 SC 305 at para 42; R.C. Cooper v Union of India, (1970) 1 SCC 248 at paras 43, 49; Bennett Coleman v. Union of India, AIR (1972) 2 SCC 788 at para 39; Maneka Gandhi v Union of India, (1978) 1 SCC 248 at para 19. This affords the guaranteed freedoms their true potential against a claim by the state that the infringement of the right was not the object of the provision. It is not the object of the law which impairs the rights of the citizens. Nor is the form of the action taken determinative of the protection that can be claimed. It is the effect of the law upon the fundamental right which calls the courts to step in and remedy the violation. The individual is aggrieved because the law hurts. The hurt to the individual is measured by the violation of a protected right. Hence, while assessing whether a law infringes a fundamental right, it is not the intention of the lawmaker that is determinative, but whether the effect or operation of the law infringes fundamental rights.

Article 15 of the Constitution reads thus:

“15. (1) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.”

(Emphasis supplied)

Article 15 prohibits the State from discriminating on grounds only of sex. Early judicial pronouncements adjudged whether discrimination aimed only at sex is covered by Article 15 or whether the guarantee is attracted even to a discrimination on the basis of sex and some other grounds (‘Sex plus’). The argument was that since Article 15 prohibited discrimination on only specified grounds, discrimination resulting from a specified ground coupled with other considerations is not prohibited. The view was that if the discrimination is justified on the grounds of sex and another factor, it would not be covered by the prohibition in Article 15.

35. One of the earliest cases decided in 1951 was by the Calcutta High Court in Sri Sri Mahadev Jiew v. Dr. B B Sen AIR (1961) Cal. 563. Under Order XXV, R. 1 of the Code of Civil Procedure, men could be made liable for paying a security cost if they did not possess sufficient movable property in India only if they were residing outside India. However, women were responsible for paying such security, regardless of whether or not they were residing in India. In other words, the law drew a distinction between resident males who did not have sufficient immovable property, and resident females who did not have sufficient immovable property. Upholding the provision, the Calcutta High Court held:

“31. Article 15(1) of the Constitution pro-vides, inter alia, — The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of sex. The word ‘only’ in this Article is of great importance and significance which should not be missed. The impugned law must be shown to discriminate because of sex alone. If other factors in addition to sex come into play in making the discriminatory law, then such discrimination does not, in my judgment, come within the provision of Article 15(1) of the Constitution.”

(Emphasis supplied)

This interpretation was upheld by this Court in Air India v. Nergesh Meerza (“Nergesh Meerza”).(1981) 4 SCC 335 Regulations 46 and 47 of the Air India Employees’ Service Regulations were challenged for causing a disparity between the pay and promotional opportunities of men and women in-flight cabin crew. Under Regulation 46, while the retirement age for male Flight Pursers was fifty eight, Air Hostesses were required to retire at thirty five, or on marriage (if they married within four years of joining service), or on their first pregnancy, whichever occurred earlier. This period could be extended in the absolute discretion of the Managing Director. Even though the two cadres were constituted on the grounds of sex, the Court upheld the Regulations in part and opined:

“68. Even otherwise, what Articles 15(1) and 16(2) prohibit is that discrimination should not be made only and only on the ground of sex. These Articles of the Constitution do not prohibit the State from making discrimination on the ground of sex coupled with other considerations.

(Emphasis supplied)

36. This formalistic interpretation of Article 15 would render the constitutional guarantee against discrimination meaningless. For it would allow the State to claim that the discrimination was based on sex and another ground (‘Sex plus’) and hence outside the ambit of Article 15. Latent in the argument of the discrimination, are stereotypical notions of the differences between men and women which are then used to justify the discrimination. This narrow view of Article 15 strips the prohibition on discrimination of its essential content. This fails to take into account the intersectional nature of sex discrimination, which cannot be said to operate in isolation of other identities, especially from the socio-political and economic context. For example, a rule that people over six feet would not be employed in the army would be able to stand an attack on its disproportionate impact on women if it was maintained that the discrimination is on the basis of sex and height. Such a formalistic view of the prohibition in Article 15, rejects the true operation of discrimination, which intersects varied identities and characteristics.

37. A divergent note was struck by this Court in Anuj Garg v. Hotel Association of India (2008) 3 SCC 1. Section 30 of the Punjab Excise Act, 1914 prohibited the employment of women (and men under 25 years) in premises where liquor or other intoxicating drugs were consumed by the public. Striking down the law as suffering from “incurable fixations of stereotype morality and conception of sexual role”, the Court held:

“42… one issue of immediate relevance in such cases is the effect of the traditional cultural norms as also the state of general ambience in the society which women have to face while opting for an employment which is otherwise completely innocuous for the male counterpart…”

“43…It is state’s duty to ensure circumstances of safety which inspire confidence in women to discharge the duty freely in accordance to the requirements of the profession they choose to follow. Any other policy inference (such as the one embodied under section 30) from societal conditions would be oppressive on the women and against the privacy rights.”

(Emphasis supplied)

The Court recognized that traditional cultural norms stereotype gender roles. These stereotypes are premised on assumptions about socially ascribed roles of gender which discriminate against women. The Court held that “insofar as governmental policy is based on the aforesaid cultural norms, it is constitutionally invalid.” In the same line, the Court also cited with approval, the judgments of the US Supreme Court in Frontiero v. Richardson 411 U.S. 677 (1973) , and United States v. Virginia 518 U.S. 515 (1996). , and Justice Marshall’s dissent in Dothard v. Rawlinson 433 U.S. 321 (1977), The Court grounded the anti-stereotyping principle as firmly rooted in the prohibition under Article 15. In National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India (“NALSA”) (2014) 5 SCC 438, while dealing with the rights of transgender persons under the Constitution, this Court opined:

“66. Articles 15 and 16 sought to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, recognizing that sex discrimination is a historical fact and needs to be addressed. Constitution makers, it can be gathered, gave emphasis to the fundamental right against sex discrimination so as to prevent the direct or indirect attitude to treat people differently, for the reason of not being in conformity with stereotypical generalizations of binary genders. Both gender and biological attributes constitute distinct components of sex. Biological characteristics, of course, include genitals, chromosomes and secondary sexual features, but gender attributes include one’s self image, the deep psychological or emotional sense of sexual identity and character. The discrimination on the ground of ‘sex’ Under Articles 15 and 16, therefore, includes discrimination on the ground of gender identity.”

(Emphasis supplied)

This approach, in my view, is correct.

In Nergesh Meerza, this Court held that where persons of a particular class, in view of the “special attributes, qualities” are treated differently in ‘public interest’, such a classification would not be discriminatory. The Court opined that since the modes of recruitment, promotional avenues and other matters were different for Air Hostesses, they constituted a class separate from male Flight Pursers. This, despite noting that “a perusal of the job functions which have been detailed in the affidavit, clearly shows that the functions of the two, though obviously different overlap on some points but the difference, if any, is one of degree rather than of kind.”

38. The Court did not embark on the preliminary enquiry as to whether the initial classification between the two cadres, being grounded in sex, was violative of the constitutional guarantee against discrimination. Referring specifically to the three significant disabilities that the Regulations imposed on Air Hostesses, the Court held that “there can be no doubt that these peculiar conditions do form part of the Regulations governing Air Hostesses but once we have held that Air Hostesses form a separate category with different and separate incidents the circumstances pointed out by the petitioners cannot amount to discrimination so as to violate Article 14 of the Constitution on this ground.”

39. The basis of the classification was that only men could become male Flight Pursers and only women could become Air Hostesses. The very constitution of the cadre was based on sex. What this meant was, that to pass the non-discrimination test found in Article 15, the State merely had to create two separate classes based on sex and constitute two separate cadres. That would not be discriminatory. The Court went a step ahead and opined:

“80…Thus, the Regulation permits an AH to marry at the age of 23 if she has joined the service at the age of 19 which is by all standards a very sound and salutary provision. Apart from improving the health of the employee, it helps a good in the promotion and boosting up of our family planning programme.

Secondly, if a woman marries near about the age of 20 to 23 years, she becomes fully mature and there is every chance of such a marriage proving a success, all things being equal. Thirdly, it has been rightly pointed out to us by the Corporation that if the bar of marriage within four years of service is removed then the Corporation will have to incur huge expenditure in recruiting additional AHs either on a temporary or on ad hoc basis to replace the working AHs if they conceive and any period short of four years would be too little a time for the Corporation to phase out such an ambitious plan.”

(Emphasis supplied)

40. A strong stereotype underlines the judgment. The Court did not recognize that men were not subject to the same standards with respect to marriage. It holds that the burdens of health and family planning rest solely on women. This perpetuates the notion that the obligations of raising family are those solely of the woman. In dealing with the provision for termination of service on the first pregnancy, the Court opined that a substituted provision for termination on the third pregnancy would be in the “larger interest of the health of the Air Hostesses concerned as also for the good upbringing of the children.” Here again, the Court’s view rested on a stereotype. The patronizing attitude towards the role of women compounds the difficulty in accepting the logic of Nergesh Meerza. This approach, in my view, is patently incorrect.

41. A discriminatory act will be tested against constitutional values. A discrimination will not survive constitutional scrutiny when it is grounded in and perpetuates stereotypes about a class constituted by the grounds prohibited in Article 15(1). If any ground of discrimination, whether direct or indirect is founded on a stereotypical understanding of the role of the sex, it would not be distinguishable from the discrimination which is prohibited by Article 15 on the grounds only of sex. If certain characteristics grounded in stereotypes, are to be associated with entire classes of people constituted as groups by any of the grounds prohibited in Article 15(1), that cannot establish a permissible reason to discriminate. Such a discrimination will be in violation of the constitutional guarantee against discrimination in Article 15(1). That such a discrimination is a result of grounds rooted in sex and other considerations, can no longer be held to be a position supported by the intersectional understanding of how discrimination operates. This infuses Article 15 with true rigour to give it a complete constitutional dimension in prohibiting discrimination. The approach adopted the Court in Nergesh Meerza, is incorrect.

A provision challenged as being ultra vires the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds only of sex under Article 15(1) is to be assessed not by the objects of the state in enacting it, but by the effect that the provision has on affected individuals and on their fundamental rights. Any ground of discrimination, direct or indirect, which is founded on a particular understanding of the role of the sex, would not be distinguishable from the discrimination which is prohibited by Article 15 on the grounds only of sex.

E.I Facial neutrality: through the looking glass

42. The moral belief which underlies Section 377 is that sexual activities which do not result in procreation are against the ‘order of nature’ and ought to be criminalized under Section 377. The intervenors submit that Section 377, criminalizes anal and oral sex by heterosexual couples as well. Hence, it is urged that Section 377 applies equally to all conduct against the ‘order of nature’, irrespective of sexual orientation. This submission is incorrect. In NALSA this Court held that Section 377, though associated with specific sexual acts, highlights certain identities. In Naz, the Delhi High Court demonstrated effectively how Section 377 though facially neutral in its application to certain acts, targets specific communities in terms of its impact:

“Section 377 IPC is facially neutral and it apparently targets not identities but acts, but in its operation it does end up unfairly targeting a particular community. The fact is that these sexual acts which are criminalised are associated more closely with one class of persons, namely, the homosexuals as a class. Section 377 IPC has the effect of viewing all gay men as criminals. When everything associated with homosexuality is treated as bent, queer, repugnant, the whole gay and lesbian community is marked with deviance and perversity. They are subject to extensive prejudice because what they are or what they are perceived to be, not because of what they do. The result is that a significant group of the population is, because of its sexual nonconformity, persecuted, marginalised and turned in on itself.”

(Emphasis supplied)

To this end, it chronicled the experiences of the victims of Section 377, relying on the extensive records and affidavits submitted by the Petitioners that brought to fore instances of custodial rape and torture, social boycott, degrading and inhuman treatment and incarceration. The court concluded that while Section 377 criminalized conduct, it created a systemic pattern of disadvantage, exclusion and indignity for the LGBT community, and for individuals who indulge in non-heterosexual conduct.

43. Jurisprudence across national frontiers supports the principle that facially neutral action by the State may have a disproportionate impact upon a particular class. In Europe, Directive 2006/54/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 July 2006 defines ‘indirect discrimination’ as: “where an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice would put persons of one sex at a particular disadvantage compared with persons of the other sex, unless that provision, criterion or practice is objectively justified by a legitimate aim, and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.”

In Griggs v Duke Power Co.401 U.S. 424 (1971), the US Supreme Court, whilst recognizing that African-Americans received sub-standard education due to segregated schools, opined that the requirement of an aptitude/intelligence test disproportionately affected African-American candidates. The Court held that “The Civil Rights Act” proscribes not only overt discrimination but also practices that are fair in form, but discriminatory in operation.”

In Bilka-Kaufhaus GmbH v. Karin Weber von Hartz (1986) ECR 1607, the European Court of Justice held that denying pensions to part-time employees is more likely to affect women, as women were more likely to take up part-time jobs. The Court noted:

“Article 119 of the EEC Treaty is infringed by a department store company which excludes part-time employees from its occupational pension scheme, where that exclusion affects a far greater number of women than men, unless the undertaking shows that the exclusion is based on objectively justified factors unrelated to any discrimination on grounds of sex.”

(Emphasis supplied)

The Canadian Supreme Court endorsed the notion of a disparate impact where an action has a disproportionate impact on a class of persons. In Andrews v. Law Society of British Columbia (1989) 1 SCR 143, the Court noted:

“Discrimination is a distinction which, whether intentional or not but based on grounds relating to personal characteristics of the individual or group, has an effect which imposes disadvantages not imposed upon others or which withholds or limits access to advantages available to other members of society. Distinctions based on personal characteristics attributed to an individual solely on the basis of association with a group will rarely escape the charge of discrimination, while those based on an individual’s merits and capacities will rarely be so classed.”

(Emphasis supplied)

Thus, when an action has “the effect of imposing burdens, obligations, or disadvantages on such individual or group not imposed upon others, or which withholds or limits access to opportunities, benefits, and advantages available to other members of society”, it would be suspect.

In City Council of Pretoria v. Walker (1998) 3 BCLR 257 , the Constitutional Court of South Africa observed:

“The concept of indirect discrimination, … was developed precisely to deal with situations where discrimination lay disguised behind apparently neutral criteria or where persons already adversely hit by patterns of historic subordination had their disadvantage entrenched or intensified by the impact of measures not overtly intended to prejudice them.

In many cases, particularly those in which indirect discrimination is alleged, the protective purpose would be defeated if the persons complaining of discrimination had to prove not only that they were unfairly discriminated against but also that the unfair discrimination was intentional. This problem would be particularly acute in cases of indirect discrimination where there is almost always some purpose other than a discriminatory purpose involved in the conduct or action to which objection is taken.

(Emphasis supplied)

E.2 Deconstructing the polarities of binary genders

44. Section 377 criminalizes behaviour that does not conform to the heterosexual expectations of society. In doing so it perpetuates a symbiotic relationship between anti-homosexual legislation and traditional gender roles.

The notion that the nature of relationships is fixed and within the ‘order of nature’ is perpetuated by gender roles, thus excluding homosexuality from the narrative. The effect is described as follows:

“Cultural homophobia thus discourages social behavior that appears to threaten the stability of heterosexual gender roles. These dual normative standards of social and sexual behavior construct the image of a gay man as abnormal because he deviates from the masculine gender role by subjecting himself in the sexual act to another man.”

If individuals as well as society hold strong beliefs about gender roles – that men (to be characteristically reductive) are unemotional, socially dominant, breadwinners that are attracted to women and women are emotional, socially submissive, caretakers that are attracted to men – it is unlikely that such persons or society at large will accept that the idea that two men or two women could maintain a relationship. If such a denial is further grounded in a law, such as Article 377 the effect is to entrench the belief that homosexuality is an aberration that falls outside the ‘normal way of life.’

45. An instructive article by Zachary A. Kramer, notes that a heterosexist society both expects and requires men and women to engage in only opposite-sex sexual relationships. The existence of same-sex relationships is, therefore, repugnant to heterosexist societal expectations. Kramer argues that:

“Discrimination against gays and lesbians reinforces traditional sex roles. The primary thrust of such discrimination is the gender-based stigmatization of gays and lesbians, deriving from the idea that homosexuality departs from traditional gender roles and that “real” men and women should not be attracted to a member of the same sex. This portrayal relies heavily on what Bennett Capers calls the “binary gender system.”

46. Bennett Capers defines the binary gender system as based in “heterosexism,” which he defines as the “institutionalized valorization of heterosexual activity.” Capers, in fact suggests that:

“The sanctioning of discrimination based on sexual orientation perpetuates the subordination not only of lesbians and gays but of women as well.

Heterosexism, then, in its reliance on a bipolar system of sex and gender, reinforces sexism in two ways. First, by penalizing persons who do not conform to a bipolar gender system and rewarding men and women who do, the heterosexist hegemony perpetuates a schema that valorizes passive, dependent women, thus contributing to sexism. Second, heterosexism reinforces sexism because it subordinates the female sex through its hierarchical polarity. Because heterosexism perpetuates sexism, the extension of substantial rights to lesbians and gays, who by definition challenge heterosexism and the concept of a binary gender system, would result in a challenge to sexism and to male power.”

In other words, one cannot simply separate discrimination based on sexual orientation and discrimination based on sex because discrimination based on sexual orientation inherently promulgates ideas about stereotypical notions of sex and gender roles. Taking this further, Andrew Koppelman argues that:

“Similarly, sodomy laws discriminate on the basis of sex-for example, permitting men, but not women, to have sex with women-in order to impose traditional sex roles. The Court has deemed this purpose impermissible in other contexts because it perpetuates the subordination of women. The same concern applies with special force to the sodomy laws, because their function is to maintain the polarities of gender on which the subordination of women depends.”

Koppelman thus suggests that the taboo against homosexuals “polices the boundaries that separate the dominant from the dominated in a social hierarchy.” He expands on this idea, using the analogy of miscegenation, or the interbreeding of races:

“Do statutes that outlaw homosexual sex impose traditional sex roles? One possible answer is that of McLaughlin [McLaughlin v. Florida]: The crime is by definition one of engaging in activity inappropriate to one’s sex. But these statutes’ inconsistency with the Constitution’s command of equality is deeper. Like the miscegenation statutes, the sodomy statutes reflect and reinforce the morality of a hierarchy based on birth. Just as the prohibition of miscegenation preserved the polarities of race on which white supremacy rested, so the prohibition of sodomy preserves the polarities of gender on which rests the subordination of women.”

Statutes like Section 377 give people ammunition to say “this is what a man is” by giving them a law which says “this is what a man is not.” Thus, laws that affect non-heterosexuals rest upon a normative stereotype: “the bald conviction that certain behavior-for example, sex with women-is appropriate for members of one sex, but not for members of the other sex.”

What this shows us is that LGBT individuals as well as those who do not conform to societal expectations of sexual behaviour defy gender stereotypes.

“The construction of gender stereotypes ultimately rests on the assumption that there are two opposite and mutually exclusive biological sexes. The assumption of heterosexuality is central to this gender binary. In a patriarchal context, some of the most serious transgressors are thus: a woman who renounces a man sexual partner or an individual assigned female at birth who renounces womanhood, thereby rejecting the patriarchal system and all other forms of male supervision and control, and an individual assigned male at birth who embraces womanhood, thereby abandoning privilege in favor of that which is deemed subservient, femininity.”

Prohibition of sex discrimination is meant to change traditional practices which legally, and often socially and economically, disadvantage persons on the basis of gender. The case for gay rights undoubtedly seeks justice for gays. But it goes well beyond the concern for the gay community. The effort to end discrimination against gays should be understood as a necessary part of the larger effort to end the inequality of the sexes.

“To be a lesbian is to be perceived (labelled) as someone who has stepped out of line, who has moved out of sexual/economic dependence on a male, who is woman-identified. A lesbian is perceived as someone who can live without a man, and who is therefore (however illogically) against men. A lesbian is perceived as being outside the acceptable, routinized order of things. She is seen as someone who has no societal institutions to protect her and who is not privileged to the protection of individual males. A lesbian is perceived as a threat to the nuclear family, to male dominance and control, to the very heart of sexism.”

Commenting on its link with the essence of Article 15, Tarunabh Khaitan writes:

“But the salience of a case on discrimination against a politically disempowered minority, based purely on the prejudices of a majority, goes beyond the issue of LGBTQ rights. Indian constitutional democracy is at a crossroads…Inclusiveness and pluralism lie at the heart of Article 15, which can be our surest vehicle for the Court to lend its institutional authority to the salience of these ideas in our constitutional identity.”

47. Relationships that tend to undermine the male/female divide are inherently required for the maintenance of a socially imposed gender inequality. Relationships which question the divide are picked up for target and abuse. Section 377 allows this. By attacking these gender roles, members of the affected community, in their move to build communities and relationships premised on care and reciprocity, lay challenge to the idea that relationships, and by extension society, must be divided along hierarchical sexual roles in order to function. For members of the community, hostility and exclusion aimed at them, drive them into hiding, away from public expression and view. It is this discrimination faced by the members of the community, which results in silence, and consequently invisibility, creating barriers, systemic and deliberate, that effect their participation in the work force and thus undermines substantive equality. In the sense that the prohibition of miscegenation was aimed to preserve and perpetuate the polarities of race to protect white supremacy, the prohibition of homosexuality serves to ensure a larger system of social control based on gender and sex.

48. A report prepared by the International Commission of Jurists has documented the persecution faced by the affected community due to the operation of Section 377. The report documents numerous violations inflicted on people under the authority of Section 377. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 1279 persons in 2014 and 1491 in 2015 were arrested under Section 377.

The report documents instances of abuse from law enforcement agencies and how the possibility of persecution under Section 377 prevents redress.Even though acts such as blackmail, assault, and bodily crimes are punishable under penal laws, such methods of seeking redressal are not accessed by those communities given the fear of retaliation or prosecution.

49. The petitioners in the present batch of cases have real life narrations of suffering discrimination, prejudice and hate. In Anwesh Pokkuluri v. UOI, with which this case is connected, the Petitioners are a group of persons belonging to the LGBTQ community, each of whom has excelled in their fields but suffer immensely due to the operation of Section 377. To cope with the growing isolation among the community, these Petitioners, all alumni of Indian Institutes of Technology across the country, created a closed group called “Pravritti”. The group consists of persons from the LGBTQ community. They are faculty members, students, alumni and anyone who has ever stayed on the campus of any IIT in the country. The group was formed in 2012 to help members cope with loneliness and difficulties faced while accepting their identity along with holding open discussions on awareness.

50. Out of twenty Petitioners, sixteen are gay, two are bisexual women and one is a bisexual man. One among the Petitioners is a transwoman. Three of the Petitioners explain that they suffered immense mental agony due to which they were on the verge of committing suicide. Another two stated that speaking about their sexual identity has been difficult, especially since they did not have the support of their families, who, upon learning of their sexual orientation, took them for psychiatric treatment to cure the so-called “disease.”

The families of three Petitioners ignored their sexual identity. One of them qualified to become an Indian Administrative Services officer in an examination which more than 4,00,000 people write each year. But he chose to forgo his dream because of the fear that he would be discriminated against on the ground of his sexuality. Some of them have experienced depression; others faced problems focusing on their studies while growing up; one among them was forced to drop out of high school as she was residing in a girl’s hostel where the authorities questioned her identity.

The parents of one of them brushed his sexuality under the carpet and suggested that he marry a woman. Some doubted whether or not they should continue their relationships given the atmosphere created by Section 377. Several work in organisations that have policies protecting the LGBT community in place. Having faced so much pain in their personal lives, the Petitioners submit that with the continued operation of Section 377, such treatment will be unabated.

51. In Navtej Johar v. Union of India, with which this case is concerned, the Petitioners have set out multiple instances of discrimination and expulsion. The following is a realistic account:

“While society, friends and family are accepting of my sexuality, I cannot be fully open about my identity and my relationships because I constantly fear arrest and violence by the police…Without the existence of this section, the social prejudice and shame that I have faced would have been considerably lessened…the fact that gay people, like me, are recognized only as criminals is deeply upsetting and denies me the dignity and respect that I feel I deserve.

Apart from the visible social manifestations of Section 377, the retention of the provision perpetuates a certain culture. The stereotypes fostered by section 377 have an impact on how other individuals and non-state institutions treat the community. While this behaviour is not sanctioned by Section 377, the existence of the provision nonetheless facilitates it by perpetuating homophobic attitudes and making it almost impossible for victims of abuse to access justice. Thus, the social effects of such a provision, even when it is enforced with zeal, is to sanction verbal harassment, familial fear, restricted access to public spaces and the lack of safe spaces. This results in a denial of the self. Identities are obliterated, denying the entitlement to equal participation and dignity under the Constitution. Section 377 deprives them of an equal citizenship. Referring to the effect of Foucault’s panopticon in inducing “a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power”,

Ryan Goodman writes:

“The state’s relationship to lesbian and gay individuals under a regime of sodomy laws constructs a similar, yet dispersed, structure of observation and surveillance. The public is sensitive to the visibility of lesbians and gays as socially and legally constructed miscreants. Admittedly certain individuals, namely those who are certified with various levels of state authority, are more directly linked to the extension of law’s power. Yet the social effects of sodomy laws are not tied to these specialized agents alone. On the ground level, private individuals also perform roles of policing and controlling lesbian and gay lives in a mimetic relation to the modes of justice itself.”

(Emphasis supplied)

The effect of Section 377, thus, is not merely to criminalize an act, but to criminalize a specific set of identities. Though facially neutral, the effect of the provision is to efface specific identities. These identities are the soul of the LGBT community.

52. The Constitution envisaged a transformation in the order of relations not just between the state and the individual, but also between individuals: in a constitutional order characterized by the Rule of Law, the constitutional commitment to egalitarianism and an anti-discriminatory ethos permeates and infuses these relations. In K S Puttaswamy v. Union of India (“Puttaswamy”)117, this Court affirmed the individual as the bearer of the constitutional guarantee of rights. Such rights are devoid of their guarantee when despite legal recognition, the social, economic and political context enables an atmosphere of continued discrimination. The Constitution enjoins upon every individual a commitment to a constitutional democracy characterized by the principles of equality and inclusion. In a constitutional democracy committed to the protection of individual dignity and autonomy, the state and every individual has a duty to act in a manner that advances and promotes the constitutional order of values.

By criminalizing consensual sexual conduct between two homosexual adults, Section 377 has become the basis not just of prosecutions but of the persecution of members of the affected community. Section 377 leads to the perpetuation of a culture of silence and stigmatization. Section 377 perpetuates notions of morality which prohibit certain relationships as being against the ‘order of nature.’ A criminal provision has sanctioned discrimination grounded on stereotypes imposed on an entire class of persons on grounds prohibited by Article 15(1). This constitutes discrimination on the grounds only of sex and violates the guarantee of non-discrimination in Article 15(1)

53. History has been witness to a systematic stigmatization and exclusion of those who do not conform to societal standards of what is expected of them. Section 377 rests on deep rooted gender stereotypes. In the quest to assert their liberties, people criminalized by the operation of the provision, challenge not only its existence, but also a gamut of beliefs that are strongly rooted in majoritarian standards of what is ‘normal’. In this quest, the attack on the validity of Section 377 is a challenge to a long history of societal discrimination and persecution of people based on their identities. They have been subjugated to a culture of silence and into leading their lives in closeted invisibility. There must come a time when the constitutional guarantee of equality and inclusion will end the decades of discrimination practiced, based on a majoritarian impulse of ascribed gender roles. That time is now.

F. Confronting the closet

54. The right to privacy is intrinsic to liberty, central to human dignity and the core of autonomy. These values are integral to the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution. A meaningful life is a life of freedom and self-respect and nurtured in the ability to decide the course of living. In the nine judge Bench decision in Puttaswamy, this Court conceived of the right to privacy as natural and inalienable. The judgment delivered on behalf of four judges holds:

“Privacy is a concomitant of the right of the individual to exercise control over his or her personality. It finds an origin in the notion that there are certain rights which are natural to or inherent in a human being. Natural rights are inalienable because they are inseparable from the human personality. The human element in life is impossible to conceive without the existence of natural rights…”

Justice Bobde, in his exposition on the form of the ‘right to privacy’ held thus:

“Privacy, with which we are here concerned, eminently qualifies as an inalienable natural right, intimately connected to two values whose protection is a matter of universal moral agreement: the innate dignity and autonomy of man.”

Justice Nariman has written about the inalienable nature of the right to privacy:

“…Fundamental rights, on the other hand, are contained in the Constitution so that there would be rights that the citizens of this country may enjoy despite the governments that they may elect. This is all the more so when a particular fundamental right like privacy of the individual is an “inalienable” right which inheres in the individual because he is a human being. The recognition of such right in the fundamental rights chapter of the Constitution is only a recognition that such right exists notwithstanding the shifting sands of majority governments…”

Justice Sapre, in his opinion, has also sanctified ‘privacy’ as a natural right:

“In my considered opinion, “right to privacy of any individual” is essentially a natural right, which inheres in every human being by birth… It is indeed inseparable and inalienable…it is born with the human being…”

These opinions establish that the right to privacy is a natural right. The judgment of four judges in Puttaswamy held that the right to sexual orientation is an intrinsic part of the right to privacy. To define the scope of the right, it is useful to examine the discussion on the right to sexual orientation in judicial precedents of this Court.

55. Speaking for a two judge Bench in NALSA, Justice K S Radhakrishnan elucidated upon the term ‘sexual orientation’ as differentiable from an individual’s ‘gender identity’, noting that:

“Sexual orientation refers to an individual’s enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to another person. Sexual orientation includes transgender and gender-variant people with heavy sexual orientation and their sexual orientation may or may not change during or after gender transmission, which also includes homo-sexuals, bysexuals, heterosexuals, asexual etc. Gender identity and sexual orientation, as already indicated, are different concepts. Each person’s self-defined sexual orientation and gender identity is integral to their personality and is one of the most basic aspects of self-determination, dignity and freedom…”

Puttaswamy rejected the “test of popular acceptance” employed by this Court in Koushal and affirmed that sexual orientation is a constitutionally guaranteed freedom:

“…The guarantee of constitutional rights does not depend upon their exercise being favourably regarded by majoritarian opinion. The test of popular acceptance does not furnish a valid basis to disregard rights which are conferred with the sanctity of constitutional protection. Discrete and insular minorities face grave dangers of discrimination for the simple reason that their views, beliefs or way of life do not accord with the ‘mainstream’. Yet in a democratic Constitution founded on the rule of law, their rights are as sacred as those conferred on other citizens to protect their freedoms and liberties.

Sexual orientation is an essential attribute of privacy. Discrimination against an individual on the basis of sexual orientation is deeply offensive to the dignity and self-worth of the individual. Equality demands that the sexual orientation of each individual in society must be protected on an even platform. The right to privacy and the protection of sexual orientation lie at the core of the fundamental rights guaranteed by Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution.”

Rejecting the notion that the rights of the LGBT community can be construed as illusory, the court held that the right to privacy claimed by sexual minorities is a constitutionally entrenched right:

“…The rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population cannot be construed to be “so-called rights”. The expression “so-called” seems to suggest the exercise of a liberty in the garb of a right which is illusory. This is an inappropriate construction of the privacy based claims of the LGBT population. Their rights are not “so-called” but are real rights founded on sound constitutional doctrine. They inhere in the right to life. They dwell in privacy and dignity. They constitute the essence of liberty and freedom. Sexual orientation is an essential component of identity. Equal protection demands protection of the identity of every individual without discrimination.”

Justice Kaul, concurring with the recognition of sexual orientation as an aspect of privacy, noted that:

“…The sexual orientation even within the four walls of the house thus became an aspect of debate. I am in agreement with the view of Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud, J., who in paragraphs 144 to 146 of his judgment, states that the right of privacy cannot be denied, even if there is a miniscule fraction of the population which is affected. The majoritarian concept does not apply to Constitutional rights and the Courts are often called up on to take what may be categorized as a non-majoritarian view, in the check and balance of power envisaged under the Constitution of India. One’s sexual orientation is undoubtedly an attribute of privacy…”

With these observations by five of the nine judges in Puttaswamy, the basis on which Koushal upheld the validity of Section 377 stands eroded and even disapproved.

56. We must now consider the impact of Section 377 on the exercise of the right to privacy by sexual minorities. Legislation does not exist in a vacuum. The social ramifications of Section 377 are enormous. While facially Section 377 only criminalizes certain “acts”, and not relationships, it alters the prism through which a member of the LGBTQ is viewed. Conduct and identity are conflated. The impact of criminalising non-conforming sexual relations is that individuals who fall outside the spectrum of heteronormative sexual identity are perceived as criminals.

57. World over, sexual minorities have struggled to find acceptance in the heteronormative structure that is imposed by society. In her book titled ‘Epistemology of the Closet’, Eve Sedgwick states that “the closet is the defining structure for gay oppression in this century.” The closet is symbolic of the exclusion faced by them:

“Closets exist and they hide social information. They hide certain socially proscribed sexual desires, certain unnamable sexual acts deemed ‘unnatural’ by the cultural context and law, certain identities which dare not speak their name and certain forms of behaviour which can make an individual susceptible to stigma and oppression. The closet does not simply hide this susceptibility; it hides stigma and oppression itself. It marks the silencing of different voices, a silence which is achieved by a gross violation of lives that inhabit the closet, through both violence and pain inflicted by significant others both within and without the closet and instances of self-inflicted pain and violence. The closet also hides pleasure, myriad sexual expressions and furtive encounters that gratify the self. The closet also conceals the possibility of disease and death.”

The existing heteronormative framework – which recognises only sexual relations that conform to social norms – is legitimized by the taint of ‘unnaturalness’ that Section 377 lends to sexual relations outside this framework. The notion of ‘unnatural acts’, viewed in myopic terms of a “fixed procreational model of sexual functioning”, is improperly applied to sexual relations between consenting adults.Sexual activity between adults and based on consent must be viewed as a “natural expression” of human sexual competences and sensitivities. The refusal to accept these acts amounts to a denial of the distinctive human capacities for sensual experience outside of the realm of procreative sex.

58. To deny the members of the LGBT community the full expression of the right to sexual orientation is to deprive them of their entitlement to full citizenship under the Constitution. The denial of the right to sexual orientation is also a denial of the right to privacy. The application of Section 377 causes a deprivation of the fundamental right to privacy which inheres in every citizen. This Court is entrusted with the duty to act as a safeguard against such violations of human rights. Justice Chelameswar, in his judgement in Puttaswamy, held that:

“To sanctify an argument that whatever is not found in the text of the Constitution cannot become a part of the Constitution would be too primitive an understanding of the Constitution and contrary to settled cannons of constitutional interpretation. Such an approach regarding the rights and liberties of citizens would be an affront to the collective wisdom of our people and the wisdom of the members of the Constituent Assembly…”

59 .The exercise of the natural and inalienable right to privacy entails allowing an individual the right to a self-determined sexual orientation. Thus, it is imperative to widen the scope of the right to privacy to incorporate a right to ‘sexual privacy’ to protect the rights of sexual minorities. Emanating from the inalienable right to privacy, the right to sexual privacy must be granted the sanctity of a natural right, and be protected under the Constitution as fundamental to liberty and as a soulmate of dignity.

60. Citizens of a democracy cannot be compelled to have their lives pushed into obscurity by an oppressive colonial legislation. In order to ensure to sexual and gender minorities the fulfilment of their fundamental rights, it is imperative to ‘confront the closet’ and, as a necessary consequence, confront ‘compulsory heterosexuality.’Confronting the closet would entail “reclaiming markers of all desires, identities and acts which challenge it.” It would also entail ensuring that individuals belonging to sexual minorities, have the freedom to fully participate in public life, breaking the invisible barrier that heterosexuality imposes upon them. The choice of sexuality is at the core of privacy. But equally, our constitutional jurisprudence must recognise that the public assertion of identity founded in sexual orientation is crucial to the exercise of freedoms.

61. In conceptualising a right to sexual privacy, it is important to consider how the delineation of ‘public’ and ‘private’ spaces affects the lives of the LGBTIQ community. Members of the community have argued that to base their claims on a right to privacy is of no utility to individuals who do not possess the privilege of a private space. In fact, even for individuals who have access to private spaces the conflation of ‘private’ with home and family may be misplaced. The home is often reduced to a public space as heteronormativity within the family can force the individual to remain inside the closet. Thus, even the conception of a private space for certain individuals is utopian.

62. Privacy creates “tiers of ‘reputable’ and ‘disreputable’ sex”, only granting protection to acts behind closed doors. Thus, it is imperative that the protection granted for consensual acts in private must also be available in situations where sexual minorities are vulnerable in public spaces on account of their sexuality and appearance. If one accepts the proposition that public places are heteronormative, and same-sex sexual acts partially closeted, relegating ‘homosexual’ acts into the private sphere, would in effect reiterate the “ambient heterosexism of the public space.” It must be acknowledged that members belonging to sexual minorities are often subjected to harassment in public spaces. The right to sexual privacy, founded on the right to autonomy of a free individual, must capture the right of persons of the community to navigate public places on their own terms, free from state interference.

F.I Sexual privacy and autonomy- deconstructing the heteronormative framework

63. In the absence of a protected zone of privacy, individuals are forced to conform to societal stereotypes. Puttaswamy has characterised the right to privacy as a shield against forced homogeneity and as an essential attribute to achieve personhood:

“…Recognizing a zone of privacy is but an acknowledgment that each individual must be entitled to chart and pursue the course of development of personality. Hence privacy is a postulate of human dignity itself. Thoughts and behavioural patterns which are intimate to an individual are entitled to a zone of privacy where one is free of social expectations. In that zone of privacy, an individual is not judged by others. Privacy enables each individual to take crucial decisions which find expression in the human personality. It enables individuals to preserve their beliefs, thoughts, expressions, ideas, ideologies, preferences and choices against societal demands of homogeneity.

Privacy is an intrinsic recognition of heterogeneity, of the right of the individual to be different and to stand against the tide of conformity in creating a zone of solitude. Privacy protects the individual from the searching glare of publicity in matters which are personal to his or her life. Privacy attaches to the person and not to the place where it is associated.”

This Court has recognized the right of an individual to break free from the demands of society and the need to foster a plural and inclusive culture. The judgment of four judges in Puttaswamy, for instance, held that:

“Privacy constitutes the foundation of all liberty because it is in privacy that the individual can decide how liberty is best exercised. Individual dignity and privacy are inextricably linked in a pattern woven out of a thread of diversity into the fabric of a plural culture.”

64. In Santosh Singh v Union of India (2018) 8 SCC 253, a two-judge Bench of this Court dismissed a petition under Article 32 seeking a direction to the Central Board of Secondary Education to include moral science as a compulsory subject in the school syllabus in order to inculcate moral values. One of us (Chandrachud J) underscored the importance of accepting a plurality of ideas and tolerance of radically different views:

“Morality is one and, however important it may sound to some, it still is only one element in the composition of values that a just society must pursue. There are other equally significant values which a democratic society may wish for education to impart to its young. Among those is the acceptance of a plurality and diversity of ideas, images and faiths which unfortunately faces global threats. Then again, equally important is the need to foster tolerance of those who hold radically differing views, empathy for those whom the economic and social milieu has cast away to the margins, a sense of compassion and a realisation of the innate humanity which dwells in each human being. Value based education must enable our young to be aware of the horrible consequences of prejudice, hate and discrimination that continue to threaten people and societies the world over…”

The right to privacy enables an individual to exercise his or her autonomy, away from the glare of societal expectations. The realisation of the human personality is dependent on the autonomy of an individual. In a liberal democracy, recognition of the individual as an autonomous person is an acknowledgment of the State’s respect for the capacity of the individual to make independent choices. The right to privacy may be construed to signify that not only are certain acts no longer immoral, but that there also exists an affirmative moral right to do them. As noted by Richards, this moral right emerges from the autonomy to which the individual is entitled:

“Autonomy, in the sense fundamental to the theory of human rights, is an empirical assumption that persons as such have a range of capacities that enables them to develop, and act upon plans of action that take as their object one’s life and the way it is lived. The consequence of these capacities of autonomy is that humans can make independent decisions regarding what their life shall be, self-critically reflecting, as a separate being, which of one’s first-order desires will be developed and which disowned, which capacities cultivated and which left barren, with whom one will or will not identify, or what one will define and pursue as needs and aspirations. In brief, autonomy gives to persons the capacity to call their life their own. The development of these capacities for separation and individuation is, from birth, the central developmental task of becoming a person.”

65. In Common Cause (A Registered Society) v. Union of India (“Common Cause”) (2018) 5 SCC 1, a Constitution Bench of this Court held that the right to die with dignity is integral to the right to life recognised by the Constitution and an individual possessing competent mental faculties is entitled to express his or her autonomy by the issuance of an advance medical directive:

“The protective mantle of privacy covers certain decisions that fundamentally affect the human life cycle. It protects the most personal and intimate decisions of individuals that affect their life and development. Thus, choices and decisions on matters such as procreation, contraception and marriage have been held to be protected. While death is an inevitable end in the trajectory of the cycle of human life individuals are often faced with choices and decisions relating to death. Decisions relating to death, like those relating to birth, sex, and marriage, are protected by the Constitution by virtue of the right of privacy…”

Autonomy and privacy are inextricably linked. Each requires the other for its full realization. Their interrelationship has been recognised in Puttaswamy:

“…Privacy postulates the reservation of a private space for the individual, described as the right to be left alone. The concept is founded on the autonomy of the individual. The ability of an individual to make choices lies at the core of the human personality. The notion of privacy enables the individual to assert and control the human element which is inseparable from the personality of the individual. The inviolable nature of the human personality is manifested in the ability to make decisions on matters intimate to human life. The autonomy of the individual is associated over matters which can be kept private. These are concerns over which there is a legitimate expectation of privacy…”

In order to understand how sexual choices are an essential attribute of autonomy, it is useful to refer to John Rawls’ theory on social contract. Rawls’ conception of the ‘Original Position’ serves as a constructive model to illustrate the notion of choice behind a “partial veil of ignorance.” Persons behind the veil are assumed to be rational and mutually disinterested individuals, unaware of their positions in society. The strategy employed by Rawls is to focus on a category of goods which an individual would desire irrespective of what individuals’ conception of ‘good’ might be. These neutrally desirable goods are described by Rawls as ‘primary social goods’ and may be listed as rights, liberties, powers, opportunities, income, wealth, and the constituents of self-respect. Rawls’s conception of self-respect, as a primary human good, is intimately connected to the idea of autonomy. Self-respect is founded on an individual’s ability to exercise her native capacities in a competent manner.

66. An individual’s sexuality cannot be put into boxes or compartmentalized; it should rather be viewed as fluid, granting the individual the freedom to ascertain her own desires and proclivities. The self-determination of sexual orientation is an exercise of autonomy. Accepting the role of human sexuality as an independent force in the development of personhood is an acknowledgement of the crucial role of sexual autonomy in the idea of a free individual. Such an interpretation of autonomy has implications for the widening application of human rights to sexuality. Sexuality cannot be construed as something that the State has the prerogative to legitimize only in the form of rigid, marital procreational sex. Sexuality must be construed as a fundamental experience through which individuals define the meaning of their lives. Human sexuality cannot be reduced to a binary formulation. Nor can it be defined narrowly in terms of its function as a means to procreation. To confine it to closed categories would result in denuding human liberty of its full content as a constitutional right. The Constitution protects the fluidities of sexual experience. It leaves it to consenting adults to find fulfilment in their relationships, in a diversity of cultures, among plural ways of life and in infinite shades of love and longing.

F.2 A right to intimacy- celebration of sexual agency

67. By criminalising consensual acts between individuals who wish to exercise their constitutionally-protected right to sexual orientation, the State is denying its citizens the right to intimacy. The right to intimacy emanates from an individual’s prerogative to engage in sexual relations on their own terms. It is an exercise of the individual’s sexual agency, and includes the individual’s right to the choice of partner as well as the freedom to decide on the nature of the relationship that the individual wishes to pursue.

In Shakti Vahini v. Union of India (2018) SCC Online SC 275, a three judge Bench of this Court issued directives to prevent honour killings at the behest of Khap Panchayats and protect persons who enter into marriages that do not have the approval of the Panchayats. The Court recognised the right to choose a life partner as a fundamental right under Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution. The learned Chief Justice held:

“…when two adults consensually choose each other as life partners, it is a manifestation of their choice which is recognized under Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution. Such a right has the sanction of the constitutional law and once that is recognized, the said right needs to be protected and it cannot succumb to the conception of class honour or group thinking which is conceived of on some notion that remotely does not have any legitimacy.”

In Shafin Jahan v. Asokan (2018) SCC Online SC 343, this Court set aside a Kerala High Court judgement which annulled the marriage of a twenty-four year old woman with a man of her choice in a habeas corpus petition instituted by her father. The Court upheld her right to choose of a life partner as well as her autonomy in the sphere of “intimate personal decisions.” The Chief Justice held thus:

“…expression of choice in accord with law is acceptance of individual identity. Curtailment of that expression and the ultimate action emanating therefrom on the conceptual structuralism of obeisance to the societal will destroy the individualistic entity of a person. The social values and morals have their space but they are not above the constitutionally guaranteed freedom …”

(Emphasis supplied)

One of us (Chandrachud J) recognised the right to choose a partner as an important facet of autonomy:

“…The choice of a partner whether within or outside marriage lies within the exclusive domain of each individual. Intimacies of marriage lie within a core zone of privacy, which is inviolable. The absolute right of an individual to choose a life partner is not in the least affected by matters of faith…Social approval for intimate personal decisions is not the basis for recognising them…”

(Emphasis supplied)

The judgement in Shafin Jahan delineates a space where an individual enjoys the autonomy of making intimate personal decisions:

“The strength of the Constitution, therefore, lies in the guarantee which it affords that each individual will have a protected entitlement in determining a choice of partner to share intimacies within or outside marriage.”

In furtherance of the Rawlsian notion of self-respect as a primary good, individuals must not be denied the freedom to form relationships based on sexual intimacy. Consensual sexual relationships between adults, based on the human propensity to experience desire must be treated with respect. In addition to respect for relationships based on consent, it is important to foster a society where individuals find the ability for unhindered expression of the love that they experience towards their partner. This “institutionalized expression to love” must be considered an important element in the full actualisation of the ideal of self-respect. Social institutions must be arranged in such a manner that individuals have the freedom to enter into relationships untrammelled by binary of sex and gender and receive the requisite institutional recognition to perfect their relationships.

The law provides the legitimacy for social institutions. In a democratic framework governed by the rule of law, the law must be consistent with the constitutional values of liberty, dignity and autonomy. It cannot be allowed to become a yoke on the full expression of the human personality. By penalising sexual conduct between consenting adults, Section 377 imposes moral notions which are anachronistic to a constitutional order. While ostensibly penalising ‘acts’, it impacts upon the identity of the LGBT community and denies them the benefits of a full and equal citizenship. Section 377 is based on a stereotype about sex. Our Constitution which protects sexual orientation must outlaw any law which lends the authority of the state to obstructing its fulfilment.

G Section 377 and the right to health

“Should medicine ever fulfil its great ends, it must enter into the larger political and social life of our time; it must indicate the barriers which obstruct the normal completion of the life cycle and remove them.” – Virchow Rudolf

68. In the evolution of its jurisprudence on the constitutional right to life under Article 21, this Court has consistently held that the right to life is meaningless unless accompanied by the guarantee of certain concomitant rights including, but not limited to, the right to health. The right to health is understood to be indispensable to a life of dignity and well-being, and includes, for instance, the right to emergency medical care and the right to the maintenance and improvement of public health.C.E.S.C. Limited v. Subhash Chandra Bose, (1992) 1 SCC 441; Consumer Education and Research Centre v. UOI, (1995) 3 SCC 42; Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samity v. State of West Bengal, (1996) 4 SCC 37; Society for Unaided Private Schools of Rajasthan v. Union of India, (2012) 6 SCC 1; Devika Biswas v. Union of India & Ors., (2016) 10 SCC 726; Common Cause v. Union of India & Ors., (2018) 5 SCC 1

It would be useful to refer to judgments of this Court which have recognised the right to health.

In Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India (1984) 3 SCC 161, a three-judge Bench identified the right to health within the right to life and dignity. In doing so, this Court drew on the Directive Principles of State Policy:

“It is the fundamental right of every one in this country … to live with human dignity, free from exploitation. This right to live with human dignity enshrined in Article 21 derives its life breath from the Directive Principles of State Policy and particularly Clauses (e) and (f) of Article 39 and Articles 41 and 42 and at the least, therefore, it must include protection of the health and strength of workers men and women, and of the tender age of children against abuse, opportunities and facilities for children to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity, educational facilities, just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief.

These are the minimum requirements which must exist in order to enable a person to live with human dignity and no State neither the Central Government nor any State Government-has the right to take any action which will deprive a person of the enjoyment of these basic essentials.”

(Emphasis supplied)

In Consumer Education & Research Centre v. Union of India (“CERC”) (1996) 3 SCC 42, a Bench of three judges dealt with the right to health of workers in asbestos industries. While laying down mandatory guidelines to be followed for the well-being of workers, the Court held that:

“The right to health to a worker is an integral facet of meaningful right to life to have not only a meaningful existence but also robust health and vigour without which worker would lead life of misery. Lack of health denudes his livelihood…Therefore, it must be held that the right to health and medical care is a fundamental right under

Article 21 read with Articles 39(c), 41 and 43 of the Constitution and makes the life of the workman meaningful and purposeful with dignity of person. Right to life includes protection of the health and strength of the worker and is a minimum requirement to enable a person to live with human dignity.”

(Emphasis supplied)

In a dissenting judgment in C.E.S.C. Limited v. Subhash Chandra Bose (1992) 1 SCC 441, K Ramaswamy J observed that:

“Health is thus a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. In the light of Articles. 22 to 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and in the light of socio-economic justice assured in our constitution, right to health is a fundamental human right to workmen. The maintenance of health is a most imperative constitutional goal whose realisation requires interaction by many social and economic factors”

(Emphasis supplied)

In Kirloskar Brothers Ltd. V. Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (1998) 2 SCC 682, a three-judge Bench of this Court considered the applicability of the Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948 to the regional offices of the Appellant, observing that:

“Health is thus a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. Right to health, therefore, is a fundamental and human right to the workmen. The maintenance of health is the most imperative constitutional goal whose realisation requires interaction of many social and economic factors.”

In State of Punjab v. Ram Lubhaya Bagga (1998) 4 SCC 117, a three-judge Bench of this Court considered a challenge to the State of Punjab’s medical reimbursement policy. A.P. Mishra J, speaking for the Bench, observed that:

“Pith and substance of life is the health, which is the nucleus of all activities of life including that of an employee or other viz. the physical, social, spiritual or any conceivable human activities. If this is denied, it is said everything crumbles.

This Court has time and again emphasised to the Government and other authorities for focussing and giving priority and other authorities for focussing and giving priority to the health of its, citizen, which not only makes one’s life meaningful, improves one’s efficiency, but in turn gives optimum out put.”

In Smt M Vijaya v. The Chairman and Managing Director Singareni Collieries Co. Ltd. (2001) 5 ALD 522, a five judge Bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court considered a case where a girl was infected with HIV due to the negligence of hospital authorities. The Court observed that:

“Article 21 of the Constitution of India provides that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. By reason of numerous judgments of the Apex Court the horizons of Article 21 of the Constitution have been expanded recognising various rights of the citizens i.e…right to health…

It is well settled that right to life guaranteed under Article 21 is not mere animal existence. It is a right to enjoy all faculties of life. As a necessary corollary, right to life includes right to healthy life.”

In Devika Biswas v. Union of India (2016) 10 SCC 726, while hearing a public interest petition concerning several deaths that had taken place due to unsanitary conditions in sterilization camps across the country, a two judge Bench of this Court held that:

“It is well established that the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution includes the right to lead a dignified and meaningful life and the right to health is an integral facet of this right…That the right to health is an integral part of the right to life does not need any repetition.”

In his concurring judgment in Common Cause v. Union of India, Sikri J, noted the inextricable link between the right to health and dignity:

“There is a related, but interesting, aspect of this dignity which needs to be emphasised. Right to health is a part of Article 21 of the Constitution. At the same time, it is also a harsh reality that everybody is not able to enjoy that right because of poverty etc. The State is not in a position to translate into reality this right to health for all citizens. Thus, when citizens are not guaranteed the right to health, can they be denied right to die in dignity?”

(Emphasis supplied)

In addition to the constitutional recognition granted to the right to health, the right to health is also recognised in international treaties, covenants, and agreements which India has ratified, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966 (“ICESCR”) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (“UDHR”). Article 25 of the UDHR recognizes the right to health: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.”

69. Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“ICESCR”) recognizes the right of all persons to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health: “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”

Article 12.2 requires States Parties to take specific steps to improve the health of their citizens, including creating conditions to ensure equal and timely access to medical services. In its General Comment No. 14, the UN Economic and Social Council stated that States must take measures to respect, protect and fulfil the health of all persons. States are obliged to ensure the availability and accessibility of health-related information, education, facilities, goods and services, without discrimination, especially for vulnerable and marginalized populations.

Pursuant to General Comment No. 14, India is required to provide marginalized populations, including members of the LGBTIQ community, goods and services that are available (in sufficient quantity), accessible (physically, geographically, economically and in a non-discriminatory manner), acceptable (respectful of culture and medical ethics) and of quality (scientifically and medically appropriate and of good quality).

70. As early as 1948, the World Health Organization (“WHO”) defined the term ‘health’ broadly to mean “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Even today, for a significant number of Indian citizens this standard of health remains an elusive aspiration. of relevance to the present case, a particular class of citizens is denied the benefits of this constitutional enunciation of the right to health because of their most intimate sexual choices.

71. Sexuality is a natural and precious aspect of life, an essential and fundamental part of our humanity. Sexual rights are entitlements related to sexuality and emanate from the rights to freedom, equality, privacy, autonomy, and dignity of all people For people to attain the highest standard of health, they must also have the right to exercise choice in their sexual lives and feel safe in expressing their sexual identity. However, for some citizens, discrimination, stigma, fear and violence prevent them from attaining basic sexual rights and health.

72. Individuals belonging to sexual and gender minorities experience discrimination, stigmatization, and, in some cases, denial of care on account of their sexual orientation and gender identity. However, it is important to note that ‘sexual and gender minorities’ do not constitute a homogenous group, and experiences of social exclusion, marginalization, and discrimination, as well as specific health needs, vary considerably.

Nevertheless, these individuals are united by one factor – that their exclusion, discrimination and marginalization is rooted in societal heteronormativity and society’s pervasive bias towards gender binary and opposite-gender relationships, which marginalizes and excludes all non-heteronormative sexual and gender identities.This, in turn, has important implications for individuals’ health-seeking behaviour, how health services are provided, and the extent to which sexual health can be achieved.

73. The term ‘sexual health’ was first defined in a 1975 WHO Technical Report series as “the integration of the somatic, emotional, intellectual and social aspects of sexual being, in ways that are positively enriching and that enhance personality, communication and love.” The WHO’s current working definition of sexual health is as follows:

“…a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.”

The WHO further states that “sexual health cannot be defined, understood or made operational without a broad consideration of sexuality, which underlies important behaviours and outcomes related to sexual health.” It defines sexuality thus:

“…a central aspect of being human throughout life encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and relationships. While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors.”

74. A report entitled “Sexual Health, Human Rights and the Law”, published by the WHO in 2015 explores the relationship between these concepts. The report notes that “human sexuality includes many different forms of behaviour and expression, and that the recognition of the diversity of sexual behaviour and expression contributes to people’s overall sense of health and well-being.” It emphasizes the importance of sexual health by stating that not only is it essential to the physical and emotional well-being of individuals, couples and families, but it is also fundamental to the social and economic development of communities and countries. The ability of individuals to progress towards sexual health and well-being depends on various factors, including “access to comprehensive information about sexuality, knowledge about the risks they face and their vulnerability to the adverse consequences of sexual activity; access to good quality sexual health care, and an environment that affirms and promotes sexual health.”

75. The International Women’s Health Coalition has located the right to sexual health within ‘sexual rights’, defined as follows:

“Sexual rights embrace certain human rights that are already recognized in national laws, international human rights documents, and other consensus documents. They rest on the recognition that all individuals have the right-free of coercion, violence, and discrimination of any kind-to the highest attainable standard of sexual health; to pursue a satisfying, safe, and pleasurable sexual life; to have control over and decide freely, and with due regard for the rights of others, on matters related to their sexuality, reproduction, sexual orientation, bodily integrity, choice of partner, and gender identity; and to the services, education, and information, including comprehensive sexuality education, necessary to do so.”

The discussion of ‘sexual rights’ (as they pertain to sexuality and sexual orientation) within the framework of the right to health is a relatively new phenomenon:

“..Before the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, and the subsequent 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, sexuality, sexual rights, and sexual diversity had not formed part of the international health and human rights discourse. These newly emerged “sexual rights” were founded on the principles of bodily integrity, personhood, equality, and diversity.”

(Emphasis supplied)

76. The operation of Section 377 denies consenting adults the full realization of their right to health, as well as their sexual rights. It forces consensual sex between adults into a realm of fear and shame, as persons who engage in anal and oral intercourse risk criminal sanctions if they seek health advice. This lowers the standard of health enjoyed by them and particularly by members of sexual and gender minorities, in relation to the rest of society.

77. The right to health is not simply the right not to be unwell, but rather the right to be well. It encompasses not just the absence of disease or infirmity, but “complete physical, mental and social well being”, and includes both freedoms such as the right to control one’s health and body and to be free from interference (for instance, from non-consensual medical treatment and experimentation), and entitlements such as the right to a system of healthcare that gives everyone an equal opportunity to enjoy the highest attainable level of health.

78. The jurisprudence of this Court, in recognizing the right to health and access to medical care, demonstrates the crucial distinction between negative and positive obligations. Article 21 does not impose upon the State only negative obligations not to act in such a way as to interfere with the right to health. This Court also has the power to impose positive obligations upon the State to take measures to provide adequate resources or access to treatment facilities to secure effective enjoyment of the right to health.

79. A study of sexuality and its relationship to the right to health in South Africa points to several other studies that suggest a negative correlation between sexual orientation-based discrimination and the right to health:

“For example, in a Canadian study, Brotman and colleagues found that being open about their sexual orientation in health care settings contributed to experiences of discrimination for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.”

“Lane and colleagues interviewed men who have sex with men in Soweto, and revealed that all men who disclosed their sexual orientation at public health facilities had experienced some form of discrimination. Such discrimination [‘ranging from verbal abuse to denial of care’199], and also the anticipation thereof, leads to delays when seeking sexual health services such as HIV counseling and testing.”

80. Alexandra Muller describes the story of two individuals who experienced such discrimination. T, a gay man, broke both his arms while fleeing from a group of people that attacked him because of his sexuality. At the hospital, the staff learned about T’s sexual orientation, and pejoratively discussed it in his presence. He also had to endure “a local prayer group that visited the ward daily to provide spiritual support to patients” which “prayed at his bedside to rectify his “devious” sexuality. When he requested that they leave, or that he be transferred to another ward, the nurses did not intervene, and the prayer group visited regularly to continue to recite their homophobic prayers. T did not file an official complaint, fearing future ramifications in accessing care. Following his discharge, he decided not to return for follow up appointments and had his casts removed at another facility.

Another woman, P, who had been with her female partner for three years, wanted to get tested for HIV. The nurse at the hospital asked certain questions to discern potential risk behaviours. When asked why she did not use condoms or contraception, P revealed that she did not need to on account of her sexuality. The nurse immediately exclaimed that P was not at risk for HIV, and that she should “go home and not waste her time any longer.” P has not attempted to have another HIV test since.

These examples are illustrative of a wider issue: individuals across the world are denied access to equal healthcare on the basis of their sexual orientation. That people are intimidated or blatantly denied healthcare access on a discriminatory basis around the world proves that this issue is not simply an ideological tussle playing out in classrooms and courtrooms, but an issue detrimentally affecting individuals on the ground level and violating their rights including the right to health.

81. The right to health is one of the major rights at stake in the struggle for equality amongst gender and sexual minorities:

“The right to physical and mental health is at conflict with discriminatory policies and practices, some physicians’ homophobia, the lack of adequate training for health care personnel regarding sexual orientation issues or the general assumption that patients are heterosexuals.”

While the enumeration of the right to equal healthcare is crucial, an individual’s sexual health is also equally significant to holistic well-being. A healthy sex life is integral to an individual’s physical and mental health, regardless of whom an individual is attracted to. Criminalising certain sexual acts, thereby shunning them from the mainstream discourse, would invariably lead to situations of unsafe sex, coercion, and a lack of sound medical advice and sexual education, if any at all.

82. A report by the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard School of Public Health defines the term ‘sexual health’ as follows:

“A state of physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being in relation to sexuality. Like health generally, it is not merely the absence of disease, but encompasses positive and complex experiences of sexuality as well as freedom to determine sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”

83. Laws that criminalize same-sex intercourse create social barriers to accessing healthcare, and curb the effective prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS.Criminal laws are the strongest expression of the State’s power to punish certain acts and behaviour, and it is therefore incumbent upon the State to ensure full protection for all persons, including the specific needs of sexual minorities. The equal protection of law mandates the state to fulfill this constitutional obligation. Indeed, the state is duty bound to revisit its laws and executive decisions to ensure that they do not deny equality before the law and the equal protection of laws. That the law must not discriminate is one aspect of equality. But there is more. The law must take affirmative steps to achieve equal protection of law to all its citizens, irrespective of sexual orientation.

In regard to sexuality and health, it is important to distinguish between behaviour that is harmful to others, such as rape and coerced sex, and that which is not, such as consensual same-sex conduct between adults, conduct related to gender-expression such as cross-dressing, as well as seeking or providing sexual and reproductive health information and services. The use of criminal laws in relation to an expanding range of otherwise consensual sexual conduct has been found to be discriminatory by international and domestic courts, often together with violations of other human rights, such as the rights to privacy, self-determination, human dignity and health.

G.I Section 377 and HIV prevention efforts

84. Section 377 has a significant detrimental impact on the right to health of those persons who are susceptible to contracting HIV – men who have sex with men (“MSM”)208 and transgender persons.The Global Commission on HIV and the Law has noted the impact of Section 377 on the right of health of persons afflicted with or vulnerable to contracting HIV:

“The law and its institutions can protect the dignity of all people living with HIV, and in so doing fortify those most vulnerable to HIV, so-called “key populations”, such as sex workers, MSM, transgender people, prisoners and migrants.

The law can open the doors to justice when these people’s rights are trampled…. But the law can also do grave harm to the bodies and spirits of people living with HIV. It can perpetuate discrimination and isolate the people most vulnerable to HIV from the programmes that would help them to avoid or cope with the virus. By dividing people into criminals and victims or sinful and innocent, the legal environment can destroy the social, political, and economic solidarity that is necessary to overcome this global epidemic.”

85. Mr Anand Grover, learned Senior Counsel in his submissions, highlighted the vulnerability of MSM and transgender persons. According to a study published by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, MSM were found to be 19 times more susceptible to be infected with HIV than other adult men.

86. The UN Human Rights Committee has recognized the impact of the criminalization of homosexuality on the spread of HIV/AIDS. In Toonen v Australia, a homosexual man from Tasmania, where homosexual sex was criminalized, argued that criminalization of same-sex activities between consenting adults was an infringement of his right to privacy under Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”). The Committee rejected the argument of the Tasmanian authorities that the law was justified on grounds of public health and morality as it was enacted to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in Tasmania. The Committee observed that:

“… the criminalization of homosexual practices cannot be considered a reasonable means or proportionate measure to achieve the aim of preventing the spread of AIDS/HIV …

Criminalization of homosexual activity thus would appear to run counter to the implementation of effective education programmes in respect of the HIV/AIDS prevention. Secondly, the Committee notes that no link has been shown between the continued criminalization of homosexual activity and the effective control of the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus.”

In response to the Committee’s decision, a law was enacted to overcome the Tasmanian law criminalizing homosexual sex.

87. Section 377 has had far-reaching consequences for this “key population”, pushing them out of the public health system. MSM and transgender persons may not approach State health care providers for fear of being prosecuted for engaging in criminalized intercourse. Studies show that it is the stigma attached to these individuals that contributes to increased sexual risk behaviour and/or decreased use of HIV prevention services.

88. The silence and secrecy that accompanies institutional discrimination may foster conditions which encourage escalation of the incidence of HIV/AIDS. The key population is stigmatized by health providers, employers and other service providers. As a result, there exist serious obstacles to effective HIV prevention and treatment as discrimination and harassment can hinder access to HIV and sexual health services and prevention programmes.

89. An incisive article, based on extensive empirical research carried out in various countries, has concluded that there is a demonstrable relationship between “laws which criminalize same-sex conduct and adverse health effects on HIV-AIDs rates as well as other health indicators for the MSM community” due to poor access to key HIV prevention tools and outreach programmes. According to a report published by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (“UNAIDS”), in Caribbean countries where same-sex relations are criminalised, almost one in four MSMs is infected with HIV.

In the absence of such criminal provisions, the prevalence of HIV is one in fifteen among MSMs.

90. Closer to home, the UNAIDS project found that in the four years following the judgement in Naz, there had been an increase of more than 50% in the number of healthcare centers providing HIV services to MSM and transgender persons in India. If same-sex relations remain criminalised, it is likely that HIV interventions for MSMs will continue to be inadequate, MSMs will continue to be marginalised from health services, and the prevalence of HIV will exacerbate.

91. To safeguard the health of persons who are at the greatest risk of HIV infection, it is imperative that access is granted to effective HIV prevention and treatment services and commodities such as clean needles, syringes, condoms and lubricants A needle or a condom can only be considered a concrete representation of the entitlements of vulnerable groups: the fundamental human rights of dignity, autonomy and freedom from ill- treatment, along with the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, without regard to sexuality or legal status. This is the mandate of the Directive Principles contained in Part IV of the Constitution.

92. In 2017, Parliament enacted the HIV (Prevention and Control) Act, to provide for the prevention and control of the spread of HIV/AIDS and for the protection of the human rights of persons affected. Parliament recognized the importance of prevention interventions for vulnerable groups including MSMs. Section 22 of this Act provides for protection against criminal sanctions as well as any civil liability arising out of promoting actions or practices or “any strategy or mechanism or technique” undertaken for reducing the risk of HIV transmission. Illustrations (a) and (b) to Section 22 read as follows:

“(a) A supplies condoms to B who is a sex worker or to C, who is a client of B. Neither A nor B nor C can be held criminally or civilly liable for such actions or be prohibited, impeded, restricted or prevented from implementing or using the strategy.

(b) M carries on an intervention project on HIV or AIDS and sexual health information, education and counselling for men, who have sex with men, provides safer sex information, material and condoms to N, who has sex with other men. Neither M nor N can be held criminally or civilly liable for such actions or be prohibited, impeded, restricted or prevented from implementing or using the intervention.”

Persons who engage in anal or oral intercourse face significant sexual health risks due to the operation of Section 377. Prevalence rates of HIV are high, particularly among men who have sex with men. Discrimination, stigma and a lack of knowledge on the part of many healthcare providers means that these individuals often cannot and do not access the health care they need. In order to promote sexual health and reduce HIV transmission among LGBT individuals, it is imperative that the availability, effectiveness, and quality of health services to the LGBT community be significantly improved.

Under our constitutional scheme, no minority group must suffer deprivation of a constitutional right because they do not adhere to the majoritarian way of life. By the application of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, MSM and transgender persons are excluded from access to healthcare due to the societal stigma attached to their sexual identity. Being particularly vulnerable to contraction of HIV, this deprivation can only be described as cruel and debilitating. The indignity suffered by the sexual minority cannot, by any means, stand the test of constitutional validity.

G.2 Mental health

93. The treatment of homosexuality as a disorder has serious consequences on the mental health and well-being of LGBT persons. The mental health of citizens “growing up in a culture that devalues and silences same-sex desire” is severely impacted. Global psychiatric expert Dinesh Bhugra has emphasised that radical solutions are needed to combat the high levels of mental illness among the LGBT population stating there is a “clear correlation between political and social environments” and how persecutory laws against LGBT individuals are leading to greater levels of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide. Even in Britain, gay people are at greater risk of a range of mental health problems, and, it is believed, are more likely to take their own lives.

“A number of studies this year have highlighted the disproportionate levels of mental illness among LGBT people. In Britain, one of the world’s most legally equal countries for this community, research in the last few months has revealed that LGBT people are nearly twice as likely to have attempted suicide or harmed themselves, gay men are more than twice as likely to have a mental illness than heterosexual men, and 4 in 5 transgender people have suffered depression in the last five years.”

(Emphasis supplied)

He discusses studies from various countries which indicate that in countries where laws continue to discriminate against LGBT individuals, there are high rates of mental illness. Similarly he states that there have been a series of studies showing that in America, rates of psychiatric disorders have dropped when state policies have recognised the equal rights of LGBT individuals.

94. Mr Chander Uday Singh, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of an intervenor, a psychiatrist, has brought to our notice how even the mental health sector has often reflected the societal prejudice regarding homosexuality as a pathological condition.

95. Medical and scientific authority has now established that consensual same sex conduct is not against the order of nature and that homosexuality is natural and a normal variant of sexuality. Parliament has provided legislative acknowledgment of this global consensus through the enactment of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017. Section 3 of the Act mandates that mental illness is to be determined in accordance with ‘nationally’ or ‘internationally’ accepted medical standards. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) by the World Health Organisation is listed as an internationally accepted medical standard and does not consider non-peno-vaginal sex between consenting adults either a mental disorder or an illness. The Act through Section 18(2) and Section 21 provides for protection against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

The repercussions of prejudice, stigma and discrimination continue to impact the psychological well-being of individuals impacted by Section 377. Mental health professionals can take this change in the law as an opportunity to re-examine their own views of homosexuality.

96. Counselling practices will have to focus on providing support to homosexual clients to become comfortable with who they are and get on with their lives, rather than motivating them for change. Instead of trying to cure something that isn’t even a disease or illness, the counsellors have to adopt a more progressive view that reflects the changed medical position and changing societal values. There is not only a need for special skills of counsellors but also heightened sensitivity and understanding of LGBT lives. The medical practice must share the responsibility to help individuals, families, workplaces and educational and other institutions to understand sexuality completely in order to facilitate the creation of a society free from discriminationwhere LGBT individuals like all other citizens are treated with equal standards of respect and value for human rights.

H Judicial review

97. The Constitution entrusts the function of making laws to Parliament and the State Legislatures under Articles 245 and 246 of the Constitution. Parliament and the State Legislatures are empowered to create offences against laws with respect to the heads of legislation, falling within the purview of their legislative authority. (See Entry 93 of List I and Entry 64 of List II of the Seventh Schedule). Criminal law is a subject which falls within the Concurrent List. Entry I of List III provides thus:

“1. Criminal law, including all matters included in the Indian Penal Code at the commencement of this Constitution but excluding offences against laws with respect to any of the matters specified in List I or List II and excluding the use of naval, military or air forces or any other armed forces of the Union in aid of the civil power.”

The power to enact legislation in the field of criminal law has been entrusted to Parliament and, subject to its authority, to the State Legislatures. Both Parliament and the State Legislatures can enact laws providing for offences arising out of legislation falling within their legislative domains. The authority to enact law, however, is subject to the validity of the law being scrutinised on the touchstone of constitutional safeguards. A citizen, or, as in the present case, a community of citizens, having addressed a challenge to the validity of a law which creates an offence, the authority to determine that question is entrusted to the judicial branch in the exercise of the power of judicial review.

The Court will not, as it does not, in the exercise of judicial review, second guess a value judgment made by the legislature on the need for or the efficacy of legislation. But where a law creating an offence is found to be offensive to fundamental rights, such a law is not immune to challenge. The constitutional authority which is entrusted to the legislatures to create offences is subject to the mandate of a written Constitution. Where the validity of the law is called into question, judicial review will extend to scrutinising whether the law is manifestly arbitrary in its encroachment on fundamental liberties. If a law discriminates against a group or a community of citizens by denying them full and equal participation as citizens, in the rights and liberties granted by the Constitution, it would be for the Court to adjudicate upon validity of such a law.

I India’s commitments at International Law

98.. International human rights treaties and jurisprudence impose obligations upon States to protect all individuals from violations of their human rights, including on the basis of their sexual orientation.Nevertheless, laws criminalizing same-sex relations between consenting adults remain on the statute books in more than seventy countries. Many of them, including so-called “sodomy laws”, are vestiges of colonial-era legislation that prohibits either certain types of sexual activity or any intimacy or sexual activity between persons of the same sex. In some cases, the language used refers to vague and indeterminate concepts, such as ‘crimes against the order of nature’, ‘morality’, or ‘debauchery’.There is a familiar ring to it in India, both in terms of history and text.

99. International law today has evolved towards establishing that the criminalization of consensual sexual acts between same-sex adults in private contravenes the rights to equality, privacy, and freedom from discrimination. These rights are recognised in international treaties, covenants, and agreements which India has ratified, including the UDHR, ICCPR, and the ICESCR. India has a constitutional duty to honour these internationally recognized rules and principles. Vishaka v State of Rajasthan, (1997) 6 SCC 241. Article 51 of the Constitution, which forms part of the Directive Principles of State Policy, requires the State to endeavour to “foster respect for international law and treaty obligations in the dealings of organised peoples with one another.”

100. The human rights treaties that India has ratified require States Parties to guarantee the rights to equality before the law, equal protection of the law and freedom from discrimination. For example, Article 2 of the ICESCR requires states to ensure that:

“The rights enunciated in the present Covenant will be exercised without discrimination of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

101. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – the body mandated by the ICESCR to monitor States Parties’ implementation of the treaty – has stated that “other status” in article 2 (2) includes sexual orientation, and reaffirmed that “gender identity is recognized as among the prohibited grounds of discrimination”, as “persons who are transgender, transsexual or intersex often face serious human rights violations.”

102. The prohibition against discrimination in the ICCPR is contained in Article 26, which guarantees equality before the law:

“All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

India is also required to protect the right to privacy, which includes within its ambit the right to engage in consensual same-sex sexual relations. Article 12 of the UDHR recognises the right to privacy:

“Article 12: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” Similarly, Article 17 of the ICCPR, which India ratified on 11 December 1977, provides that:

“The obligations imposed by this article require the State to adopt legislative and other measures to give effect to the prohibition against such interferences and attacks as well as to the protection of the right.”

In its General Comment No. 16, the Human Rights Committee confirmed that any interference with privacy, even if provided for by law, “should be in accordance with the provisions, aims and objectives of the Covenant and should be, in any event, reasonable in the particular circumstances.”

In their general comments, concluding observations and views on communications, human rights treaty bodies have affirmed that States are obliged to protect individuals from discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and/or gender identity, as these factors do not limit an individual’s entitlement to enjoy the full range of human rights to which they are entitled.

103. In NALSA, while dealing with the rights of transgender persons, this Court recognized the ‘Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Law in Relation to Issues of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity’ – which outline the rights that sexual minorities enjoy as human persons under the protection of international law – and held that they should be applied as a part of Indian law. Principle 33 provides thus:

“Everyone has the right to be free from criminalisation and any form of sanction arising directly or indirectly from that person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics.”

While the Yogyakarta Principles are not legally binding, NALSA nevertheless signifies an affirmation of the right to non-discrimination on the grounds of gender identity, as well as the relevance of international human rights norms in addressing violations of these rights.

104. There is a contradiction between India’s international obligations and Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, insofar as it criminalizes consensual sexual acts between same-sex adults in private. In adjudicating the validity of this provision, the Indian Penal Code must be brought into conformity with both the Indian Constitution and the rules and principles of international law that India has recognized. Both make a crucial contribution towards recognizing the human rights of sexual and gender minorities.

J Transcending borders – comparative law

105. Over the past several decades, international and domestic courts have developed a strong body of jurisprudence against discrimination based on sexual orientation. This section analyses the evolution of the perspective of the law towards sexual orientation from a comparative law perspective, and looks at how sodomy laws have been construed in various jurisdictions based on their histories.

106. In 1967, England and Wales decriminalized same-sex intercourse between consenting adult males in private, and in 1980, Scotland followed suit. The law in Northern Ireland only changed in 1982 with the decision of the ECtHR in Dudgeon v The United Kingdom (“Dudgeon”). (1981) ECHR 5 The Petitioners challenged the Offences against the Person Act, 1861, the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885 and a sodomy law that made buggery and “gross indecency” a criminal offense, irrespective of consent. Although the law did not specifically define these terms, the Court interpreted ‘buggery’ to mean anal intercourse by a man with a man or woman and gross indecency to mean any act “involving sexual indecency between male persons.” Regarding acts prohibited by these provisions, the ECtHR observed that:

“Although it is not homosexuality itself which is prohibited but the particular acts of gross indecency between males and buggery, there can be no doubt but that male homosexual practices whose prohibition is the subject of the applicant’s complaints come within the scope of the offences punishable under the impugned legislation.”

The ECtHR concluded that Dudgeon had suffered and continued to suffer an unjustified interference with his right to respect for his private life. Hence, the Court struck down the laws under challenge as violative of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, in so far as they criminalised “private homosexual relations between adult males capable of valid consent.” In observing that these laws were not proportionate to their purported need, the Court observed:

“On the issue of proportionality, the Court considers that such justifications as there are for retaining the law in force unamended are outweighed by the detrimental effects which the very existence of the legislative provisions in question can have on the life of a person of homosexual orientation like the applicant. Although members of the public who regard homosexuality as immoral may be shocked, offended or disturbed by the commission by others of private homosexual acts, this cannot on its own warrant the application of penal sanctions when it is consenting adults alone who are involved.”

The ECtHR thus concluded:

“To sum up, the restriction imposed on Mr. Dudgeon under Northern Ireland law, by reason of its breadth and absolute character, is, quite apart from the severity of the possible penalties provided for, disproportionate to the aims sought to be achieved.”

Later, in Norris v Ireland (!968) ECHR 22, the Applicant challenged Ireland’s criminalization of certain homosexual acts between consenting adult men as being violative of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protected the right to respect for private and family life. The ECtHR held that the law violated Article 8, regardless of whether it was actively enforced:

“A law which remains on the statute books even though it is not enforced in a particular class of cases for a considerable time, may be applied again in such cases at any time, if for example, there is a change of policy. The applicant can therefore be said to ‘run the risk of being directly affected’ by the legislation in question.”

This decision was affirmed in Modinos v Cyprus 16 EHRR 485, where the Criminal Code of Cyprus, which penalized homosexual conduct, was alleged to constitute an unjustified interference with the Applicant’s private life.

107. Five years after Dudgeon, the United States Supreme Court, in Bowers v. Hardwick (“Bowers”) 478 U.S. 186 (1986), held that “sodomy” laws had been a significant part of American history and did not violate the Constitution. The Supreme Court’s reasoning in Bowers is a clear departure from that of the ECtHR in Dudgeon. In Bowers, the Supreme Court declined to accept that the question concerned the right to privacy. Instead, it stated that the issue was about “a fundamental right upon homosexuals to engage in sodomy”, which was held not to be protected by the US Constitution.

Seventeen years later, the United States Supreme Court laid the constitutional foundation for LGBT rights in the country with its judgment in Lawrence v Texas (“Lawrence”). 539 U.S. 558 (2003) In Lawrence, the Petitioner had been arrested under a Texas statute, which prohibited same-sex persons from engaging in sexual conduct, regardless of consent. The validity of the statute was considered.

Relying on Dudgeon, the U S Supreme Court struck down the statute as violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Overruling the judgment in Bowers, Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, upheld Justice Stevens’ dissent in Bowers – who was also part of the majority in Lawrence – to note that:

“Our prior cases make two propositions abundantly clear. First, the fact that the governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice; neither history nor tradition could save a law prohibiting miscegenation from constitutional attack. Second, individual decisions by married persons, concerning the intimacies of their physical relationship, even when not intended to produce offspring, are a form of “liberty” protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Moreover, this protection extends to intimate choices by unmarried as well as married persons.”

He also noted that the case concerned the private, personal relationships of consenting adults, and that the laws challenged did not further any legitimate state interest:

“The present case does not involve minors. It does not involve persons who might be injured or coerced or who are situated in relationships where consent might not easily be refused. It does not involve public conduct or prostitution. It does not involve whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter [eg, a right to marry or to register a ‘civil union’]. The case does involve two adults who, with full and mutual consent from each other, engaged in sexual practices common to a homosexual lifestyle.

The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government. … The Texas statute furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual….”

108. Justice Kennedy also identified the harm caused by the operation of the criminal law:

“When homosexual conduct is made criminal by the law of the State, that declaration in and of itself is an invitation to subject homosexual persons to discrimination both in the public and in the private spheres.”

The Court thus struck down the Texas law banning “deviate sexual intercourse” between persons of the same sex (and similar laws in 13 other US states and Puerto Rico), holding that:

“The laws involved in Bowers and here are, to be sure, statutes that purport to do no more than prohibit a particular sexual act. Their penalties and purposes, though, have more far-reaching consequences, touching upon the most private human conduct, sexual behavior, and in the most private of places, the home. The statutes do seek to control a personal relationship that, whether or not entitled to formal recognition in the law, is within the liberty of persons to choose without being punished as criminals.”

(Emphasis supplied)

109. In Toonen, the UN Human Rights Committee held that laws used to criminalize private, adult, consensual same-sex sexual relations violate the right to privacy and the right to non-discrimination. Mr Toonen – a member of the Tasmanian Gay Law Reform Group – had complained to the Committee about a Tasmanian law that criminalized ‘unnatural sexual intercourse’, ‘intercourse against nature’ and ‘indecent practice between male persons’. The law allowed police officers to investigate intimate aspects of his private life and to detain him if they had reason to believe that he was involved in sexual activities with his long-term partner in the privacy of their home. Mr Toonen challenged these laws as violative of Article 2(1), Article 17 and Article 26 of the ICCPR, on the ground that: “[The provisions] have created the conditions for discrimination in employment, constant stigmatization, vilification, threats of physical violence and the violation of basic democratic rights.”

The Committee rejected the argument that criminalization may be justified as “reasonable” on grounds of protection of public health or morals, noting that the use of criminal law in such circumstances is neither necessary nor proportionate:

“As far as the public health argument of the Tasmanian authorities is concerned, the Committee notes that the criminalization of homosexual practices cannot be considered a reasonable means or proportionate measure to achieve the aim of preventing the spread of AIDS/HIV.”

The Court concluded that the legislation was violative of Article 7 of the ICCPR, holding that:

“… It is undisputed that adult consensual sexual activity in private is covered by the concept of “privacy”, and that Mr. Toonen is actually and currently affected by the continued existence of the Tasmanian laws.”

110. In X v. Colombia, the Committee clarified that there is no “Global South exception” to Toonen. The Egyptian and Tunisian members of the Committee, who dissented from the majority’s decision requiring equal treatment of unmarried same-sex and different-sex couples, concurred with the principle laid down in Toonen:

“[T]here is no doubt that [A]rticle 17…is violated by discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. The Committee…has rightly and repeatedly found that protection against arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy precludes prosecution and punishment for homosexual relations between consenting adults.”

111. The Constitutional Tribunal of Ecuador was the first Constitutional Court in the Global South to decriminalise sodomy laws. The constitutionality of Article 516 of the Penal Code, which penalised “cases of homosexualism, that do not constitute rape”, was challenged before the Tribunal. The Tribunal’s reasoning was that “this abnormal behaviour should be the object of medical treatment … imprisonment in jails, creates a suitable environment for the development of this dysfunction.” The Tribunal’s line of reasoning – referring to homosexual activity as ‘abnormal behaviour’, requiring medical treatment – is seriously problematic. That assumption is unfounded in fact and is an incorrect doctrine for a constitutional court which protects liberty and dignity. However ultimately, the Tribunal struck down the first paragraph of Article 516 of the Penal Code, holding that:

“Homosexuals are above all holders of all the rights of the human person and therefore, have the right to exercise them in conditions of full equality … that is to say that their rights enjoy legal protection, as long as in the exteriorisation of their behaviour they do not harm the rights of others, as is the case with all other persons.”

112. The adverse impact of sodomy laws on the lives of homosexual adults was also considered by the Constitutional Court of South Africa in National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality v. Minister of Justice (“National Coalition”) 1999 (1) SA 6 (CC), in which the constitutionality of the common law offence of sodomy and other legislations which penalised unnatural sexual acts between men was at issue. The Constitutional Court unanimously found that the sodomy laws, all of which purported to proscribe sexual intimacy between homosexual adult men, violated their right to equality and discriminated against them on the basis of their sexual orientation.

Justice Ackerman, concurring with the ECtHR’s observation in Norris, noted that:

“The discriminatory prohibitions on sex between men reinforces already existing societal prejudices and severely increases the negative effects of such prejudices on their lives.”

Justice Ackerman quoted from Edwin Cameron’s “Sexual Orientation and the Constitution: A Test Case for Human Rights”(1993) 110 SALJ 450. :

“Even when these provisions are not enforced, they reduce gay men… to what one author has referred to as ‘unapprehended felons’, thus entrenching stigma and encouraging discrimination in employment and insurance and in judicial decisions about custody and other matters bearing on orientation.”

(Emphasis supplied)

Commenting on the violation of individuals’ rights to privacy and dignity, the Court held that:

“Gay people are a vulnerable minority group in our society. Sodomy laws criminalise their most intimate relationships. This devalues and degrades gay men and therefore constitutes a violation of their fundamental right to dignity. Furthermore, the offences criminalise private conduct between consenting adults which causes no harm to anyone else. This intrusion on the innermost sphere of human life violates the constitutional right to privacy. The fact that the offences, which lie at the heart of the discrimination, also violate the rights to privacy and dignity strengthens the conclusion that the discrimination against gay men is unfair.”

In its conclusion, the Court held that all persons have a right to a “sphere of private intimacy and autonomy that allows [them] to establish and nurture human relationships without interference from the outside community.”

113. In 2005, the High Court of Fiji, in Dhirendra Nadan Thomas McCoskar v. State [2005] FJHC 500., struck down provisions of the Fijian Penal Code, which punished any person who permits a male person to have “carnal knowledge” of him, as well as acts of “gross indecency” between male persons. The High Court read down the provisions to the extent that they were inconsistent with the Constitution of Fiji, drawing a clear distinction between consensual and non-consensual sexual behavior:

“What the constitution requires is that the Law acknowledges difference, affirms dignity and allows equal respect to every citizen as they are. The acceptance of difference celebrates diversity. The affirmation of individual dignity offers respect to the whole of society. The promotion of equality can be a source of interactive vitality…A country so founded will put sexual expression in private relationships into its proper perspective and allow citizens to define their own good moral sensibilities leaving the law to its necessary duties of keeping sexual expression in check by protecting the vulnerable and penalizing the predator.”

(Emphasis supplied)

In recent years, the Caribbean States of Belize and Trinidad and Tobago have also decriminalized consensual sexual acts between adults in private. In Caleb Orozco v. The Attorney General of Belize (“Caleb Orozco”), provisions of the Belize Criminal Code which penalized “every person who has intercourse against the order of nature with any person…” were challenged before the Supreme Court. Commenting on the concept of dignity, Justice Benjamin borrowed from the Canadian Supreme Court’s observations and noted that: Law v Canada (Minister of Employment and Immigration) [1999] 1 S.C.R. 497

“Human dignity means that an individual or group feels self-respect and self-worth. It is concerned with physical and psychological integrity and empowerment. Human dignity is harmed by unfair treatment premised upon personal traits or circumstances which do not relate to the individual needs, capacities or merits. It is enhanced by laws which are sensitive to the needs, capacities and merits of different individuals, taking into account the context underlying the differences.”

(Emphasis supplied)

Relying on the judgments in Dudgeons, National Coalition, McCoskar, Toonen, and Lawrence, the Supreme Court struck down the provision as violative of the claimant’s constitutional rights to privacy, dignity, and equality. Justice Benjamin held thus:

“However, from the perspective of legal principle, the Court cannot act upon prevailing majority views or what is popularly accepted as moral…There must be demonstrated that some harm will be caused should the proscribed conduct be rendered unregulated. No evidence has been presented as to the real likelihood of such harm. The duty of the Court is to apply the provisions of the Constitution.”

114. In Jason Jones v. The Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago (“Jones”), an expatriate gay rights activist living in the United Kingdom challenged the provisions of Trinidad and Tobago’s Sexual Offences Act, which criminalized ‘buggery’ and ‘serious indecency’ before the High Court of Justice at Trinidad and Tobago. The central issue before the Court was whether the provisions were ‘saved’ under Section 6 of the Constitution, which protects laws that were in existence before the Constitution came into force and were only marginally changed since, from being struck down for breach of fundamental rights.

The High Court struck down the provisions as unconstitutional, observing that the right to choose a partner and to have a family is intrinsic to an individual’s personal autonomy and dignity:

“To this court, human dignity is a basic and inalienable right recognized worldwide in all democratic societies. Attached to that right is the concept of autonomy and the right of an individual to make decisions for herself/himself without any unreasonable intervention by the State. In a case such as this, she/he must be able to make decisions as to who she/he loves, incorporates in his/her life, who she/he wishes to live with and with who to make a family.”

The High Court also held that the existence of such laws deliberately undermined the lives of homosexuals:

“A citizen should not have to live under the constant threat, the proverbial “Sword of Damocles,” that at any moment she/he may be persecuted or prosecuted. That is the threat that exists at present. It is a threat that is sanctioned by the State and that sanction is an important sanction because it justifies in the mind of others in society who are differently minded, that the very lifestyle, life and existence of a person who chooses to live in the way that the claimant does is criminal and is deemed to be of a lesser value than anyone else…The Parliament has taken the deliberate decision to criminalise the lifestyle of persons like the claimant whose ultimate expression of love and affection is crystallised in an act which is statutorily unlawful, whether or not enforced.”

(Emphasis supplied)

The High Court compared the impugned provisions to racial segregation, the Holocaust, and apartheid, observing that:

“To now deny a perceived minority their right to humanity and human dignity would be to continue this type of thinking, this type of perceived superiority, based on the genuinely held beliefs of some.”

115. In Leung TC William Roy v. Secretary for Justice , the High Court of Hong Kong considered the constitutional validity of provisions that prescribed different ages of consent for buggery and regular sexual intercourse. The court held that these provisions violated the petitioner’s rights to privacy and equality:

“Denying persons of a minority class the right to sexual expression in the only way available to them, even if that way is denied to all, remains discriminatory when persons of a majority class are permitted the right to sexual expression in a way natural to them. During the course of submissions, it was described as ‘disguised discrimination’. It is, I think, an apt description. It is disguised discrimination founded on a single base: sexual orientation.”

The Court concluded that the difference in the ages of consent was unjustifiable, noting that:

“No evidence has been placed before us to explain why the minimum age requirement for buggery is 21 whereas as far as sexual intercourse between a man and a woman is concerned, the age of consent is only 16. There is, for example, no medical reason for this and none was suggested in the course of argument.”

Courts around the world have not stopped at decriminalizing sodomy laws; they have gone a step further and developed a catena of broader rights and protections for homosexuals. These rights go beyond the mere freedom to engage in consensual sexual activity in private, and include the right to full citizenship, the right to form unions and the right to family life.

116. Israel was one of the first countries to recognize the rights of homosexuals against discrimination in matters of employment. In El-Al Israel Airlines Ltd v. Jonathan Danielwitz (“El-Al Israel Airlines”), the Supreme Court of Israel considered an airline company’s policy of giving discounted tickets to their employees and a ‘companion recognized as the husband/wife of the employee’. This benefit was also given to a partner with whom the employee was living together like husband and wife, but not married. However, the airline refused to give the discounted tickets to the Respondent and his male partner.

The Supreme Court of Israel observed thus:

“The principle of equality demands that the existence of a rule that treats people differently is justified by the nature and substance of the issue…therefore, a particular law will create discrimination when two individuals who are different from one another (factual inequality), are treated differently by the law, even though the factual difference between them does not justify different treatment in the circumstances.”

(Emphasis supplied)

The Supreme Court held that giving a benefit to an employee who has a spouse of the opposite sex and denying the same benefit to an employee whose spouse is of the same sex amounts to discrimination based on sexual orientation. This violated the Petitioner’s right to equality and created an unjustifiable distinction in the context of employee benefits.

117. In Vriend v Alberta (1998) 1 S.C.R. 493 , the appellant, a homosexual college employee, was terminated from his job. He alleged that his employer had discriminated against him because of his sexual orientation, but that he could not make a complaint under Canada’s anti-discrimination statute – the Individual’s Rights Protection Act (“IRPA”) – because it did not include sexual orientation as a protected ground. The Supreme Court of Canada held that the omission of protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was an unjustified violation of the right to equality under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

118. The Supreme Court held that the State had failed to provide a rational justification for the omission of sexual orientation as a protected ground under the IRPA. Commenting on the domino effect that such discriminatory measures have on the lives of homosexuals, the Supreme Court noted thus:

“Perhaps most important is the psychological harm which may ensue from this state of affairs. Fear of discrimination will logically lead to concealment of true identity and this must be harmful to personal confidence and self-esteem. Compounding that effect is the implicit message conveyed by the exclusion, that gays and lesbians, unlike other individuals, are not worthy of protection. This is clearly an example of a distinction which demeans the individual and strengthens and perpetrates [sic] the view that gays and lesbians are less worthy of protection as individuals in Canada’s society. The potential harm to the dignity and perceived worth of gay and lesbian individuals constitutes a particularly cruel form of discrimination.”

The next breakthrough for LGBTQ rights came from the Supreme Court of Nepal, in Sunil Babu Pant v. Nepal Government . Sunil Pant – the first openly gay Asian national leader – filed a PIL before the Supreme Court of Nepal praying for the recognition of the rights of lesbians, gays, and third gender persons. The Supreme Court located the rights of LGBTQ persons to their sexuality within the right to privacy, holding that:

“The right to privacy is a fundamental right of any individual. The issue of sexual activity falls under the definition of privacy. No one has the right to question how do two adults perform the sexual intercourse and whether this intercourse is natural or unnatural.”

The Court held that all individuals have an inherent right to marriage, regardless of their sexual orientation:

“Looking at the issue of same sex marriage, we hold that it is an inherent right of an adult to have marital relation with another adult with his/her free consent and according to her/his will.”

In concluding, the Court directed the Nepalese government to enact new legislation or amend existing legislation to ensure that persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities could enjoy equal rights.

119. In 2015, in Oliari v Italy (“Oliari”) [2015] ECHR 716, the Applicants before the ECtHR argued that the absence of legislation in Italy permitting same-sex marriage or any other type of civil union constituted discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, in violation of Articles 8, 12, and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In line with its previous case law, the Court affirmed that same-sex couples “are in need of legal recognition and protection of their relationship.” The ECtHR concluded that gay couples are equally capable of entering into stable and committed relationships in the same way as heterosexual couples.

120. The ECtHR examined the domestic context in Italy, and noted a clear gap between the “social reality of the applicants”, who openly live their relationship, and the law, which fails to formally recognize same-sex partnerships. The Court held that in the absence of any evidence of a prevailing community interest in preventing legal recognition of same-sex partnerships, Italian authorities “have overstepped their margin of appreciation and failed to fulfil their positive obligation to ensure that the applicants have available a specific legal framework providing for the recognition and protection of their same-sex unions.”

121. In 2013, in United States v. Windsor 570 U.S. 744 (2013), US Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) which states that, for the purposes of federal law, the words ‘marriage’ and ‘spouse’ refer to legal unions between one man and one woman. Windsor, who had inherited the estate of her same-sex partner, was barred from claiming the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses since her marriage was not recognized by federal law. Justice Kennedy writing for the majority, held that restricting the federal interpretation of ‘marriage’ and ‘spouse’ to apply only to opposite-sex unions was unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment:

“Its [the DOMA’s] unusual deviation from the tradition of recognizing and accepting state definitions of marriage operates to deprive same-sex couples of the benefits and responsibilities that come with federal recognition of their marriages. This is strong evidence of a law having the purpose and effect of disapproval of a class recognized and protected by state law. DOMA’s avowed purpose and practical effect are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States.”

Two years later, in Obergefell v. Hodges (“Obergefell”), 576 U.S. ___ (2015). while analysing precedent and decisions of other US courts recognizing same-sex marriage, Justice Kennedy observed that:

“A first premise of the Court’s relevant precedents is that the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy… Like choices concerning contraception, family relationships, procreation, and childrearing, all of which are protected by the Constitution, decisions concerning marriage are among the most intimate that an individual can make.”

122. Justice Kennedy expressed the need to go beyond the narrow holding in Lawrence, towards a more expansive view of the rights of homosexuals:

“Lawrence invalidated laws that made same- sex intimacy a criminal act… But while Lawrence confirmed a dimension of freedom that allows individuals to engage in intimate association without criminal liability, it does not follow that freedom stops there. Outlaw to outcast may be a step forward, but it does not achieve the full promise of liberty.”

(Emphasis supplied)

By a 5-4 majority, the US Supreme Court ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. Commenting on the right to marriage, Justice Kennedy noted:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. … It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfilment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

123. The recent case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (“Masterpiece Cakeshop”) 584 U.S. ____ (2018). concerned a Christian baker who was accused of violating an anti-discrimination ordinance for refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple based on his religious beliefs. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission (“CCRC”) decided against the baker, and, on appeal, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the CCRC violated the baker’s rights under the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of expression.

Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy said the CCRC showed “hostility” to the baker’s religious beliefs:

“It must be concluded that the State’s interest could have been weighed against Phillips’ sincere religious objections in a way consistent with the requisite religious neutrality that must be strictly observed. The official expressions of hostility to religion in some of the commissioners’ comments-comments that were not disavowed at the Commission or by the State at any point in the proceedings that led to affirmance of the order-were inconsistent with what the Free Exercise Clause requires. The Commission’s disparate consideration of Phillips’ case compared to the cases of the other bakers suggests the same. For these reasons, the order must be set aside.”

The majority held that while the Constitution allows gay persons to exercise their civil rights, “religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression.” The Supreme Court found merit in the baker’s First Amendment claim, noting that his dilemma was understandable, especially given that the cause of action arose in 2012, before the enactment of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law and the Obergefell judgment that legalised same-sex marriage.

The court buttressed its position by noting that in several other cases, bakers had declined to decorate cakes with messages that were derogatory towards gay persons and the State Civil Rights Division had held that the bakers were within their rights to have done so. According to the majority in Masterpiece Cakeshop, the owner was similarly entitled to decline the order, and his case should have been treated no differently.

124. Justice Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion, which was supported by Justice Sotomayor, distinguished the baker in Masterpiece Cakeshop from the other three bakers. Justice Ginsburg noted that while the other bakers would have refused the said cake decorations to all customers, Phillips refused to bake a wedding cake (which he baked for other customers), specifically for the couple. She observed that:

“Phillips declined to make a cake he found offensive where the offensiveness of the product was determined solely by the identity of the customer requesting it. The three other bakeries declined to make cakes where their objection to the product was due to the demeaning message the requested product would literally display.”

(Emphasis supplied)

“When a couple contacts a bakery for a wedding cake, the product they are seeking is a cake celebrating their wedding-not a cake celebrating heterosexual weddings or same-sex weddings-and that is the service Craig and Mullins were denied.”

Justice Ginsburg concluded that a proper application of the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act would require upholding the lower courts’ rulings.

125. Masterpiece Cakeshop is also distinguishable from a similar case, Lee v. Ashers Bakery Co. Ltd. [2015] NICty 2, which is currently on appeal to the United Kingdom Supreme Court. In that case, a bakery in Northern Ireland offered a service whereby customers could provide messages, pictures or graphics that would be iced on a cake. Lee – a member of an LGBT organisation – ordered a cake with the words “support gay marriage” on it. The Christian owners refused, stating that preparing such an order would conflict with their religious beliefs. Lee claimed that in refusing his order, the bakery discriminated against him on grounds of sexual orientation. Both the County Court and the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of Lee, on the ground that the respondent’s refusal on the ground of his religious beliefs was contrary to the provisions of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 and the Fair Employment and Treatment Order 1998.

From an analysis of comparative jurisprudence from across the world, the following principles emerge:

1. Sexual orientation is an intrinsic element of liberty, dignity, privacy, individual autonomy and equality;

2. Intimacy between consenting adults of the same-sex is beyond the legitimate interests of the state;

3. Sodomy laws violate equality by targeting a segment of the population for their sexual orientation;

4. Such a law perpetrates stereotypes, lends authority of the state to societal stereotypes and has a chilling effect on the exercise of freedom;

5. The right to love and to a partner, to find fulfillment in a same-sex relationship is essential to a society which believes in freedom under a constitutional order based on rights;

6. Sexual orientation implicates negative and positive obligations on the state. It not only requires the state not to discriminate, but also calls for the state to recognise rights which bring true fulfillment to same-sex relationships; and

7. The constitutional principles which have led to decriminalization must continuously engage in a rights discourse to ensure that same-sex relationships find true fulfillment in every facet of life. The law cannot discriminate against same-sex relationships. It must also take positive steps to achieve equal protection.

The past two decades have witnessed several decisions by constitutional and international courts, recognizing both the decriminalization of same-sex intercourse in private, as well as broader rights recognizing sexual orientation equality. In 1996, South Africa became the first country in the world to constitutionally prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. As on the date of this judgment, ten countries constitutionally prohibit discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. The United Kingdom, Bolivia, Ecuador, Fiji, and Malta specifically prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity, either constitutionally or through enacted laws. According the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, 74 countries (including India) criminalize same-sex sexual conduct, as of 2017. Most of these countries lie in the Sub-Saharan and Middle East region. Some of them prescribe death penalty for homosexuality.

126. We are aware that socio-historical contexts differ from one jurisdiction to another and that we must therefore look at comparative law-making allowances for them. However, the overwhelming weight of international opinion and the dramatic increase in the pace of recognition of fundamental rights for same-sex couples reflects a growing consensus towards sexual orientation equality. We feel inclined to concur with the accumulated wisdom reflected in these judgments, not to determine the meaning of the guarantees contained within the Indian Constitution, but to provide a sound and appreciable confirmation of our conclusions about those guarantees.

This evolution has enabled societies governed by liberal constitutional values – such as liberty, dignity, privacy, equality and individual autonomy – to move beyond decriminalisation of offences involving consensual same-sex relationships. Decriminalisation is of course necessary to bury the ghosts of morality which flourished in a radically different age and time. But decriminalisation is a first step. The constitutional principles on which it is based have application to a broader range of entitlements. The Indian Constitution is based on an abiding faith in those constitutional values. In the march of civilizations across the spectrum of a compassionate global order, India cannot be left behind.

K Crime, morality and the Constitution

127. The question of what qualifies as a punishable offence under the law has played a central role in legal theory. Attempts have been made by legal scholars and jurists alike, to define a crime. Halsbury’s Laws of England defines a crime as “an unlawful act or default which is an offence against the public and renders the person guilty of the act or default liable to legal punishment.” As Glanville Williams observes:

“A crime is an act capable of being followed by criminal proceedings, having a criminal outcome…criminal law is that branch of law which deals with conduct…by prosecution in the criminal courts.”

Henry Hart, in his essay titled “The Aims of Criminal Law”, comments on the difficulty of a definition in this branch of law. A crime is a crime because it is called a crime:

“If one were to judge from the notions apparently underlying many judicial opinions, and the overt language even of some of them, the solution of the puzzle is simply that a crime is anything which is called a crime, and a criminal penalty is simply the penalty provided for doing anything which has been given that name.”

However, Hart confesses that such a simplistic definition would be “a betrayal of intellectual bankruptcy.”296 Roscoe Pound articulates the dilemma in defining what constitutes an offence:

“A final answer to the question ‘what is a crime?’, is impossible, because law is a living, changing thing, which may at one time be uniform, and at another time give much room for judicial discretion, which may at one time be more specific in its prescription and at another time much more general.”

Early philosophers sought to define crime by distinguishing it from a civil wrong. In his study of rhetoric, Aristotle observed that:

“Justice in relation to the person is defined in two ways. For it is defined either in relation to the community or to one of its members what one should or should not do. Accordingly, it is possible to perform just and unjust acts in two ways, either towards a defined individual or towards the community.”

Kant, in the Metaphysics of Morals, observed that:

“A transgression of public law that makes someone who commits it unfit to be a citizen is called a crime simply (crimen) but is also called a public crime (crimen publicum); so the first (private crime) is brought before a civil court, the latter before a criminal court.”

Another method of defining crime is from the nature of injury caused, “of being public, as opposed to private, wrongs.” This distinction was brought out by Blackstone and later by Duff, in their theories on criminal law. Blackstone, in his “Commentaries on the Laws of England” put forth the idea that only actions which constitute a ‘public wrong’ will be classified as a crime. He characterised public wrongs as “a breach and violation of the public rights and duties, due to the whole community, considered as a community, in its social aggregate capacity.” Duff adds to the idea of public wrong by arguing that “[w]e should interpret a ‘public’ wrong, not as a wrong that injures the public, but as one that properly concerns the public, i.e. the polity as a whole.”

Nozick and Becker also support the theory that crime is conduct that harms the public. Nozick argues that the harm caused by a crime, unlike other private law wrongs, extends beyond the immediate victim to all those who view themselves as potential victims of the crime. When such an act is done on purpose, it spreads fear in the general community, and it is due to this additional harm to the community [of causing fear and insecurity], that such actions are classified as crimes and pursued by the state. Becker preferred to describe crime as something which disrupts social stability and has “the potential for destructive disturbance of fundamental social structures.”

However, Hart questioned the theory of simply defining crime as a public wrong, for all wrongs affect society in some way or the other:

“Can crimes be distinguished from civil wrongs on the ground that they constitute injuries to society generally which society is interested in preventing? The difficulty is that society is interested also in the due fulfilment of contracts and the avoidance of traffic accidents and most of the other stuff of civil litigation.”

128. Hart preferred to define crime in terms of the methodology of criminal law and the characteristics of this method. He described criminal law as possessing the following features:

“1. The method operates by means of a series of directions, or commands, formulated in general terms, telling people what they must or must not do…

2. The commands are taken as valid and binding upon all those who fall within their terms when the time comes for complying with them, whether or not they have been formulated in advance in a single authoritative set of words…

3. The commands are subject to one or more sanctions for disobedience which the community is prepared to enforce…

4. What distinguishes a criminal from a civil sanction and all that distinguishes it, it is ventured, is the judgment of community condemnation which accompanies and justifies its imposition.”

(Numbering and emphasis supplied)

According to Hart, the first three characteristics above are common to both civil and criminal law. However, the key differentiating factor between criminal and civil law, he observed, is the “community condemnation.” Thus, he attempted to define crime as:

“Conduct which, if duly shown to have taken place, will incur a formal and solemn pronouncement of the moral condemnation of the community.”

Perhaps it is difficult to carve out a single definition of crime due to the multi-dimensional nature of criminal law. The process of deconstructing the criminalisation of consensual sexual acts by adults will be facilitated by examining some criminal theories and their interplay with Section 377.

Criminal Law Theories

Bentham’s Utilitarian Theory

129. Utilitarianism has provided some of the most powerful critiques of existing laws. Bentham was one of the earliest supporters for reform in sodomy laws. In his essay, “Offences Against One’s Self”, Bentham rebutted all the justifications given by the state for enacting laws on sodomy. According to Bentham, homosexuality, if viewed outside the realms of morality and religion, is neutral behaviour which gives the participants pleasure and does not cause pain to anyone else. Therefore, he concluded that such an act cannot constitute an offence, and there is “no reason for punishing it at all.”

130. Bentham tested sodomy laws on three main principles: (i) whether they produce any primary mischief, i.e., direct harm to another person; (ii) whether they produce any secondary mischief, i.e., harm to the stability and security of society; and (iii) whether they cause any danger to society. He argued that sodomy laws do not satisfy any of the above tests, and hence, should be repealed. On the first principle of primary mischief, Bentham said:

“As to any primary mischief, it is evident that it produces no pain in anyone. On the contrary it produces pleasure, and that a pleasure which, by their perverted taste, is by this supposition preferred to that pleasure which is in general reputed the greatest. The partners are both willing. If either of them be unwilling, the act is not that which we have here in view: it is an offence totally different in its nature of effects: it is a personal injury; it is a kind of rape.”

Thus, Bentham argued that consensual homosexual acts do not harm anyone else. Instead, they are a source of pleasure to adults who choose to engage in them. Bentham was clear about the distinction between ‘willing’ partners and ‘unwilling’ partners, and the latter according to him, would not fall under his defence.

Bentham’s second argument was that there was no secondary mischief, which he described as something which may “produce any alarm in the community.” On this, Bentham argued:

“As to any secondary mischief, it produces not any pain of apprehension. For what is there in it for any body to be afraid of? By the supposition, those only are the objects of it who choose to be so, who find a pleasure, for so it seems they do, in being so.”

Bentham’s explanation was that only those adults who choose will be the objects of homosexual sexual acts. It does not involve any activity which will create anxiety among the rest of the society. Therefore, homosexuality does not cause secondary harm either.

Lastly, Bentham tested sodomy laws on whether they cause danger to society. The only danger that Bentham could apprehend was the supposed danger of encouraging others to engage in homosexual practices. However, Bentham argues that since homosexual activities in themselves do not cause any harm, there is no danger even if they have a domino effect on other individuals:

“As to any danger exclusive of pain, the danger, if any, must consist in the tendency of the example. But what is the tendency of this example? To dispose others to engage in the same practises: but this practise for anything that has yet appeared produces not pain of any kind to anyone.”

Thus, according to Bentham, sodomy laws fail on all three grounds- they neither cause primary mischief, nor secondary mischief, nor any danger to society.

Bentham also critiqued criminal laws by analysing the utility of the punishment prescribed by them. He succinctly described the objective of law through the principles of utility- “The general object which all laws have, or ought to have…is to augment the total happiness of the community; [and] to exclude…everything that tends to subtract from that happiness.”According to Bentham, “all punishment in itself is evil” because it reduces the level of happiness in society, and should be prescribed only if it “excludes some greater evil.” Bentham stipulated four kinds of situations where it is not utilitarian to inflict punishment:

“1. Where it is groundless: where there is no mischief for it to prevent; the act not being mischievous upon the whole.

2. Where it must be inefficacious: where it cannot act so as to prevent the mischief.

3. Where it is unprofitable, or too expensive: where the mischief it would produce would be greater than what it prevented.

4. Where it is needless: where the mischief may be prevented, or cease of itself, without it: that is, at a cheaper rate.”

The Harm Principle

131. John Stuart Mill, in his treatise “On Liberty,” makes a powerful case to preclude governments from interfering in those areas of an individual’s life which are private. Mill’s theory, which came to be called the “harm principle”, suggests that the state can intrude into private life by way of sanction only if harm is caused to others or if the conduct is “other-affecting.” In Mill’s words:

“The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right… The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”

(Emphasis supplied)

Mill created a dichotomy between “self-regarding” actions (those which affect the individual himself and have no significant effect on society at large) and “other-regarding” actions (those which affect the society). He was aware that in a way, all actions of an individual are likely to affect “those nearly connected with him and, in a minor degree, society at large.” However, he argued that as long as an action does not “violate a distinct and assignable obligation to any other person or persons”, it may not be taken out of the self-regarding class of actions. Thus, Mill proposed that “all that portion of a person’s life and conduct which affects only himself, or, if it also affects others, only with their free, voluntary, and undeceived consent and participation” should be free from state interference. He further added that the state and society are not justified in interfering in the self-regarding sphere, merely because they believe certain conduct to be “foolish, perverse, or wrong.”

Essentially, Mill created a taxonomy on types of conduct –

(a) self-regarding actions should not be the subject of sanctions either from the state or society;

(b) actions which may hurt others but do not violate any legal rights may only be the subject of public condemnation but not state sanction;

(c) only action which violate the legal rights of others should be the subject of legal sanction (and public condemnation).

The harm principle thus, operated as a negative or limiting principle, with the main objective of restricting criminal law from penalising conduct merely on the basis of its perceived immorality or unacceptability when the same is not harmful.

While Mill’s theory was not propounded in relation to LGBTQ rights, his understanding of criminal law is well-suited to argue that sodomy laws criminalise ‘self-regarding’ actions which fall under the first category of conduct, and should not be subjected to sanctions either by the state or the society.

132. A jurisprudential debate on the interplay between criminal law and morality was set off when Lord Devlin delivered the 1959 Maccabean Lecture, titled “The Enforcement of Morals.” Lord Devlin’s lecture was an attack against the Report of the Wolfenden Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution (“Wolfenden Report”), which had recommended the decriminalisation of sodomy laws in England.

The Wolfenden Committee, headed by Sir John Wolfenden, Vice-Chancellor of Reading University, was set up in 1954 to consider the criminalisation of homosexuality and prostitution, in the wake of increased arrests and convictions in the UK for homosexuality between men.Among those prosecuted for ‘gross indecency’ under the Buggery Act of 1553 and Sexual Offences Act of 1967 were eminent persons like Oscar Wilde, Alan Turing and Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. After conducting a three-year long inquiry, carrying out empirical research, and interviewing three gay men, the Wolfenden Committee released its Report in 1957. The Wolfenden Report recommended that:

“Homosexual behaviour between consenting adults should no longer be a criminal offence… Unless a deliberate attempt is to be made by society, acting through the agency of the law, to equate the sphere of crime with that of sin, there must remain a realm of private morality and immorality which is, in brief and crude terms, not the law’s business.”

The Wolfenden Report stated that “it is not the purpose of law to intervene in the private lives of citizens, or to seek to enforce any particular pattern of behaviour…”The Wolfenden Report acknowledged that the law and public opinion have a close relationship with each other – the law ought to “follow behind public opinion” so that it garners the community support, while at the same time, the law must also fortify and lead public opinion. However, it made out a strong case for divorcing morality from criminal law and stated that – “moral conviction or instinctive feeling, however strong, is not a valid basis for overriding the individual’s privacy and for bringing within the ambit of the criminal law private sexual behaviour of this kind.” Stating that homosexuality is not a mental illness, the Wolfenden Report clarified that homosexuality is “a sexual propensity for persons of one’s own sex…[it] is a state or condition, and as such does not, and cannot, come within the purview of criminal law.”

133. Lord Devlin, perturbed by the Wolfenden Report’s line of reasoning, framed questions on the issue of criminal law and morality:

“1. Has society the right to pass judgments on all matters of morals?

2. If society has the right to pass judgment, has it also the right to use the weapon of the law to enforce it?”

Devlin believed that society depends upon a common morality for its stability and existence. On the basis of this belief, Devlin answered the above questions in the affirmative, stating that – society has the right to pass judgments on all matters of morality and also the right to use law to enforce such morality. Devlin reasoned that society would disintegrate if a common morality was not observed. Therefore, society is justified in taking steps to preserve its morality as much as it preserves the government. Devlin proposed that the common morality or “collective judgment of the society” should be ascertained taking into consideration the “reasonable man.” According to him, a reasonable man is an ordinary man whose judgment “may largely be a matter of feeling.”He added that if the reasonable man believed a practice to be immoral, and held this belief honestly and dispassionately, then for the purpose of law such practice should be considered immoral.

134. Countering Devlin’s theory, Hart argued that society is not held together by a common morality, for, after all, it is not a hive mind or a monolith, governed by a singular set of morals and principles.Hart rebutted Devlin’s argument in the following way:

“…apart from one vague reference to ‘history’ showing the ‘the loosening of moral bonds is often the first stage of disintegration,’ no evidence is produced to show that deviation from accepted sexual morality, even by adults in private is something which, like treason, threatens the existence of society. No reputable historian has maintained this thesis, and there is indeed much evidence against it…Lord Devlin’s belief in it [that homosexuality is a cause of societal disintegration], and his apparent indifference to the question of evidence, are at points traceable to an undiscussed assumption. This is that all morality – sexual morality together with the morality that forbids acts injurious to others such as killing, stealing, and dishonesty — forms a single seamless web, so that those who deviate from any part are likely to perhaps bound to deviate from the whole. It is of course clear (and one of the oldest insights of political theory) that society could not exist without a morality which mirrored and supplemented the law’s proscription of conduct injurious to others. But there is again no evidence to support, and much to refute, the theory that those who deviate from conventional sexual morality are in other ways hostile to society.”

Despite countering Devlin, Hart was not completely opposed to a relationship between law and morality, and in fact, he emphasised that the two are closely related:

“The law of every modem state shows at a thousand points the influence of both the accepted social morality and wider moral ideals. These influences enter into law either abruptly and avowedly through legislation, or silently and piecemeal through the judicial process…The further ways in which law mirrors morality are myriad, and still insufficiently studied: statutes may be a mere legal shell and demand by their express terms to be filled out with the aid of moral principles; the range of enforceable contracts may be limited by reference to conceptions of morality and fair- ness; liability for both civil and criminal wrongs may be adjusted to prevailing views of moral responsibility.”

However, unlike Devlin, Hart did not propose that morality is a necessary condition for the validity of law. Hart argued, in summary, that “law is morally relevant,” but “not morally conclusive.” Hart vehemently disagreed with Devlin’s view that if laws are not based on some collective morality and enacted to buttress that morality, society will disintegrate. Hart draws this distinction by conceding that certain sexual acts (including homosexual acts) were considered ‘immoral’ by mainstream Western society but adding that private sexual acts are an issue of “private morality” over which society has no interest and the law, no control.

Hart further expounded his warning about the imposition of majoritarian morals, propounding that:

“[l]t is fatally easy to confuse the democratic principle that power should be in the hands of the majority with the utterly different claim that the majority, with power in their hands, need respect no limits”:

“Whatever other arguments there may be for the enforcement of morality, no one should think even when popular morality is supported by an “overwhelming majority” or marked by widespread “intolerance, indignation, and disgust” that loyalty to democratic principles requires him to admit that its imposition on a minority is justified.”

In this way, Hart avoided the specious generalization that the law must be severely quarantined from morality but still made it clear that laws like Section 377, which impose a majoritarian view of right and wrong upon a minority in order to protect societal cohesion, are jurisprudentially and democratically impermissible.

Bentham had a different view on morality and weighed morality against utilitarian principles. Bentham argued that if the punishment is not utilitarian (i.e. does not serve as a deterrent, is unprofitable, or unnecessary), the ‘immoral’ action would have to go unpunished. He opined that legislators should not be overly swayed by the society’s morality:

“The strength of their prejudice is the measure of the indulgence which should be granted to it…The legislator ought to yield to the violence of a current which carries away everything that obstructs it.

But ought the legislator to be a slave to the fancies of those whom he governs? No. Between an imprudent opposition and a servile compliance, there is a middle path, honourable and safe.”

In other words, it appears that Bentham argued that the morality of the people ought not be ignored in creating laws but also must not become their unchecked fount. And if prejudicial moralities arise from the people, they should not be unthinkingly and permanently cemented into the law, but rather addressed and conquered.

John Stuart Mill also made a strong argument against popular morality being codified into laws. He argued that ‘disgust’ cannot be classified as harm, and those “who consider as an injury to themselves any conduct which they have a distaste for”, cannot dictate the actions of others merely because such actions contradict their own beliefs or views. Mill believed that society is not the right judge when dealing with the question of when to interfere in conduct that is purely personal, and that when society does interfere, “the odds are that it interferes wrongly and in the wrong place.”

135. Christopher R Leslie points out the dangers of letting morality creep into law:

“Current generations enshrine their morality by passing laws and perpetuate their prejudices by handing these laws down to their children. Soon, statutes take on lives of their own, and their very existence justifies their premises and consequent implications. The underlying premises of ancient laws are rarely discussed, let alone scrutinized.”

Leslie further adds that “sodomy laws do not merely express societal disapproval; they go much further by creating a criminal class”:

“Sodomy laws are kept on the books, even though state governments do not intend to actively enforce them, because the laws send a message to society that homosexuality is unacceptable. Even without actual criminal prosecution, the laws carry meaning… In short, the primary importance of sodomy laws today is the government’s message to diminish the societal status of gay men and lesbians.”

136. A broad analysis of criminal theory points to the general conclusion that criminologists and legal philosophers have long been in agreement about one basic characteristic of crime: that it should injure a third person or the society.

An element of larger public interest emerges as the crux of crime. The conduct which Section 377 criminalises voluntary ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’ with a man or woman, inter alia – pertains solely to acts between consenting adults. Such conduct is purely private, or as Mill would call it, “self-regarding,” and is neither capable of causing injury to someone else nor does it pose a threat to the stability and security of society. Once the factor of consent is established, the question of such conduct causing any injury, does not arise.

Although Section 377 prima facie appears to criminalise certain acts or conduct, it creates a class of criminals, consisting of individuals who engage in consensual sexual activity. It typecasts LGBTQ individuals as sex-offenders, categorising their consensual conduct on par with sexual offences like rape and child molestation. Section 377 not only criminalises acts (consensual sexual conduct between adults) which should not constitute crime, but also stigmatises and condemns LGBTQ individuals in society.

137. We are aware of the perils of allowing morality to dictate the terms of criminal law. If a single, homogenous morality is carved out for a society, it will undoubtedly have the effect of hegemonizing or ‘othering’ the morality of minorities. The LGBTQ community has been a victim of the pre-dominant

(Victorian) morality which prevailed at the time when the Indian Penal Code was drafted and enacted. Therefore, we are inclined to observe that it is constitutional morality, and not mainstream views about sexual morality, which should be the driving factor in determining the validity of Section 377.

L Constitutional morality

138. With the attainment of independence on 15 August 1947, Indians were finally free to shape their own destiny. The destiny was to be shaped through a written Constitution. Constitutions are scripts in which people inscribe the text of their professed collective destiny. They write down who they think they are, what they want to be, and the principles that will guide their interacting along that path in the future. The Constitution of India was burdened with the challenge of “drawing a curtain on the past” of social inequality and prejudices. Those who led India to freedom established into the Constitution the ideals and vision of a vibrant equitable society. The framing of India’s Constitution was a medium of liberating the society by initiating the process of establishing and promoting the shared values of liberty, equality and fraternity.

Throughout history, socio-cultural revolts, anti-discrimination assertions, movements, literature and leaders have worked at socializing people away from supremacist thought and towards an egalitarian existence. The Indian Constitution is an expression of these assertions. It was an attempt to reverse the socializing of prejudice, discrimination, and power hegemony in a disjointed society. All citizens were to be free from coercion or restriction by the state, or by society privately. Liberty was no longer to remain the privilege of the few. The judgment in Puttaswamy highlights the commitment of the constitution makers, thus:

“The vision of the founding fathers was enriched by the histories of suffering of those who suffered oppression and a violation of dignity both here and elsewhere.”

139. Understanding the vision of India at a time when there was little else older than that vision, is of paramount importance for the reason that though the people may not have played any role in the actual framing of the Constitution, the Preamble professes that the Constitution has been adopted by the people themselves. Constitutional historian Granville Austin has said that the Indian Constitution is essentially a social document. The Indian Constitution does not provide merely a framework of governance. It embodies a vision. It is goal-oriented and its purpose is to bring about a social transformation in the country. It represents the aspirations of its framers. The democratic Constitution of India embodies provisions which are value-based.

140. During the framing of the Constitution, it was realized by the members of the Constituent Assembly that there was a wide gap between constitutional precept and reality. The draftspersons were clear that the imbibing of new constitutional values by the population at large would take some time. Society was not going to change overnight. Dr Ambedkar remarked in the Constituent Assembly:

“Democracy in India is only a top-dressing on an Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic.”

141. The values of a democracy require years of practice, effort, and experience to make the society work with those values. Similar is the position of non-discrimination, equality, fraternity and secularism. While the Constitution guarantees equality before the law and equal protection of the law, it was felt that the realization of the constitutional vision requires the existence of a commitment to that vision. Dr Ambedkar described this commitment to be the presence of constitutional morality among the members of the society. The conception of constitutional morality is different from that of public or societal morality. Under a regime of public morality, the conduct of society is determined by popular perceptions existent in society.

The continuance of certain symbols, labels, names or body shapes determine the notions, sentiments and mental attitudes of the people towards individuals and things.Constitutional morality determines the mental attitude towards individuals and issues by the text and spirit of the Constitution. It requires that the rights of an individual ought not to be prejudiced by popular notions of society. It assumes that citizens would respect the vision of the framers of the Constitution and would conduct themselves in a way which furthers that vision.

Constitutional morality reflects that the ideal of justice is an overriding factor in the struggle for existence over any other notion of social acceptance. It builds and protects the foundations of a democracy, without which any nation will crack under its fissures. For this reason, constitutional morality has to be imbibed by the citizens consistently and continuously. Society must always bear in mind what Dr Ambedkar observed before the Constituent Assembly:

“Constitutional morality is not a natural sentiment. It has to be cultivated. We must realize that our people have yet to learn it.”

142. In the decision in Government of NCT of Delhi v. Union of India 2018 (8) SCALE 72, the Constitution Bench of this Court dealt with the constitutive elements of constitutional morality which govern the working of a democratic system and representative form of government. Constitutional morality was described as founded on a “constitutional culture”, which requires the “existence of sentiments and dedication for realizing a social transformation which the Indian Constitution seeks to attain.” This Court held thus:

“If the moral values of our .Constitution were not upheld at every stage, the text of the Constitution may not be enough to protect its democratic values.”

This Court held that constitutional morality acts a check against the “tyranny of the majority” and as a “threshold against an upsurge in mob rule.” It was held to be a balance against popular public morality.

143. Constitutional morality requires in a democracy the assurance of certain minimum rights, which are essential for free existence to every member of society. The Preamble to the Constitution recognises these rights as “Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship” and “Equality of status and of opportunity.” Constitutional morality is the guarantee which seeks that all inequality is eliminated from the social structure and each individual is assured of the means for the enforcement of the rights guaranteed. Constitutional morality leans towards making Indian democracy vibrant by infusing a spirit of brotherhood amongst a heterogeneous population, belonging to different classes, races, religions, cultures, castes and sections.

Constitutional morality cannot, however, be nurtured unless, as recognised by the Preamble, there exists fraternity, which assures and maintains the dignity of each individual. In his famous, yet undelivered speech titled “Annihilation of Caste” (which has been later published as a book), Dr Ambedkar described ‘fraternity’ as “primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience” and “essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards fellow men.” He remarked:

“An ideal society should be mobile, should be full of channels for conveying a change taking place in one part to other parts. In an ideal society there should be many interests consciously communicated and shared. There should be varied and free points of contact with other modes of association. In other words there must be social endosmosis. This is fraternity, which is only another name for democracy.”

In his last address to the Constituent Assembly, he defined fraternity as “a sense of common brotherhood of all Indians.” As on the social and economic plane, Indian society was based on graded inequality, Dr Ambedkar had warned in clear terms:

“Without fraternity, liberty [and] equality could not become a natural course of things. It would require a constable to enforce them… Without fraternity equality and liberty will be no deeper than coats of paint.”

144. Constitutional morality requires that all the citizens need to have a closer look at, understand and imbibe the broad values of the Constitution, which are based on liberty, equality and fraternity. Constitutional morality is thus the guiding spirit to achieve the transformation which, above all, the Constitution seeks to achieve. This acknowledgement carries a necessary implication: the process through which a society matures and imbibes constitutional morality is gradual, perhaps interminably so. Hence, constitutional courts are entrusted with the duty to act as external facilitators and to be a vigilant safeguard against excesses of state power and democratic concentration of power. This Court, being the highest constitutional court, has the responsibility to monitor the preservation of constitutional morality as an incident of fostering conditions for human dignity and liberty to flourish. Popular public morality cannot affect the decisions of this Court. Lord Neuberger (of the UK Supreme Court) has aptly observed:

“[W]e must always remember that Parliament has democratic legitimacy – but that has disadvantages as well as advantages. The need to offer oneself for re-election sometimes makes it hard to make unpopular, but correct, decisions. At times it can be an advantage to have an independent body of people who do not have to worry about short term popularity.”

The flourishing of a constitutional order requires not only the institutional leadership of constitutional courts, but also the responsive participation of the citizenry. Constitutional morality is a pursuit of this responsive participation. The Supreme Court cannot afford to denude itself of its leadership as an institution in expounding constitutional values. Any loss of its authority will imperil democracy itself.

145. The question of morality has been central to the concerns around homosexuality and the rights of LGBT individuals. Opponents – including those of the intervenors who launched a diatribe in the course of hearing – claim that homosexuality is against popular culture and is thus unacceptable in Indian society. While dealing with the constitutionality of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, the Delhi High Court in Naz Foundation had held:

“Thus popular morality or public disapproval of certain acts is not a valid justification for restriction of the fundamental rights under Article 21. Popular morality, as distinct from a constitutional morality derived from constitutional values, is based on shifting and subjecting notions of right and wrong. If there is any type of “morality” that can pass the test of compelling state interest, it must be “constitutional” morality and not public morality… In our scheme of things, constitutional morality must outweigh the argument of public morality, even if it be the majoritarian view.”

The invocation of constitutional morality must be seen as an extension of Dr Ambedkar’s formulation of social reform and constitutional transformation. Highlighting the significance of individual rights in social transformation, he had observed:

“The assertion by the individual of his own opinions and beliefs, his own independence and interest-over and against group standards, group authority, and group interests-is the beginning of all reform. But whether the reform will continue depends upon what scope the group affords for such individual assertion.”

After the enactment of the Constitution, every individual assertion of rights is to be governed by the principles of the Constitution, by its text and spirit. The Constitution assures to every individual the right to lead a dignified life. It prohibits discrimination within society. It is for this reason that constitutional morality requires this court to issue a declaration – which we now do – that LGBT individuals are equal citizens of India, that they cannot be discriminated against and that they have a right to express themselves through their intimate choices. In upholding constitutional morality, we affirm that the protection of the rights of LGBT individuals are not only about guaranteeing a minority their rightful place in the constitutional scheme, but that we equally speak of the vision of the kind of country we want to live in and of what it means for the majority. The nine-judge Bench of this Court in Puttaswamy had held in clear terms that discrimination against an individual on the basis of sexual orientation is deeply offensive to the dignity and self-worth of the individual. The Bench held:

“The purpose of elevating certain rights to the stature of guaranteed fundamental rights is to insulate their exercise from the disdain of majorities, whether legislative or popular. The guarantee of constitutional rights does not depend upon their exercise being favourably regarded by majoritarian opinion. The test of popular acceptance does not furnish a valid basis to disregard rights which are conferred with the sanctity of constitutional protection. Discrete and insular minorities face grave dangers of discrimination for the simple reason that their views, beliefs or way of life does not accord with the ‘mainstream’. Yet in a democratic Constitution founded on the rule of law, their rights are as sacred as those conferred on other citizens to protect their freedoms and liberties.”

Constitutional morality will impact upon any law which deprives the LGBT individuals of their entitlement to a full and equal citizenship. After the Constitution came into force, no law can be divorced from constitutional morality. Society cannot dictate the expression of sexuality between consenting adults. That is a private affair. Constitutional morality will supersede any culture or tradition.

The interpretation of a right in a matter of decriminalisation and beyond must be determined by the norms of the Constitution.

146. LGBT individuals living under the threats of conformity grounded in cultural morality have been denied a basic human existence. They have been stereotyped and prejudiced. Constitutional morality requires this Court not to turn a blind eye to their right to an equal participation of citizenship and an equal enjoyment of living. Constitutional morality requires that this Court must act as a counter majoritarian institution which discharges the responsibility of protecting constitutionally entrenched rights, regardless of what the majority may believe. Constitutional morality must turn into a habit of citizens. By respecting the dignity of LGBT individuals, this Court is only fulfilling the foundational promises of our Constitution.

M In summation: transformative constitutionalism

147. This case has required a decision on whether Section 377 of the Penal Code fulfills constitutional standards in penalising consensual sexual conduct between adults of the same sex. We hold and declare that in penalising suchsexual conduct, the statutory provision violates the constitutional guarantees of liberty and equality. It denudes members of the LGBT communities of their constitutional right to lead fulfilling lives. In its application to adults of the same sex engaged in consensual sexual behaviour, it violates the constitutional guarantee of the right to life and to the equal protection of law.

148. Sexual orientation is integral to the identity of the members of the LGBT communities. It is intrinsic to their dignity, inseparable from their autonomy and at the heart of their privacy. Section 377 is founded on moral notions which are an anathema to a constitutional order in which liberty must trump over stereotypes and prevail over the mainstreaming of culture. Our Constitution, above all, is an essay in the acceptance of diversity. It is founded on a vision of an inclusive society which accommodates plural ways of life.

149. The impact of Section 377 has travelled far beyond criminalising certain acts. The presence of the provision on the statute book has reinforced stereotypes about sexual orientation. It has lent the authority of the state to the suppression of identities. The fear of persecution has led to the closeting of same sex relationships. A penal provision has reinforced societal disdain.

150. Sexual and gender based minorities cannot live in fear, if the Constitution has to have meaning for them on even terms. In its quest for equality and the equal protection of the law, the Constitution guarantees to them an equal citizenship. In de-criminalising such conduct, the values of the Constitution assure to the LGBT community the ability to lead a life of freedom from fear and to find fulfilment in intimate choices.

151. The choice of a partner, the desire for personal intimacy and the yearning to find love and fulfilment in human relationships have a universal appeal, straddling age and time. In protecting consensual intimacies, the Constitution adopts a simple principle: the state has no business to intrude into these personal matters. Nor can societal notions of heteronormativity regulate constitutional liberties based on sexual orientation.

152. This reference to the Constitution Bench is about the validity of Section 377 in its application to consensual sexual conduct between adults of the same sex. The constitutional principles which we have invoked to determine the outcome address the origins of the rights claimed and the source of their protection. In their range and content, those principles address issues broader than the acts which the statute penalises. Resilient and universal as they are, these constitutional values must enure with a mark of permanence.

153. Above all, this case has had great deal to say on the dialogue about the transformative power of the Constitution. In addressing LGBT rights, the Constitution speaks – as well – to the rest of society. In recognising the rights of the LGBT community, the Constitution asserts itself as a text for governance which promotes true equality. It does so by questioning prevailing notions about the dominance of sexes and genders. In its transformational role, the Constitution directs our attention to resolving the polarities of sex and binarities of gender. In dealing with these issues we confront much that polarises our society. Our ability to survive as a free society will depend upon whether constitutional values can prevail over the impulses of the time.

154. A hundred and fifty eight years is too long a period for the LGBT community to suffer the indignities of denial. That it has taken sixty eight years even after the advent of the Constitution is a sobering reminder of the unfinished task which lies ahead. It is also a time to invoke the transformative power of the Constitution.

155. The ability of a society to acknowledge the injustices which it has perpetuated is a mark of its evolution. In the process of remedying wrongs under a regime of constitutional remedies, recrimination gives way to restitution, diatribes pave the way for dialogue and healing replaces the hate of a community. For those who have been oppressed, justice under a regime committed to human freedom, has the power to transform lives. In addressing the causes of oppression and injustice, society transforms itself. The Constitution has within it the ability to produce a social catharsis. The importance of this case lies in telling us that reverberations of how we address social conflict in our times will travel far beyond the narrow alleys in which they are explored.

156. We hold and declare that:

(i) Section 377 of the Penal Code, in so far as it criminalises consensual sexual conduct between adults of the same sex, is unconstitutional;

(ii) Members of the LGBT community are entitled, as all other citizens, to the full range of constitutional rights including the liberties protected by the Constitution;

(iii) The choice of whom to partner, the ability to find fulfilment in sexual intimacies and the right not to be subjected to discriminatory behaviour are intrinsic to the constitutional protection of sexual orientation;

(iv) Members of the LGBT community are entitled to the benefit of an equal citizenship, without discrimination, and to the equal protection of law; and

(v) The decision in Koushal stands overruled.

Acknowledgment

Before concluding, I acknowledge the efforts of counsel for the petitioners and intervenors who appeared in this case – Mr Mukul Rohatgi, Mr Arvind Datar, Mr Ashok Desai, Mr Anand Grover, Mr Shyam Divan, Mr CU Singh and Mr Krishnan Venugopal, Senior Counsel; and Mr Saurabh Kirpal, Dr Menaka Guruswamy and Ms Arundhati Katju, and Ms Jayna Kothari, learned Counsel. Their erudition has enabled us to absorb, as we reflected and wrote. Mr Tushar Mehta, learned Additional Solicitor General appeared for the Union of India. We acknowledge the assistance rendered by the counsel for the intervenors who opposed the petitioners.

INDU MALHOTRA, J.

1. I have had the advantage of reading the opinions prepared by the Hon’ble Chief Justice, and my brother Judges Justice Nariman and Justice Chandrachud. The Judgments have dealt in-depth with the various issues that are required to be examined by this Bench, to answer the reference.

2. The present batch of Writ Petitions have been filed to challenge the constitutional validity of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”) on the specific ground that it criminalises consensual sexual intercourse between adult persons belonging to the same sex in private.

3. The issue as to whether the decision in Suresh Kumar Koushal v. Naz Foundation & Ors.(2014) 1 SCC 1 requires re-consideration was referred to the Constitution Bench vide Order dated 8th January, 2018.

4. The Petitioners have inter alia submitted that sexual expression and intimacy between consenting adults of the same sex in private ought to receive protection under Part III of the Constitution, as sexuality lies at the core of a human being’s innate identity. Section 377 inasmuch as it criminalises consensual relationships between same sex couples is violative of the fundamental rights guaranteed by Articles 21, 19 and 14, in Part III of the Constitution.

The principal contentions raised by the Petitioners during the course of hearing are:

i. Fundamental rights are available to LGBT persons regardless of the fact that they constitute a minority.

ii. Section 377 is violative of Article 14 being wholly arbitrary, vague, and has an unlawful objective.

iii. Section 377 penalises a person on the basis of their sexual orientation, and is hence discriminatory under Article 15.

iv. Section 377 violates the right to life and liberty guaranteed by Article 21 which encompasses all aspects of the right to live with dignity, the right to privacy, and the right to autonomy and self-determination with respect to the most intimate decisions of a human being.

5. During the course of hearing, the Union of India tendered an Affidavit dated 11th July, 2018 wherein it was submitted that with respect to the Constitutional validity of Section 377 insofar as it applies to consensual acts of adults in private, the Union of India would leave the said question to the wisdom of this Hon’ble Court.

However, if the Court is to decide and examine any issue other than the Constitutional validity of Section 377, or construe any other right in favour of the LGBT community, the Union of India would like to file a detailed Affidavit as that would have far-reaching and wide ramifications, not contemplated by the reference.

6. LEGISLATIVE BACKGROUND

6.1. The legal treatises Fleta and Britton, which date back to 1290 and 1300 respectively, documented prevailing laws in England at the time. These treatises made references to sodomy as a crime.

6.2. The Buggery Act, 1533 was re-enacted in 1563 during the regime of Queen Elizabeth I, which penalized acts of sodomy by hanging. In 1861, death penalty for buggery was abolished in England and Wales. However, it remained a crime “not to be mentioned by Christians”.

6.3. The 1861 Act became the charter for enactments framed in the colonies of Great Britain.

6.4. The Marginal Note of Section 377, refers to “Unnatural Offences”. Section 377 reads as under:

“377. Unnatural offences.- Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation.-Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offence described in this section.”

(emphasis supplied)

6.5. Section 377 does not define “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”. Even though the provision is facially neutral, the Petitioners submit that the thrust of this provision has been to target the LGBT community in light of the colonial history of anti-sodomy laws, and penalise what was perceived to be ‘deviant’ or ‘perverse’ sexual behaviour.

7. In the early 20th century, there were many psychiatric theories which regarded homosexuality as a form of psychopathology or developmental arrest. It was believed that normal development resulted in a child growing up to be a heterosexual adult, and that homosexuality was but a state of arrested development. Homosexuality was treated as a disorder or mental illness, which was meted out with social ostracism and revulsion.

8. Towards the end of the 20th century, this notion began to change, and the earlier theories gave way to a more enlightened perspective that characterized homosexuality as a normal and natural variant of human sexuality. Scientific studies indicated that human sexuality is complex and inherent.

Kurt Hiller in his speech delivered at the Second International Congress for Sexual Reform held at Copenhagen in 19286, stated:

“Same-sex love is not a mockery of nature, but rather nature at play…As Nietzsche expressed it in Daybreak, Procreation is a frequently occurring accidental result of one way of satisfying the sexual drive – it is neither its goal nor its necessary consequence. The theory which would make procreation the goal of sexuality is exposed as hasty, simplistic and false by the phenomenon of same-sex love alone. Nature’s laws, unlike the laws formulated by the human mind, cannot be violated. The assertion that a specific phenomenon of nature could somehow be “contrary to nature” amounts to pure absurdity…To belong, not to the rule, not to the norm, but rather to the exception, to the minority, to the variety, is neither a symptom of degeneration nor of pathology.”

(emphasis supplied)

9. In 1957, the United Kingdom published the Wolfenden Committee Report (supra) which recognised how the anti-sodomy laws had created an atmosphere for blackmail, harassment and violence against homosexuals. An extract of the findings of this Committee reads as under:

“We have found it hard to decide whether the blackmailer’s primary weapon is the threat of disclosure to the police, with attendant legal consequences, or the threat of disclosure to the victim’s relatives, employers or friends, with attendant social consequences. It may well be that the latter is the more effective weapon, but it may yet be true that it would lose much of its edge if the social consequences were not associated with the present legal position.”

Pursuant to this Report, the House of Lords initiated legislation to de-criminalise homosexual acts done in private by consenting parties. The Sexual Offences Act, 1967 came to be passed in England which de-criminalised homosexual acts done in private, provided the parties had consented to it, and were above the age of 21.

10. The trend of decriminalizing anti-sodomy laws world over has gained currency during the past few decades since such laws have been recognised to be violative of human rights. In 2017, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association noted in its Annual State Sponsored Homophobia Report that 124 countries no longer penalise homosexuality. The change in laws in these countries was given effect to, either through legislative amendments to the statutory enactments, or by way of court judgments.

Relationships between same-sex couples have been increasingly accorded protection by States across the world. As per the aforesaid Report, a total of 24 countries now allow same-sex couples to marry, while 28 countries legally recognise partnerships between same-sex couples. Several countries have enacted enabling legislations which protect LGBT persons from discrimination, and allow them to adopt children. For instance, the United Kingdom now outlaws discrimination in employment, education, social protection and housing on the ground of sexual orientation. Marriage between same-sex couples have been recognised in England and Wales.

The British Prime Minister Theresa May in her speech at the Commonwealth Joint Forum on April 17, 2018 urged Commonwealth Nations to overhaul “outdated” anti-gay laws, and expressed regret regarding Britain’s role in introducing such laws. The relevant excerpt of her speech is extracted hereinbelow:

” Across the world, discriminatory laws made many years ago continue to affect the lives of many people, criminalising same-sex relations and failing to protect women and girls.

I am all too aware that these laws were often put in place by my own country. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now. As the UK’s Prime Minister, I deeply regret both the fact that such laws were introduced, and the legacy of discrimination, violence and even death that persists today. “

11. Section 377 has, however, remained in its original form in the IPC to date.

12. JUDICIAL INTERPRETATION

12.1. The essential ingredient required to constitute an offence under Section 377 is “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”, which is punishable with life imprisonment, or imprisonment of either description up to ten years. Section 377 applies irrespective of gender, age, or consent.

12.2. The expression ‘carnal intercourse’ used in Section 377 is distinct from ‘sexual intercourse’ which appears in Sections 375 and 497 of the IPC. The phrase “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” is not defined by Section 377, or in the Code.

12.3. The term ‘carnal’ has been the subject matter of judicial interpretation in various decisions. According to the New International Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language, ‘carnal’ means:

“1.Pertaining to the fleshly nature or to bodily appetites.

2. Sensual ; sexual.

3.Pertaining to the flesh or to the body; not spiritual; hence worldly.”

12.4. The courts had earlier interpreted the term “carnal” to refer to acts which fall outside penile-vaginal intercourse, and were not for the purposes of procreation.

In Khanu v. EmperorAIR 1925 Sind. 286. the Sindh High Court was dealing with a case where the accused was found guilty of having committed Gomorrah coitus per os with a little child, and was convicted under Section 377. The Court held that the act of carnal intercourse was clearly against the order of nature, because the natural object of carnal intercourse is that there should be the possibility of conception of human beings, which in the case of coitus per os is impossible.

The Lahore High Court in Khandu v. Emperor AIR 1934 Lah 261 was dealing with a case wherein the accused had penetrated the nostril of a bullock with his penis. The Court, while relying on the decision of the Sindh High Court in Khanu v. Emperor (supra) held that the acts of the accused constituted coitus per os, were punishable under Section 377.

In Lohana Vasantlal Devchand & Ors v. State AIR 1968 Guj 252 the Gujarat High Court convicted two accused under Section 377 read with Section 511 of the IPC, on account of having carnal intercourse per anus, and inserting the penis in the mouth of a young boy. It was held that:

“…words used (in Section 377) are quite comprehensive and in my opinion, an act like the present act (oral sex), which was an imitative act of sexual intercourse for the purpose of his satisfying the sexual appetite, would be an act punishable under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.”

Later this Court in Fazal Rab Choudhary v. State of Bihar (1982) 3 SCC 9 while reducing the sentence of the appellant who was convicted for having committed an offence on a young boy under Section 377 IPC, held that:

“…The offence is one under Section 377 I.P.C., which implies sexual perversity. No force appears to have been used. Neither the notions of permissive society nor the fact that in some countries homosexuality has ceased to be an offence has influenced our thinking.”

(emphasis supplied)

The test for attracting penal provisions under Section 377 changed over the years from non-procreative sexual acts in Khanu v. Emperor (supra), to imitative sexual intercourse like oral sex in Lohana Vasantlal Devchand v. State (supra), to sexual perversity in Fazal Rab v. State of Bihar (supra). These cases referred to non-consensual sexual intercourse by coercion.

13. HOMOSEXUALITY – NOT AN ABERRATION BUT A VARIATION of SEXUALITY

13.1. Whilst a great deal of scientific research has examined possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, psychological, social and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have conclusively linked sexual orientation to any one particular factor or factors. It is believed that one’s sexuality is the result of a complex interplay between nature and nurture.

Sexual orientation is an innate attribute of one’s identity, and cannot be altered. Sexual orientation is not a matter of choice. It manifests in early adolescence. Homosexuality is a natural variant of human sexuality.

The U.S. Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas 539 U.S. 558 (2003) relied upon the Brief of the Amici Curiae 539 U.S. 558(2003) which stated:

“Heterosexual and homosexual behavior are both normal aspects of human sexuality. Both have been documented in many different human cultures and historical eras, and in a wide variety of animal species. There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons why an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual orientation. According to current scientific and professional understanding, however, the core feelings and attractions that form the basis for adult sexual orientation typically emerge between middle childhood and early adolescence. Moreover, these patterns of sexual attraction generally arise without any prior sexual experience. Most or many gay men and lesbians experience little or no choice about their sexual orientation.”

(emphasis supplied)

13.2. An article by K.K. Gulia and H.N. Mallick titled “Homosexuality: A Dilemma in Discourse” states:

“In general, homosexuality as a sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern or disposition to experience sexual, affectional, or romantic attractions primarily to people of the same sex. It also refers to an individual’s sense of personal and social identity based on those attractions, behaviours, expressing them, and membership in a community of others who share them. It is a condition in which one is attracted and drawn to his/her own gender, which is evidenced by the erotic and emotional involvement with members of his/her own sex…

…In the course of the 20th century, homosexuality became a subject of considerable study and debate in western societies. It was predominantly viewed as a disorder or mental illness. At that time, emerged two major pioneering studies on homosexuality carried out by Alfred Charles Kinsey (1930) and Evelyn Hooker (1957)…This empirical study of sexual behavior among American adults revealed that a significant number of participants were homosexuals. In this study when people were asked directly if they had engaged in homosexual relations, the percentage of positive responses nearly doubled. The result of this study became the widely popularized Kinsey Scale of Sexuality. This scales rates all individuals on a spectrum of sexuality, ranging from 100% heterosexual to 100% homosexual…”

(emphasis supplied)

13.3. The American Psychiatric Association in December 1973 removed ‘homosexuality’ from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychological Disorders, and opined that the manifestation of sexual attraction towards persons of the opposite sex, or same sex, is a natural condition.

13.4. The World Health Organization removed homosexuality from the list of diseases in the International Classification of Diseases in the publication of ICD-10 in 1992.

13.5. In India, the Indian Psychiatric Society has also opined that sexual orientation is not a psychiatric disorder. It was noted that:

“…there is no scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be altered by any treatment and that any such attempts may in fact lead to low self-esteem and stigmatization of the person.”

13.6. It is relevant to note that under Section 3 of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, determination of what constitutes a “mental illness” has to be done in accordance with nationally and internationally accepted medical standards, including the latest edition of the International Classification of Disease of the World Health Organisation.

14. SECTION 377 IF APPLIED TO CONSENTING ADULTS IS VIOLATIVE of ARTICLE 14

14.1. One of the main contentions raised by the Petitioners to challenge the Constitutional validity of Section 377 is founded on Article 14 of the Constitution. Article 14 enshrines the principle of equality as a fundamental right, and mandates that the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law, or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India. It recognizes and guarantees the right of equal treatment to all persons in this country.

It is contended that Section 377 discriminates against adults of the same gender, from having a consensual sexual relationship in private, by treating it as a penal offence, and hence is violative of Article 14.

14.2. The twin-test of classification under Article 14 provides that:

(i) there should be a reasonable classification based on intelligible differentia; and,

(ii) this classification should have a rational nexus with the objective sought to be achieved.

14.3. Section 377 operates in a vastly different manner for two classes of persons based on their “sexual orientation” i.e. the LGBT persons and heterosexual persons. Section 377 penalises all forms of non penile-vaginal intercourse. In effect, voluntary consensual relationships between LGBT persons are criminalised in totality.

The import and effect of Section 377 is that while a consensual heterosexual relationship is permissible, a consensual relationship between LGBT persons is considered to be ‘carnal’, and against the order of nature.

Section 377 creates an artificial dichotomy. The natural or innate sexual orientation of a person cannot be a ground for discrimination. Where a legislation discriminates on the basis of an intrinsic and core trait of an individual, it cannot form a reasonable classification based on an intelligible differentia.

14.4. In National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India and Ors.(2014) 5 SCC 438 this Court granted equal protection of laws to transgender persons. There is therefore no justification to deny the same to LGBT persons.

14.5. A person’s sexual orientation is intrinsic to their being. It is connected with their individuality, and identity. A classification which discriminates between persons based on their innate nature, would be violative of their fundamental rights, and cannot withstand the test of constitutional morality.

14.6. In contemporary civilised jurisprudence, with States increasingly recognising the status of same-sex relationships, it would be retrograde to describe such relationships as being ‘perverse’, ‘deviant’, or ‘unnatural’.

14.7. Section 375 defines the offence of rape. It provides for penetrative acts which if performed by a man against a woman without her consent, or by obtaining her consent under duress, would amount to rape. Penetrative acts (after the 2013 Amendment) include anal and oral sex.

The necessary implication which can be drawn from the amended provision is that if such penetrative acts are done with the consent of the woman they are not punishable under Section 375.

While Section 375 permits consensual penetrative acts (the definition of ‘penetration’ includes oral and anal sex), Section 377 makes the same acts of penetration punishable irrespective of consent. This creates a dichotomy in the law.

14.8. The proscription of a consensual sexual relationship under Section 377 is not founded on any known or rational criteria. Sexual expression and intimacy of a consensual nature, between adults in private, cannot be treated as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”.

14.9. Emphasising on the second part of Article 14 which enjoins the State to provide equal protection of laws to all persons, Nariman, J. in his concurring opinion in Shayara Bano v. Union of India & Ors. (2017) 9 SCC 1 elucidated on the doctrine of manifest arbitrariness as a facet of Article 14. Apart from the conventional twin-tests of classification discussed in the preceding paragraphs, a legislation, or part thereof, can also be struck down under Article 14 on the ground that it is manifestly arbitrary. It would be instructive to refer to the following passage from the judgment of this Court in Shayara Bano v. Union of India & Ors. (supra):

“101…Manifest arbitrariness, therefore, must be something done by the legislature capriciously, irrationally and/or without adequate determining principle. Also, when something is done which is excessive and disproportionate, such legislation would be manifestly arbitrary.”

Section 377 insofar as it criminalises consensual sexual acts between adults in private, is not based on any sound or rational principle, since the basis of criminalisation is the “sexual orientation” of a person, over which one has “little or no choice”.

Further, the phrase “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” in Section 377 as a determining principle in a penal provision, is too open-ended, giving way to the scope for misuse against members of the LGBT community.

Thus, apart from not satisfying the twin-test under Article 14, Section 377 is also manifestly arbitrary, and hence violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.

15. SECTION 377 IS VIOLATIVE of ARTICLE 15

Article 15 prohibits the State from discrimination against any citizen on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. The object of this provision was to guarantee protection to those citizens who had suffered historical disadvantage, whether it be of a political, social, or economic nature.

15.1. The term ‘sex’, as it occurs in Article 15 has been given an expansive interpretation by this Court in National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India (referred to as the NALSA judgment) to include sexual identity. Paragraph 66 of the judgment reads thus:

“66…Both gender and biological attributes constitute distinct components of sex. The biological characteristics, of course, include genitals, chromosomes and secondary sexual features, but gender attributes includes one’s self-image, the deep psychological or emotional sense of sexual identity and character. The discrimination on the ground of sex under Article 15 and 16, therefore includes discrimination on the ground of gender identity. The expression sex used in Articles 15 and 16 is not just limited to biological sex of male and female, but intended to include people who consider themselves neither male nor female.”

(emphasis supplied and internal quotations omitted)

Sex as it occurs in Article 15, is not merely restricted to the biological attributes of an individual, but also includes their “sexual identity and character”.

The J.S. Verma Committee had recommended that ‘sex’ under Article 15 must include ‘sexual orientation’:

“65. We must also recognize that our society has the need to recognize different sexual orientations a human reality. In addition to homosexuality, bisexuality, and lesbianism, there also exists the transgender community. In view of the lack of scientific understanding of the different variations of orientation, even advanced societies have had to first declassify ‘homosexuality’ from being a mental disorder and now it is understood as a triangular development occasioned by evolution, partial conditioning and neurological underpinnings owing to genetic reasons. Further, we are clear that Article 15 (C) of the constitution of 52 India uses the word “sex” as including sexual orientation.”

The prohibition against discrimination under Article 15 on the ground of ‘sex’ should therefore encompass instances where such discrimination takes place on the basis of one’s sexual orientation.

In this regard, the view taken by the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations in Nicholas Toonen v. Australia is relevant to cite, wherein the Committee noted that the reference to ‘sex’ in Article 2, Paragraph 1 and Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights would include ‘sexual orientation’.

15.2. In an article titled “Reading Swaraj into Article 15: A New Deal For All Minorities”, Tarunabh Khaitan notes that the underlying commonality between the grounds specified in Article 15 is based on the ideas of ‘immutable status’ and ‘fundamental choice’. He refers to the following quote by John Gardener to provide context to the aforesaid commonality:

“Discrimination on the basis of our immutable status tends to deny us [an autonomous] life. Its result is that our further choices are constrained not mainly by our own choices, but by the choices of others. Because these choices of others are based on our immutable status, our own choices can make no difference to them. …. And discrimination on the ground of fundamental choices can be wrongful by the same token. To lead an autonomous life we need an adequate range of valuable options throughout that life…. there are some particular valuable options that each of us should have irrespective of our other choices. Where a particular choice is a choice between valuable options which ought to be available to people whatever else they may choose, it is a fundamental choice. Where there is discrimination against people based on their fundamental choices it tends to skew those choices by making one or more of the valuable options from which they must choose more painful or burdensome than others.”

(emphasis supplied)

Race, caste, sex, and place of birth are aspects over which a person has no control, ergo they are immutable. On the other hand, religion is a fundamental choice of a person. Discrimination based on any of these grounds would undermine an individual’s personal autonomy.

The Supreme Court of Canada in its decisions in the cases of Egan v. Canada, and Vriend v. Alberta, interpreted Section 15(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which is pari materia to Article 15 of the Indian Constitution.

Section 15(1), of the Canadian Charter like Article 15 of our Constitution, does not include “sexual orientation” as a prohibited ground of discrimination. Notwithstanding that, the Canadian Supreme Court in the aforesaid decisions has held that sexual orientation is a “ground analogous” to the other grounds specified under Section 15(1). Discrimination based on any of these grounds has adverse impact on an individual’s personal autonomy, and is undermining of his personality.

A similar conclusion can be reached in the Indian context as well in light of the underlying aspects of immutability and fundamental choice.

The LGBT community is a sexual minority which has suffered from unjustified and unwarranted hostile discrimination, and is equally entitled to the protection afforded by Article 15.

16. SECTION 377 VIOLATES THE RIGHT TO LIFE AND LIBERTY GUARANTEED BY ARTICLE 21

Article 21 provides that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law. Such procedure established by law must be fair, just and reasonable.Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India & Anr., (1978) 1 SCC 248, at paragraph

The right to life and liberty affords protection to every citizen or non-citizen, irrespective of their identity or orientation, without discrimination.

16.1. RIGHT TO LIVE WITH DIGNITY

This Court has expansively interpreted the terms “life” and “personal liberty” to recognise a panoply of rights under Article 21 of the Constitution, so as to comprehend the true scope and contours of the right to life under Article 21. Article 21 is “the most precious human right and forms the ark of all other rights” as held in Francis Coralie Mullin v. Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi and Ors.,(1981) 1 SCC 608 wherein it was noted that the right to life could not be restricted to a mere animal existence, and provided for much more than only physical survival. (1981) 1 SCC 608 at para 7 Bhagwati J. observed as under:

“8…We think that the right to life includes the right to live with human dignity and all that goes along with it, namely the bare necessaries of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter and facilities for reading, writing and expressing oneself in diverse forms, freely moving about and mixing and commingling with fellow human beings…it must in any view of the matter, include the right to the basic necessities of life and also the right to carry on such functions and activities as constitute the bare minimum expression of the human-self. Every act which offends against or impairs human dignity would constitute deprivation pro tanto of this right to live and it would have to be in accordance with reasonable, fair and just procedure established by law which stands the test of other fundamental rights.”

(emphasis supplied)

This was re-affirmed by the Constitution bench decision in K.S. Puttaswamy and Anr. v. Union of India and Ors. (2017) 10 SCC 1 and Common Cause (A Registered Society) v. Union of India and Anr. (2018) 5 SCC 1 at paragraphs 156, 437, 438, 488 & 516.

Although dignity is an amorphous concept which is incapable of being defined, it is a core intrinsic value of every human being. Dignity is considered essential for a meaningful existence.Common Cause (A Registered Society) v. Union of India and Anr., (2018) 5 SCC 1, at paragraphs 437 and 438.

In National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India and Ors. (supra), this Court recognised the right of transgender persons to decide their self-identified gender. In the context of the legal rights of transgender persons, this Court held that sexual orientation and gender identity is an integral part of their personality.

The relevant excerpt from Radhakrishnan, J.’s view is extracted hereinbelow:

“22. …Each person’s self-defined sexual orientation and gender identity is integral to their personality and is one of the most basic aspects of self-determination, dignity and freedom…”

(Emphasis supplied)

Sexual orientation is innate to a human being. It is an important attribute of one’s personality and identity. Homosexuality and bisexuality are natural variants of human sexuality. LGBT persons have little or no choice over their sexual orientation. LGBT persons, like other heterosexual persons, are entitled to their privacy, and the right to lead a dignified existence, without fear of persecution. They are entitled to complete autonomy over the most intimate decisions relating to their personal life, including the choice of their partners. Such choices must be protected under Article 21. The right to life and liberty would encompass the right to sexual autonomy, and freedom of expression.

The following excerpt from the decision of the Constitutional Court of South Africa in National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality and Anr. v. Minister of Justice and Ors.[1998] ZACC 15 is also instructive in this regard:

“While recognising the unique worth of each person, the Constitution does not presuppose that a holder of rights is an isolated, lonely and abstract figure possessing a disembodied and socially disconnected self. It acknowledges that people live in their bodies, their communities, their cultures, their places and their times. The expression of sexuality requires a partner, real or imagined. It is not for the state to choose or arrange the choice of partner, but for the partners to choose themselves.”

(emphasis supplied)

Section 377 insofar as it curtails the personal liberty of LGBT persons to engage in voluntary consensual sexual relationships with a partner of their choice, in a safe and dignified environment, is violative of Article 21. It inhibits them from entering and nurturing enduring relationships. As a result, LGBT individuals are forced to either lead a life of solitary existence without a companion, or lead a closeted life as “unapprehended felons”.

Section 377 criminalises the entire class of LGBT persons since sexual intercourse between such persons, is considered to be carnal and “against the order of nature”. Section 377 prohibits LGBT persons from engaging in intimate sexual relations in private.

The social ostracism against LGBT persons prevents them from partaking in all activities as full citizens, and in turn impedes them from realising their fullest potential as human beings.

On the issue of criminalisation of homosexuality, the dissenting opinion of Blackmun J. of the U.S. Supreme Court in Bowers v. Hardwick 478 U.$. 186 (1986) is instructive, which cites a previous decision in Paris Adult Theatre I v. Slaton 413 U.S. 49 (1973) and noted as follows:

“Only the most wilful blindness could obscure the fact that sexual intimacy is a sensitive, key relationship of human existence, central to family life, community welfare, and the development of human personality.”

(emphasis supplied)

The U.S. Supreme Court over-ruled Bowers v. Hardwick (supra) in Lawrence et al. v. Texas. (supra) and declared that a statute proscribing homosexuals from engaging in intimate sexual conduct as invalid on the ground that it violated the right to privacy, and dignity of homosexual persons. Kennedy, J. in his majority opinion observed as under:

“To say that the issue in Bowers was simply the right to engage in certain sexual conduct demeans the claim the individual put forward, just as it would demean a married couple were it to be said marriage is simply about the right to have sexual intercourse…

…It suffices for us to acknowledge that adults may choose to enter upon this relationship in the confines of their homes and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons. When sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring. The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to make this choice…This stigma this criminal statute imposes, moreover, is not trivial. The offence, to be sure, is but a class C misdemeanour, a minor offence in the Texas legal system. Still, it remains a criminal offence with all that imports for the dignity of the persons charged. The petitioners will bear on their record the history of criminal convictions…

…The present case does not involve minors. It does not involve persons who might be injured or coerced or who are situated in relationships where consent might not easily be refused. It does not involve public conduct or prostitution. It does not involve whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexuals persons seek to enter. The case does involve two adults who, with full and mutual consent from each other, engage in sexual practices, common to a homosexual lifestyle. The Petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. The right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government. It is a promise of the Constitution that there is a realm of personal liberty which the government may not enter. Casey, supra at 847. The Texas statute furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual.”

(emphasis supplied)

Thus, Section 377 prevents LGBT persons from leading a dignified life as guaranteed by Article 21.

16.2. RIGHT TO PRIVACY

The right to privacy has now been recognised to be an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21.K.S. Puttaswamy & Anr. v. Union of India & Ors., (2017) 10 SCC 1

Sexual orientation is an innate part of the identity of LGBT persons. Sexual orientation of a person is an essential attribute of privacy. Its protection lies at the core of Fundamental Rights guaranteed by Articles 14, 15, and 21. K.S. Puttaswamy & Anr. v. Union of India & Ors., (2017) 10 SCC 1, at paragraphs 144, 145, 479 and 647

The right to privacy is broad-based and pervasive under our Constitutional scheme, and encompasses decisional autonomy, to cover intimate/personal decisions and preserves the sanctity of the private sphere of an individual. K.S. Puttaswamy & Anr. v. Union of India & Ors., (2017) 10 SCC 1, at paragraph 248, 250, 371 and 403

The right to privacy is not simply the “right to be let alone”, and has travelled far beyond that initial concept. It now incorporates the ideas of spatial privacy, and decisional privacy or privacy of choice.K.S. Puttaswamy & Anr. v. Union of India & Ors., (2017) 10 SCC 1, at paragraphs 248, 249, 371 and 521 It extends to the right to make fundamental personal choices, including those relating to intimate sexual conduct, without unwarranted State interference.

Section 377 affects the private sphere of the lives of LGBT persons. It takes away the decisional autonomy of LGBT persons to make choices consistent with their sexual orientation, which would further a dignified existence and a meaningful life as a full person. Section 377 prohibits LGBT persons from expressing their sexual orientation and engaging in sexual conduct in private, a decision which inheres in the most intimate spaces of one’s existence.

The Constitutional Court of South Africa in National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality and Anr. v. Minister of Justice and Ors. (supra) noted as under:

“Privacy recognises that we all have a right to a sphere of private intimacy and autonomy which allows us to establish and nurture human relationships without interference from the outside community. The way in which we give expression to our sexuality is at the core of this area of private intimacy. If, in expressing our sexuality, we act consensually and without harming one another, invasion of that precinct will be a breach of our privacy.”

Just like other fundamental rights, the right to privacy is not an absolute right and is subject to reasonable restrictions. Any restriction on the right to privacy must adhere to the requirements of legality, existence of a legitimate state interest, and proportionality. K.S. Puttaswamy & Anr. v. Union of India & Ors., (2017) 10 SCC 1, at paragraphs 325, 638 and 645

A subjective notion of public or societal morality which discriminates against LGBT persons, and subjects them to criminal sanction, simply on the basis of an innate characteristic runs counter to the concept of Constitutional morality, and cannot form the basis of a legitimate State interest.

The theme of inclusiveness permeates through Part III of the Constitution. Apart from the equality code of the Constitution comprised in Articles 14, 15(1), 16, and other provisions in the form of Article 17 (Abolition of Untouchability), Article 21A (Right to Education), Article 25 (Freedom of Conscience and Free Profession, Practice and Propagation of Religion), Article 26 (Freedom to Manage Religious Affairs), Article 29 (Protection of Interest of Minorities), Article 30 (Right of Minorities to Establish and Administer Educational Institutions) are aimed at creating an inclusive society where rights are guaranteed to all, regardless of their status as a minority.

16.3. RIGHT TO HEALTH

The right to health, and access to healthcare are also crucial facets of the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

LGBT persons being a sexual minority have been subjected to societal prejudice, discrimination and violence on account of their sexual orientation. Since Section 377 criminalises “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” it compels LGBT persons to lead closeted lives. As a consequence, LGBT persons are seriously disadvantaged and prejudiced when it comes to access to health-care facilities. This results in serious health issues, including depression and suicidal tendencies amongst members of this community. Common Cause (A Registered Society) v. Union of India & Anr., (2018) 5 SCC 1, at paragraph 304; C.E.S.C. Limited & Ors. v. Subhash Chandra Bose & Ors., (1992) 1 SCC 441, at paragraph 32; Union of India v. Mool Chand Khairati Ram Trust, (2018) SCC OnLine SC 675, at paragraph 66; and, Centre for Public Interest Litigation v. Union of India & Ors., (2013) 16 SCC 279, at paragraph 25

LGBT persons, and more specifically the MSM, and transgender persons are at a higher risk of contracting HIV as they lack safe spaces to engage in safe-sex practices. They are inhibited from seeking medical help for testing, treatment and supportive care on account of the threat of being ‘exposed’ and the resultant prosecution. Higher rates of prevalence of HIV-AIDS in MSM, who are in turn married to other people of the opposite sex, coupled with the difficulty in detection and treatment, makes them highly susceptible to contraction and further transmission of the virus.

It is instructive to refer to the findings of the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations in Nicholas Toonen v. Australia (supra):

“8.5 As far as the public health argument of the Tasmanian authorities is concerned, the Committee notes that the criminalization of homosexual practices cannot be considered a reasonable means or proportionate measure to achieve the aim of preventing the spread of AIDS/HIV. The Australian Government observes that statutes criminalizing homosexual activity tend to impede public health programmes by driving underground many of the people at the risk of infection. Criminalization of homosexual activity thus would appear to run counter to the implementation of effective education programmes in respect of the HIV/AIDS prevention. Secondly, the Committee notes that no link has been shown between the continued criminalization of homosexual activity and the effective control of the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus.”

(emphasis supplied and internal footnotes omitted)

The American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, National Association of Social Workers and the Texas Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers in their Amicus Brief in Lawrence, et al. v. Texas (supra) stated as follows:

“III. Texas Penal Code S. 21.06 reinforces prejudice, discrimination, and violence against gay men and lesbians…Although many gay men and lesbians learn to cope with the social stigma against homosexuality, this pattern of prejudice can cause gay people serious psychological distress, especially if they attempt to conceal or deny their sexual orientation….”

(emphasis supplied)

It is pertinent to mention that in India the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 came into force on July 7, 2018. Sections 18(1) and (2) read with 21(1)(a) of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 provide for the right to access mental healthcare and equal treatment of people with physical and mental illnesses without discrimination, inter alia, on the basis of “sexual orientation”.

This gives rise to a paradoxical situation since Section 377 criminalises LGBT persons, which inhibits them from accessing health-care facilities, while the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 provides a right to access mental healthcare without discrimination, even on the ground of ‘sexual orientation’.

17. SECTION 377 VIOLATES THE RIGHT TO FREEDOM of EXPRESSION of LGBT PERSONS

17.1. Article 19(1)(a) guarantees freedom of expression to all citizens. However, reasonable restrictions can be imposed on the exercise of this right on the grounds specified in Article 19(2).

LGBT persons express their sexual orientation in myriad ways. One such way is engagement in intimate sexual acts like those proscribed under Section 377. Lawrence et al. v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003); and, National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality & Anr. v. Minister of Justice & Ors., [1998] ZACC 15 Owing to the fear of harassment from law enforcement agencies and prosecution, LGBT persons tend to stay ‘in the closet’. They are forced not to disclose a central aspect of their personal identity i.e. their sexual orientation, both in their personal and professional spheres to avoid persecution in society and the opprobrium attached to homosexuality. Unlike heterosexual persons, they are inhibited from openly forming and nurturing fulfilling relationships, thereby restricting rights of full personhood and a dignified existence. It also has an impact on their mental well-being.

17.2. In National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India and Ors. (supra), this Court noted that gender identity is an important aspect of personal identity and is inherent to a person. It was held that transgender persons have the right to express their self-identified gender by way of speech, mannerism, behaviour, presentation and clothing, etc.(2014) 5 SCC 438, at paragraphs 69-72

The Court also noted that like gender identity, sexual orientation is integral to one’s personality, and is a basic aspect of self-determination, dignity and freedom.(2014) 5 SCC 438, at paragraph 22 The proposition that sexual orientation is integral to one’s personality and identity was affirmed by the Constitution Bench in K.S. Puttaswamy & Anr. v. Union of India & Ors.(2017) 10 SCC 1, at paragraphs 144, 145, 647

In this regard, it is instructive to refer to the decision of this Court in S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal and Another (2010) 5 SCC 600 wherein the following observation was made in the context of the phrase “decency and morality” as it occurs in Article 19(2):

“45. Even though the constitutional freedom of speech and expression is not absolute and can be subjected to reasonable restrictions on grounds such as “decency and morality” among others, we must lay stress on the need to tolerate unpopular views in the sociocultural space. The Framers of our Constitution recognised the importance of safeguarding this right since the free flow of opinions and ideas is essential to sustain the collective life of the citizenry. While an informed citizenry is a precondition for meaningful governance in the political sense, we must also promote a culture of open dialogue when it comes to societal attitudes.

46…Notions of social morality are inherently subjective and the criminal law cannot be used as a means to unduly interfere with the domain of personal autonomy. Morality and criminality are not coextensive.”

(emphasis supplied)

Therefore, Section 377 cannot be justified as a reasonable restriction under Article 19(2) on the basis of public or societal morality, since it is inherently subjective.

18. SURESH KUMAR KOUSHAL OVERRULED

The two-Judge bench of this Court in Suresh Kumar Koushal and Another v. Naz Foundation and Others (supra) over-ruled the decision of the Delhi High Court in Naz Foundation v. Government of NCT of Delhi and Ors.(2009) 111 DRJ 1 (DB) (supra) which had declared Section 377 insofar as it criminalised consensual sexual acts of adults in private to be violative of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution.

The grounds on which the two-judge bench of this Court over-ruled the judgment in Naz Foundation was that:

i. Section 377 does not criminalise particular people or identity or orientation. It merely identifies certain acts which if committed would constitute an offence. Such a prohibition regulates sexual conduct, regardless of gender identity and orientation.

Those who indulge in carnal intercourse in the ordinary course, and those who indulge in carnal intercourse against the order of nature, constitute different classes. Persons falling in the latter category cannot claim that Section 377 suffers from the vice of arbitrariness and irrational classification. Section 377 merely defines a particular offence, and prescribes a punishment for the same.

ii. LGBT persons constitute a “miniscule fraction” of the country’s population, and there have been very few prosecutions under this Section. Hence, it could not have been made a sound basis for declaring Section 377 to be ultra-vires Articles 14, 15, and 21.

iii. It was held that merely because Section 377, IPC has been used to perpetrate harassment, blackmail and torture to persons belonging to the LGBT community, cannot be a ground for challenging the vires of the Section.

iv. After noting that Section 377 was intra vires, this Court observed that the legislature was free to repeal or amend Section 377.

19. The fallacy in the Judgment of Suresh Kumar Koushal (supra) is that:

i. The offence of “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” has not been defined in Section 377. It is too wide, and open-ended, and would take within its sweep, and criminalise even sexual acts of consenting adults in private.

In this context, it would be instructive to refer to the decision of a Constitution Bench of this Court in A.K. Roy v. Union of India (1982) 1 SCC 271 wherein it was held that:

” 62. The requirement that crimes must be defined with appropriate definiteness is regarded as a fundamental concept in criminal law and must now be regarded as a pervading theme of our Constitution since the decision in Maneka Gandhi. The underlying principle is that every person is entitled to be informed as to what the State commands or forbids and that the life and liberty of a person cannot be put in peril on an ambiguity.

However, even in the domain of criminal law, the processes of which can result in the taking away of life itself, no more than a reasonable degree of certainty has to be accepted as a fact. Neither the criminal law nor the Constitution requires the application of impossible standards and therefore, what is expected is that the language of the law must contain an adequate warning of the conduct which may fall within the proscribed area, when measured by common understanding….”

(emphasis supplied)

The Judgment does not advert to the distinction between consenting adults engaging in sexual intercourse, and sexual acts which are without the will, or consent of the other party. A distinction has to be made between consensual relationships of adults in private, whether they are heterosexual or homosexual in nature.

Furthermore, consensual relationships between adults cannot be classified along with offences of bestiality, sodomy and non-consensual relationships.

Sexual orientation is immutable, since it is an innate feature of one’s identity, and cannot be changed at will. The choice of LGBT persons to enter into intimate sexual relations with persons of the same sex is an exercise of their personal choice, and an expression of their autonomy and self-determination.

Section 377 insofar as it criminalises voluntary sexual relations between LGBT persons of the same sex in private, discriminates against them on the basis of their “sexual orientation” which is violative of their fundamental rights guaranteed by Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution.

ii. The mere fact that the LGBT persons constitute a “miniscule fraction” of the country’s population cannot be a ground to deprive them of their Fundamental Rights guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution. Even though the LGBT constitute a sexual minority, members of the LGBT community are citizens of this country who are equally entitled to the enforcement of their Fundamental Rights guaranteed by Articles 14, 15, 19, and 21.

Fundamental Rights are guaranteed to all citizens alike, irrespective of whether they are a numerical minority. Modern democracies are based on the twin principles of majority rule, and protection of fundamental rights guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution. Under the Constitutional scheme, while the majority is entitled to govern; the minorities like all other citizens are protected by the solemn guarantees of rights and freedoms under Part III.

The J.S. Verma Committee, in this regard, in paragraph 77 of its Report (supra) states that:

“77. We need to remember that the founding fathers of our Constitution never thought that the Constitution is ‘mirror of perverse social discrimination’. On the contrary, it promised the mirror in which equality will be reflected brightly. Thus, all the sexual identities, including sexual minorities, including transgender communities are entitled to be totally protected. The Constitution enables change of beliefs, greater understanding and is also an equally guaranteed instrument to secure the rights of sexually despised minorities. “

(emphasis supplied)

iii. Even though Section 377 is facially neutral, it has been misused by subjecting members of the LGBT community to hostile discrimination, making them vulnerable and living in fear of the ever-present threat of prosecution on account of their sexual orientation.

The criminalisation of “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” has the effect of criminalising the entire class of LGBT persons since any kind of sexual intercourse in the case of such persons would be considered to be against the “order of nature”, as per the existing interpretation.

iv. The conclusion in Suresh Kumar Koushal’s case to await legislative amendments to this provision may not be necessary. Once it is brought to the notice of the Court of any violation of the Fundamental Rights of a citizen, or a group of citizens the Court will not remain a mute spectator, and wait for a majoritarian government to bring about such a change.

Given the role of this Court as the sentinel on the qui vive, it is the Constitutional duty of this Court to review the provisions of the impugned Section, and read it down to the extent of its inconsistency with the Constitution.

In the present case, reading down Section 377 is necessary to exclude consensual sexual relationships between adults, whether of the same sex or otherwise, in private, so as to remove the vagueness of the provision to the extent it is inconsistent with Part III of the Constitution.

20. History owes an apology to the members of this community and their families, for the delay in providing redressal for the ignominy and ostracism that they have suffered through the centuries. The members of this community were compelled to live a life full of fear of reprisal and persecution. This was on account of the ignorance of the majority to recognise that homosexuality is a completely natural condition, part of a range of human sexuality. The mis-application of this provision denied them the Fundamental Right to equality guaranteed by Article 14. It infringed the Fundamental Right to non-discrimination under Article 15, and the Fundamental Right to live a life of dignity and privacy guaranteed by Article 21. The LGBT persons deserve to live a life unshackled from the shadow of being ‘unapprehended felons’.

21. CONCLUSION

i. In view of the aforesaid findings, it is declared that insofar as Section 377 criminalises consensual sexual acts of adults (i.e. persons above the age of 18 years who are competent to consent) in private, is violative of Articles 14, 15, 19, and 21 of the Constitution.

It is, however, clarified that such consent must be free consent, which is completely voluntary in nature, and devoid of any duress or coercion.

ii. The declaration of the aforesaid reading down of Section 377 shall not, however, lead to the re-opening of any concluded prosecutions, but can certainly be relied upon in all pending matters whether they are at the trial, appellate, or revisional stages.

iii. The provisions of Section 377 will continue to govern non-consensual sexual acts against adults, all acts of carnal intercouse against minors, and acts of beastiality.

iv. The judgment in Suresh K. Koushal & Anr. v. Naz Foundation & Ors. (2014) 1 SCC 1 is hereby overruled for the reasons stated in paragraph 18.

22. The Reference is answered accordingly.

23. In view of the above findings, the Writ Petitions are allowed.

FINAL ORDER

Hon’ble the Chief Justice (on behalf of himself, and Hon’ble Mr. Justice A.M. Khanwilkar), Hon’ble Mr. Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, Hon’ble Dr. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Hon’ble Mrs. Justice Indu Malhotra pronounced four separate but concurring judgments of the Bench comprising Hon’ble the Chief Justice, Hon’ble Mr. Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, Hon’ble Mr. Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Hon’ble Dr. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Hon’ble Mrs. Justice Indu Malhotra.
The writ petitions are disposed of in terms of the four signed reportable judgments.
The interlocutory applications, if any, stand disposed of.

HARI SANKARAN V. UNION OF INDIA

M.R. SHAH, J.

1. Feeling aggrieved and dissatisfied with the impugned Order dated 31.01.2019 passed by the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal, New Delhi in Company Appeal (AT) No. 29 of 2019 by which the learned Appellate Tribunal has dismissed the said appeal preferred by the appellant herein – Ex¬Director of respondent No. 2 – Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Limited (hereinafter referred to as ‘the IL&FS’) and has confirmed the order passed by the National Company Law Tribunal, Mumbai Bench (hereinafter referred to as ‘the learned Tribunal’) dated 01.01.2019 by which the learned Tribunal allowed the said application preferred by the Central Government under Section 130(1) & (2) of the Companies Act, 2013 (hereinafter referred to as the ‘Companies Act’) and has permitted re¬casting and re¬ opening of the accounts of IL&FS, IL&FS Financial Services Limited (hereinafter referred to as the “IFIN”) and IL&FS Transportation Networks Limited (hereinafter referred as the “ITNL”) for the last five years, the original appellant has preferred the present appeal.

2. The facts leading to the present appeal in nutshell are as under:

That respondent No. 2 – IL&FS is a company incorporated under the provisions of the Companies Act, 1956. That the said company IL&FS has 348 group companies, including IFIN and ITNL. That the said IL&FS is a core investment company and systemically important Non¬Banking Finance Company duly approved under the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1931. The said company was promoted by the Central Bank of India, HDFC Ltd., the Union Trust of India. That the said company is holding prominent infrastructure development and finance companies. Over the years, it had inducted institutional shareholders. That the said IL&FS, during the financial year 2017¬18 had 169 companies, out of which, 24 companies are direct subsidiaries, 135 companies are indirect subsidiaries, 6 companies are joint ventures and 4 companies are associate companies. That the appellant herein claims to be the Vice¬President/Director of IL&FS who has been suspended as the Director of IL&FS and its group companies.

2.1 That on 01.10.2018, the Central Government through the Ministry of Corporate Affairs filed a petition before the learned Appellate Tribunal under Sections 241 and 242 of the Companies Act alleging inter alia, mismanagement by the Board of IL&FS and that the affairs of IL&FS were being conducted in a manner prejudicial to public interest. That the Central Government prayed for the following reliefs:

2. That the Board of Directors appointed by the Hon’ble Tribunal in terms of 242(2)(k) of the Act be authorized to replace such number of directors of subsidiaries, joint ventures and associate companies as may be required to make the R1 and its group companies as going concern.

2.2 That it was found that the management of IL&FS and other group company/companies were responsible for negligence and incompetence, and had falsely presented a rosy financial statement. To unearth the irregularities committed by IL&FS and its companies, the provisions of Section 212(1)(c) of the Companies Act were invoked for investigation into the affairs of the company. The investigation was to be carried out by the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (hereinafter referred to as ‘the SFIO’) in exercise of powers under Section 212 of the Companies Act. The SFIO submitted an interim report dated 30.11.2018 to the Central Government placing on record that the affairs in respect of IL&FS group Companies were mis¬managed, and that the manner in which the affairs of the company were being conducted was against the public interest. The said report shall be referred to hereinbelow.

It appears that the Registrar of Companies also conducted an enquiry under Section 206 of the Companies Act, and prima facie concluded that mis¬management and compromise in corporate governance norms and risk management has been perpetuated on IL&FS and its group companies by indiscriminately raising long term and short terms loans/borrowings through Public Sector Banks and financial institutions. It was also observed that IL&FS company has been presenting a rosy picture by camouflaging its financial statements, and concealing and suppressing severe mismatch between its cash flows and payment obligations, total lack of liquidity and adverse financial ratios. It was also found that IL&FS company has first defaulted on commercial paper and then on short term borrowings i.e. inter corporate deposits, negative cash flows in operating activities etc. It was further observed that the consolidated balance¬sheet of IL&FS company indicated the extremely precarious financial position, and was virtually in deep red. It was found that intangible assets of approximately Rs.18,540 crores as on 31.03.2017, has increased to approximately Rs.20,004 crores as on 31.03.2018, thus creating a serious doubt about the correctness of the financial statements. A Report dated 03.12.2018 was submitted by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India ( “ICAI”) which has been placed on the record of the Tribunal.

2.3 In this background, the Union of India approached the learned Tribunal for reliefs under Sections 241 and 242 of the Companies Act.

2.4 Thereafter, by a detailed and reasoned order, the learned Tribunal vide Order dated 01.10.2018 allowed the said prayers and suspended the Board of Directors of IL&FS, and appointed the newly constituted Board to conduct the business as per the Memorandum and Articles of the companies. That the learned Tribunal issued the following directions:

“On the basis of the foregoing discussions and after considering the facts of the case, a narrated in the Petition filed by the Union of India, this Bench is of the considered view that it is judicious to invoke the jurisdiction prescribed under Section 241(2) of the Companies Act, 2013 and the Tribunal is of the opinion that as per Section 242(1) of the Companies Act, 2013, the affairs of the IL&FS were being conducted in a manner prejudicial to public interest. The Interim prayer of suspending the present Board of Directors and reconstitution of the new Board of Directors is hereby allowed. At present, by an additional affidavit only 6 names (supra) of Board members have proposed by the Union of India.

Further directed that the present Board of Directors be suspended with immediate effect. The six Directors as reproduced supra shall take over the R1 company immediately. Newly constituted Board shall hold a meeting on or before 8 th October, 2018 and conduct business as per the Memorandum and Articles of Association of the company and the provisions of the Companies Act, 2013. Liberty is granted to the Board of Directors to select a Chairman among themselves. Thereafter, report the roadmap to NCLT, Mumbai Bench at the earliest possible not later than the next date of hearing. The suspended directors hence forth shall not represent the R1 company as a Director and shall also not exercise any powers as a director in any manner before any authority as well.

As a consequence of “Admission” of the Petition, issue notice to intimate next date of hearing. The Petition is to serve copy of this order along with Petition to all the Respondents. The Respondents in turn may file their reply by 15 th October, 2018, only after serving copy to the petitioner. The Petitioner can file rejoinder, if deem fit, by 30 th October, 2018.”

2.5 That thereafter the Union of India through the Ministry of Corporate Affairs approached the learned Tribunal under Section 130(1) of the Companies Act seeking permission for re¬opening of the books of accounts and re¬casting thereof, including the financial statements of IL&FS, IL&FS Financial Services Limited and IL&FS Transportation Networks Limited for the last five years viz. from Financial Year 2012¬2013 to Financial Year 2017¬2018. The learned Tribunal issued notices to the Income Tax Authorities, SEBI, and any other statutory regulatory body or authority, or other persons concerned. The learned Tribunal directed the Central Government to serve the notices upon the said parties.

At this stage, it is required to be noted that the aforesaid three companies through their new board of directors appeared through their counsel before the learned Tribunal at the time of hearing of the aforesaid application under Section 130 of the Companies Act. That, thereafter, after hearing the counsel appearing on behalf of the respective parties, including the learned counsel appearing on behalf of the erstwhile directors, who opposed the application filed under Section 130 of the Companies Act, the learned Tribunal vide its Order dated 01.01.2019 allowed the application filed under Section 130 of the Companies Act, and permitted the said application for re¬opening the books of accounts, and re¬casting the financial statements of the aforesaid three companies for the last five years viz. from Financial Year 2012¬2013 to Financial Year 2017¬2018.

2.6 Feeling aggrieved and dissatisfied with the order passed on the application under Section 130 of the Companies Act by the learned Tribunal dated 01.01.2019, permitting the re¬opening and re-casting of the financial statements of the aforesaid three companies for the last five years viz. from Financial Year 2012¬ 2013 to Financial Year 2017¬2018, the appellant herein who is a suspended Director of IL&FS alone preferred an appeal before the learned Appellate Tribunal. That by the impugned judgment and order, the learned Appellate Tribunal has dismissed the said appeal.

3. Feeling aggrieved and dissatisfied with the impugned judgment and order passed by the learned Appellate Tribunal dismissing the said appeal, and confirming the order passed by the learned Tribunal dated 01.01.2019 allowing the application under Section 130 of the Companies Act, the original appellant i.e. the suspended Director/erstwhile Director of IL&FS has preferred the present appeal.

4. With the consent of the learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the respective parties, and in the facts and circumstances of the case, we have heard the application for vacating the interim Order along with the main Appeal finally.

5. Shri Dhruv Mehta, learned senior counsel has appeared on behalf of the appellant and Shri Maninder Singh, learned Senior Counsel has appeared on behalf of the Union of India as well as the other contesting respondents.

6. Shri Dhruv Mehta, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant has vehemently submitted that the impugned order passed by the learned Appellate Tribunal dismissing the said appeal and confirming the order passed by the learned Tribunal allowing the application under Section 130 of the Companies Act is absolutely illegal and bad in law.

6.1 Mr. Dhruv Mehta, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant has submitted that the order passed by the learned Tribunal allowing the application under Section 130 of the Companies Act is absolutely illegal and as such contrary to the provisions of Section 130 of the Companies Act. It is further submitted by Mr. Dhruv Mehta that as such the pre¬conditions before passing the order under Section 130 of the Companies Act for re-opening and re¬casting the statements of account of the company, namely (i) the relevant earlier accounts were prepared in a fraudulent manner; or (ii) the affairs of the company were mismanaged during the relevant period, casting a doubt on the reliability of financial statements, have not been satisfied.

6.2 Mr. Dhruv Mehta, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant has submitted that as such there is no specific finding given by the learned Tribunal while allowing the application under Section 130 of the Companies Act that either the relevant earlier accounts were prepared in a fraudulent manner, or the affairs of the company were mismanaged, during the relevant period casting a doubt on the reliability of financial statements. It is submitted that in the absence of any specific finding by the learned Tribunal on the aforesaid, it was not permissible for the learned Tribunal to pass the order under Section 130 of the Companies Act permitting re¬opening of the books of accounts and re¬casting of financial statements of the company/companies.

6.3 It is further submitted that, on the contrary, there is a specific finding/observation by the learned Tribunal in the order under Section 130 of the Companies Act itself that the accounts were not prepared in a fraudulent manner. It is submitted that the conditions precedent for invoking the powers under Section 130 of the Companies Act were not satisfied, and the learned Tribunal was not justified in passing the impugned order under Section 130 of the Companies Act. It is further submitted that therefore the learned Appellate Tribunal ought to have quashed and set aside the order passed by the learned Tribunal.

6.4 It is further submitted by Shri Dhruv Mehta learned Senior Counsel that, even otherwise, the order passed by the learned Tribunal is in breach of natural justice inasmuch as sufficient opportunity was not given to the appellant by the learned Tribunal before passing the order under Section 130 of the Companies Act. It is submitted that the notice on the application under Section 130 of the Companies Act was issued on 27.12.2018 and the impugned order came to be passed on 01.01.2019. It is submitted that even though the appellant sought time to file the reply, the Tribunal without granting any further time to the appellant to file the reply, passed the impugned order. It is submitted that as per the amended Section 130 of the Companies Act, before passing the order under Section 130 of the Companies Act, not only the Income Tax Authorities and other authorities were required to be heard, even the “other persons concerned”, including the Directors/Ex¬Directors of the company were required to be heard. It is submitted that the order passed by the learned Tribunal was in violation of the principles of natural justice, therefore the same was required to be quashed and set aside by the learned Appellate Tribunal.

It is further submitted that though the aforesaid submission was made before the learned Appellate Tribunal, and the learned Appellate Tribunal accepted that the order passed by the learned Tribunal is in breach of the principles of natural justice, the learned Appellate Tribunal dismissed the appeal. It is submitted that, therefore, in the facts and circumstances of the case, the learned Appellate Tribunal ought to have set aside the order passed by the learned Tribunal and ought to have remanded the matter to the learned Tribunal for fresh decision after giving opportunity of hearing to the appellant. In support of the above submissions and request, Shri Dhruv Mehta, learned senior counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant has heavily relied upon the decisions of this Court in the case of Mannalal Khetan v. Kedar Nath Khetan (1977) 2 SCC 424 and in the case of Swadeshi Cotton Mills v. Union of India (1981) 1 SCC 664. Relying upon the above decisions of this Court, it is submitted that when the Statute provides that things are required to be done in a particular manner, it ought to have been done in the same manner as provided under the Statute. It is submitted that in the present case as the Statute specifically provides that before passing the order under Section 130 of the Companies Act, an opportunity is to be given to all concerned and that two conditions, as referred to hereinabove, are to be satisfied, the same are required to be followed and complied with.

6.5 It is further submitted by Shri Dhruv Mehta, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant that, even otherwise, there is no specific finding by the learned Tribunal with respect to the mismanagement by the erstwhile Directors. So far as the reliance placed upon the observations made in the earlier order dated 01.10.2018 is concerned, it is submitted that the order dated 01.10.2018 passed under Sections 241/242 of the Companies Act cannot be said to be the final order. It is submitted that it is an interim order/report to which the appellant has already submitted the objections, which are yet to be considered. It is submitted that, therefore, condition No. (ii) of Section 130(1) of the Companies Act is not satisfied.

6.6 It is submitted that therefore, as the condition precedent while invoking the powers under Section 130 of the Companies Act are not being met, the learned Tribunal ought not to have and could not have invoked and applied Section 130 of the Companies Act. In support of his above submission, Shri Dhruv Mehta, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant has relied upon the decision of this Court in the case of Calcutta Discount Company v. Income Tax Officer AIR 1961 SC 372.

6.7 It is further submitted by the learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant that all the three different provisions, namely Section 130, Sections 211/212 and Sections 241/242 of the Companies Act, operate in the different fields and in different situations and as such they are in different chapters and therefore the observations made while passing the order under one provision cannot be made applicable to while passing the order under different provisions.

6.8 Shri Dhruv Mehta, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant has further submitted that what is required to be considered is the relevant material at the time when the learned Tribunal passed the order under Section 130 of the Companies Act. It is submitted that the respondents cannot support the order passed by the learned Tribunal under Section 130 of the Companies Act relying upon the subsequent developments/events. In support of his above submission, he has heavily relied upon the decisions of this Court in the cases of Mohinder Singh Gill v. Chief Election Commissioner, New Delhi (1978) 1 SCC 405 and T.P. Senkumar v. Union of India (2017) 6 SCC 801. It is submitted that the decision of this Court in the case of Chairman, All India Railway Recruitment Board v. K. Shyam Kumar (2010) 6 SCC 614 relied upon by the learned Counsel appearing on behalf of the Union of India shall not be applicable to the facts of the case on hand. It is submitted that in the case of K. Shyam Kumar (supra), this Court was considering the administrative decision/order and while considering such administrative order/decision, this Court observed that the subsequent events/reports can be considered while considering the legality and validity of the original action/order in the public interest.

6.9 Shri Dhruv Mehta, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant has further submitted that, therefore, neither the condition precedent provided in Section 130(1) of the Companies Act has been complied with/satisfied, nor even Section 130(2) of the Companies Act has been complied with, and it is in violation of the provisions of Section 130(1) of the Companies Act, and as sufficient opportunity was not given to the appellant, therefore, is in violation of the principles of natural justice. It is prayed that the present appeal be allowed and the order passed by the learned Tribunal allowing the application under Section 130 of the Act be set aside.

6.10 It is further submitted by Shri Dhruv Mehta, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant that so far as the impugned order passed by the learned Appellate Tribunal is concerned, it is submitted that none of the submissions/ground raised on behalf of the appellant have been dealt with and/or considered by the Appellate Tribunal. It is submitted that the learned Appellate Tribunal was considering/deciding the statutory appeal and therefore the learned Appellate Tribunal was supposed to deal with the grounds raised on behalf of the appellant. It is submitted that though the plea of violation of principles of natural justice was specifically pleaded and even the learned Appellate Tribunal also observed that there may be violation of principles of natural justice, in that case, the learned Appellate Tribunal ought to have remanded the matter to the learned Tribunal. It is submitted that the learned Appellate Tribunal ought to have appreciated that in view of the violation of principles of natural justice, it has caused great prejudice to the appellant. It is submitted that as observed and held by this Court in the case of Swadeshi Cotton Mills (supra), when the principles of natural justice are prescribed by the statutory provision, no prejudice is required to be shown for invoking the ground of violation of principles of natural justice.

6.11 it is further submitted by learned Counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant that the impugned orders have far reaching consequences. It is submitted that the books of accounts once re¬opened and re¬casted are deemed to be final under the provisions of Section 130(2) of the Companies Act.

6.12 Making the above submissions and relying upon the above decisions, it is prayed to quash and set aside the impugned order passed by the learned Tribunal, confirmed by the learned Appellate Tribunal.

7. The present appeal is vehemently opposed by Shri Maninder Singh, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the Union of India.

7.1 It is vehemently submitted by the learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the Union of India that the impugned order passed by the learned Tribunal, confirmed by the learned Appellate Tribunal do not suffer from any vice of illegality. It is submitted that the order passed by the learned Tribunal under Section 130 of the Companies Act is absolutely in the larger public interest and absolutely in consonance with the provisions of Section 130 of the Companies Act.

7.2 It is further submitted by the learned senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the Union of India that there are very serious allegations of preparing the earlier accounts in a fraudulent manner, and also with respect to the mis¬ management of the affairs of the company during the relevant period. It is submitted that, in the present case, after having satisfied that there are serious allegations against IL&FS group of companies, the Department of Economic Affairs took a conscious decision to approach the NCLT under Section 242 of the Companies Act to order re¬constitution of the Board of Directors. It is submitted that by a detailed order and considering the material on record, and having been prima facie satisfied with respect to the allegations of mismanagement and relating to the affairs of IL&FS group of companies, the learned Tribunal passed an order dated 01.10.2018 suspending the earlier Directors/Board of Directors of the companies and appointed a new Board of Directors. It is submitted that even the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Government of India in exercise of powers under Section 212 of the Companies Act had issued an order directing to conduct investigation into the affairs of IL&FS group of companies. It is submitted that SFIO constituted under Section 212 of the Act has already commenced a specialized investigation into the affairs of IL&FS group of companies. It is submitted that the appellant has been arrested on 02.04.2019, and is presently in judicial custody. It is submitted that thereafter when the Union of India through the Ministry of Corporate Affairs submitted an application before the learned Tribunal to re-open the books of accounts and to re¬cast the financial statements of the three main companies for the last five years and thereafter considering the investigation reports and having been satisfied that the conditions precedent for invoking the powers exercised under Section 130 of the Companies Act are satisfied/complied with, thereafter when the learned Tribunal has passed the order, the same cannot be said to be illegal. It is submitted that all the requirements under Section 130 of the Companies Act have been complied with/satisfied.

7.3 It is further submitted that the order dated 01.10.2018 passed under Sections 241/242 of the Companies Act has attained finality inasmuch as the same is not challenged till date. It is submitted that therefore the same can be considered by passing an order under Section 130 of the Companies Act also.

7.4 It is further submitted by the learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the Union of India that all the three provisions, namely Sections 211/212, Sections 241/242 and Section 130 of the Companies Act are required to be considered and read conjointly. It is submitted that while considering the one provision and/or while passing the order under one provision, it is required to be seen that the effect of the order/orders passed in other provisions do not become nugatory and/or ineffective. It is submitted that therefore if all the aforesaid three provisions are considered and read conjointly, in that case, it can be said that the order passed under Section 130 of the Companies Act would be in the aid of the investigation going on by the SFIO under Section 212 of the Companies Act and the same shall be in the larger public interest. It is submitted that, in the present case, Justice D. K. Jain, a former Judge of this Court, has been appointed to supervise the resolution process of IL&FS group of companies. It is submitted that the re-opening of the books of accounts and re¬casting the financial statements of the aforesaid three companies is very much required and necessary, since the same shall be in the larger public interest, to find out the real truth.

7.5 It is further submitted by the learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the Union of India that the powers conferred under Section 130 of the Companies Act are less stringent than the powers conferred under Sections 241/242 and/or Sections 211/212 of the Companies Act. It is submitted that while exercising powers under Section 130 of the Companies Act, there may not be any final conclusion/opinion that the relevant earlier accounts are prepared in a fraudulent manner or the affairs of the company were mismanaged during the relevant period. It is submitted that if, on the basis of the material on record, the learned Tribunal is satisfied on either of the aforesaid two eventualities, it is always open to the Tribunal to pass the order to re-open the books of accounts and to re¬cast the financial statements of the company.

It is further submitted that, in the present case, before passing the order under Section 130 of the Companies Act notices were issued under the first proviso to Section 130 of the Companies Act. It is submitted that SEBI appeared and submitted that it had no objection to the accounts and financial statement of respondent Nos. 2 to 4, which are listed companies, being re-opened and re¬casted.

It is submitted that, as observed by the Tribunal in the impugned order, the erstwhile directors had opposed the application under Section 130 of the Companies Act, that after hearing all parties, the impugned order has been passed by the learned Tribunal. It is submitted that therefore the impugned order passed by the learned Tribunal cannot be said to be in violation of the principles of natural justice as alleged.

7.6 Relying upon the subsequent interim investigation reports by the RBI, it is submitted that the impugned order passed by the learned Tribunal under Section 130 of the Companies Act is not required to be interfered with. It is submitted that mere perusal of the report of the RBI dated 22.3.2019 demonstrates and establishes beyond any doubt about the complete correctness, validity and legality of the order under Section 130 of the Act. In support of his submission, the learned counsel has relied upon and requested to consider the subsequent event also, more particularly the report of the RIB dated 22.03.2019. The learned counsel appearing on behalf of the Union of India has heavily relied upon the decision of this Court in the case of K. Shyam Kumar (supra) in support of the prayer to consider the subsequent Report of RBI also.

7.7 Making the above submissions, it is prayed to dismiss the present appeal, more particularly, considering the larger public interest as, in the present case, thousands of crores of the public money is involved.

8. We have heard the learned counsel for the respective parties at length and perused the written submissions filed by them.

At the outset, it is required to be noted that by the impugned order and in exercise of powers under Section 130 of the Companies Act, the learned Tribunal has allowed the said application preferred by the Central Government and has directed/permitted re¬opening of the books of accounts and re¬ casting the financial statements of IL&FS and other two companies for the last 5 years, viz., F.Y 2012¬2013 to 2017¬2018. The order passed by the learned Tribunal has been affirmed by the learned Appellate Tribunal. Therefore, the short question which is posed for consideration before this Court, whether in the facts and circumstances of the case, can it be said that the order passed by the learned Tribunal is illegal and/or contrary to Section 130 of the Companies Act?

8.1 While considering the aforesaid question/issue, few facts and the relevant provisions of the Companies Act which are relevant for determining/considering the legality and validity of the order passed by the learned Tribunal are required to be referred to and considered, which are as under:

Section 211 of the Companies Act provides for establishment of Serious Fraud Investigation Office to investigate frauds relating to a company. Section 212 of the Companies Act provides for investigation into affairs of company by SFIO. Section 212 of the Companies Act provides that if the Central Government is of the opinion that it is necessary to investigate into the affairs of a company by SFIO….in the public interest; or on a request made by any department of the Central Government or a State Government. In the present case, the Central Government has already constituted SFIO and has also ordered investigation into the affairs of IL&FS and other group of companies and the investigation by the SFIO is under progress. It is also required to be noted that SFIO had also submitted its preliminary report. In the preliminary SFIO report, there are specific findings with respect to mismanagement of the affairs of the aforesaid companies, and also with respect to preparing fraudulent accounts. At this stage, it is also required to be noted that ICAI had also conducted an enquiry into the accounts for the past five years, and in the preliminary report, the ICAI has mentioned that “accounts for the post five years have been prepared in a fraudulent and negligent manner by the erstwhile auditors” . That the Registrar of Companies had also conducted an enquiry under Section 206 of the Companies Act and prima facie concluded that mismanagement and compromise in corporate governance norms and risk management has been perpetuated on IL&FS and its group companies by indiscriminately raising long term and short term loans/borrowings through public sector banks and financial institutions. Considering the fact that thousands of crores of public money is involved, and in the public interest, the Central Government has thought it fit to handover the investigation with respect to the affairs of IL&FS and other group companies to SFIO.

8.1.1 Sub-section (2) of Section 241 of the Companies Act provides that if the Central Government is of the opinion that the affairs of the company are being conducted in a manner prejudicial to public interest, it may itself apply to the Tribunal for an appropriate order under Chapter XVI, more particularly the order under Section 242 of the Companies Act. In the present case, the Central Government had approached the learned Tribunal under Section 241 of the Companies Act and for an appropriate order to suspend the existing Board of Directors of the Companies and to appoint new Directors in terms of the provisions of Section 242(2)(k) of the Companies Act, to manage the affairs of IL&FS and group companies. That by an order dated 01.10.2018, the learned Tribunal, in exercise of powers under Section 242(2) of the Companies Act, has suspended the Board of Directors of IL&FS and has further passed an order for reconstitution of the new Board of Directors. Six persons are appointed as Directors as Board members. While issuing such directions, the learned Tribunal has specifically observed that the learned Tribunal is satisfied that the affairs of the IL&FS were being conducted in a manner prejudicial to public interest. Thus, pursuant to the said order dated 01.10.2018, the erstwhile Board Members/Directors of the IL&FS are suspended, and new Directors are appointed as Board Members and the new Board of Directors are conducting the affairs of the IL&FS and group companies. It is further ordered that the suspended Directors henceforth shall not represent the IL&FS company as Directors, and shall also not exercise any power as Directors in any manner before any authority as well. The appellant herein is the Vice President and suspended Director of the company, who alone has challenged the impugned order passed by the learned Tribunal passed under Section 130 of the Companies Act.

8.2 In between there is one another development. Pursuant to the order passed by the NCLAT, a former Judge of this Court – Hon’ble Justice (Retd.) D.K. Jain has been appointed to supervise the operation of the “Resolution Process” of the IL&FS group companies. Considering the aforesaid facts and circumstances and in the larger public interest and having found on the basis of the reports/preliminary reports of SFIO, ICAI and ROC and having observed and found that the relevant earlier accounts of IL&FS and other group companies, named hereinabove, were prepared in a fraudulent manner and the affairs of the company were mismanaged during the relevant period, casting a doubt on the reliability of the financial statements, the Union of India/Central Government considered it fit to submit an application before the learned Tribunal under Section 130 of the Companies Act. After issuing notice to all concerned including the Central Government, Income Tax Authorities, SEBI, other Statutory Regulatory Body and even to the erstwhile Directors of IL&FS and other two companies, by the impugned order, the learned Tribunal has permitted/directed the Central Government to re-open the books of accounts and to recast the financial statements of IL&FS and other two companies, named hereinabove, of last 5 years.

8.3 Considering the aforesaid facts and circumstances, the legality and validity of the impugned order passed by the learned Tribunal passed under Section 130 of the Act, confirmed by the learned Appellate Tribunal is required to be considered.

9. On going through the order passed by the learned Tribunal passed under Section 130 of the Act, it appears that the learned Tribunal is conscious of the relevant provisions of the Act, more particularly Section 130 of the Companies Act and more particularly the conditions precedent to be complied with/satisfied while directing/permitting re¬opening of the books of accounts and re¬casting of the financial statements of the company. From the order passed by the learned Tribunal under Section 130 of the Companies Act, it appears that the learned Tribunal has considered the preliminary report submitted by the ICAI and SFIO and the observations made in the aforesaid reports/preliminary reports. That thereafter having satisfied that the conditions precedent for invoking powers under Section 130 of the Companies Act, stated in Section 130 (i) OR (ii) of the Companies Act are satisfied, thereafter the learned Tribunal has passed an order allowing the application under Section 130 of the Companies Act for re¬opening the books of accounts and re¬ casting the financial statements of IL&FS and other two companies, viz, for the last 5 years.

10. While assailing the order passed by the Tribunal under Section 130 of the Act, it is vehemently submitted on behalf of the appellant, who as such is a suspended director of the company that there is no specific finding recorded by the learned Tribunal that (i) the relevant earlier accounts were prepared in a fraudulent manner; and (ii) the affairs of the company were mismanaged during the relevant period casting a doubt on the reliability of the financial statements. It is the case on behalf of the appellant that in the order dated 01.01.2019 passed under Section 130 of the Companies Act, learned Tribunal has specifically given a finding that the alleged accounts of the companies cannot be said to have been prepared in a fraudulent manner. However, it is required to be noted that the aforesaid observations by the Tribunal are required to be considered in the context for which the observations are made. It appears that the said observations are made with respect to role of the auditors. It is to be noted that in the same para, the learned Tribunal has specifically observed that in the earlier order dated 01.10.2018, it is observed that the affairs of the company were mismanaged during the relevant period and that the affairs of the company and subsidiary companies were being mismanaged during the relevant period, as contemplated under Sub¬Section (1) and (2). At this stage, it is required to be noted that as per Section 130 of the Act, the Tribunal may pass an order of re¬opening of accounts if the Tribunal is of the opinion that (i) the relevant earlier accounts were prepared in a fraudulent manner; OR (ii) the affairs of the company were mismanaged during the relevant period casting a doubt on the reliability of the financial statements. Therefore, the word used is “OR”. Therefore, if either of the conditions precedent is satisfied, the Tribunal would be justified in passing the order under Section 130 of the Act. Considering the order passed by the Tribunal passed under Section 130 of the Companies Act, it appears that the learned Tribunal has passed the order on being satisfied with respect to the second part of Section 130 of the Companies Act. It is also required to be noted that the learned Tribunal has also taken note of the preliminary report submitted by the ICAI with respect to the earlier accounts were being prepared in a fraudulent manner. On a fair reading of Section 130 of the Companies Act, if the Tribunal is satisfied that either of the conditions precedent is satisfied, the Tribunal would be justified in passing the order under Section 130 of the Companies Act.

11. Considering the facts narrated hereinabove and the preliminary reports of SFIO and ICAI which came to be considered by the learned Tribunal and considering the specific observations made by the learned Tribunal while passing the order under Section 241/242 of the Companies Act and considering the fact that the Central Government has entrusted the investigation of the affairs of the company to SFIO in exercise of powers under Section 242 of the Companies Act, it cannot be said that the conditions precedent while invoking the powers under Section 130 of the Act are not satisfied. We are more than satisfied that in the facts and circumstances of the case, narrated hereinabove, and also in the larger public interest and when thousands of crores of public money is involved, the Tribunal is justified in allowing the application under Section 130 of the Companies Act, which was submitted by the Central Government as provided under Section 130 of the Companies Act.

12. Now so far as the submission on behalf of the appellant that all the three provisions, viz., Section 130, Sections 211/212 and Sections 241/242 operate in different fields and in different circumstances and they are in the different Chapters and therefore any observation made while passing the order/orders with respect to a particular provision may not be considered while passing the order under relevant provisions is concerned, it is required to be noted that all the three provisions are required to be considered conjointly. While passing an order in a particular provision, the endeavour should be to see that the order/orders passed under other provisions of the Companies Act are given effect to, and/or in furtherance of the order/orders passed under other Sections. Therefore, the observations made while passing order under Section 241/242 of the Companies Act can be said to be relevant observations for passing the order under Section 130 of the Companies Act. At this stage, it is required to be noted that even otherwise in the order passed by the Tribunal under Section 130 of the Companies Act, there is a specific observation made by the learned Tribunal with respect to mismanagement of the affairs of the company, and even with respect to the relevant earlier accounts prepared in a fraudulent manner.

13. It is next contended on behalf of the appellant that proviso to Section 130 of the Act has not been complied with and that the order passed by the learned Tribunal passed under Section 130 of the Act is in violation of the principle of natural justice. At the outset, it is required to be noted that while passing he order under Section 130 of the Companies Act, the learned counsel appearing on behalf of the erstwhile directors appeared and opposed the application under Section 130 of the Companies Act. Therefore, the learned counsel appearing on behalf of the erstwhile directors was heard before passing he order under Section 130 of the Companies Act. Therefore, it can be said that there is a compliance/substantial compliance of the principle of natural justice to be followed. It is required to be noted that as per proviso to Section 130 of the Companies Act before passing the order under Section 130 of the Act, the Tribunal is required to issue notice to the Central Government, Income Tax Authorities, SEBI or any other statutory regulatory body or authorities concerned or any “other person concerned” and is required to take into consideration the representation, if any made. The “other person concerned” is as such not defined. Who can be said to be “other person concerned”, that question is kept open. At this stage, it is required to be noted that while passing the order under Section 130 of the Act, there shall be reopening of the books of accounts and re¬casting of the financial statements of the company and therefore the Board of Directors of the company may make a grievance. The erstwhile directors cannot represent the company as they are suspended pursuant to the earlier order passed under Section 242 of the Companies Act. Be that as it may, even otherwise in the present case and as observed hereinabove the erstwhile directors of the company represented before the Tribunal and they opposed the application under Section 130 of the Act. Therefore, in the facts and circumstances of the case, it cannot be said that the order passed by the learned Tribunal is per se in violation of the principle of natural justice as alleged.

14. The submission by learned Counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant that in the impugned order passed by the learned Appellate Tribunal, the learned Appellate Tribunal has specifically observed that there is a violation of principle of natural justice and therefore the learned Appellate Tribunal ought to have remanded the matter to the Tribunal is concerned, on considering/fair reading of the impugned order passed by the learned Appellate Tribunal, as such, there is no specific finding by the learned Appellate Tribunal that there is a violation of principle of natural justice. What is observed by the learned Appellate Tribunal is that “even if it is accepted that the appellant on receipt of notice wanted to file reply” cannot be considered as a specific finding given that the order passed by the Tribunal was in violation of principle of natural justice.

15. Now insofar as the submission on behalf of the appellant that the order dated 01.10.2018 passed under Section 241/242 of the Companies Act is an interim order and the same is not a final order suspending the directors and the erstwhile board of directors of the company, and therefore the observations made in the order dated 01.10.2018 cannot be considered, has no substance. It is required to be noted that as on today the order dated 01.10.2018 suspending the erstwhile directors of the company including the appellant stands and remains in operation. The same is not challenged by way of an appeal before an appropriate appellate Tribunal/Court.

16. Now so far as the submission on behalf of the appellant that the impugned order passed by the learned Appellate Tribunal is a non-speaking and non¬reasoned order and the grounds urged before the learned Appellate Tribunal have not been dealt with by the learned Appellate Tribunal and therefore the prayer to set aside the order is concerned, in view of our specific findings recorded hereinabove on the legality and validity of the order passed by the learned Tribunal under Section 130 of the Companies Act, we do not propose to remand the matter to the learned Appellate Tribunal. It is true that the learned Appellate Tribunal could have passed a reasoned/speaking order. But in the facts and circumstances of the case and our findings recorded hereinabove and as observed hereinabove, the order passed by the Tribunal under Section 130 of the Companies Act does not suffer from any illegality and the same is passed in the larger public interest, we have considered the order passed by the learned Tribunal under Section 130 of the Companies Act on merits.

17. In view of the aforesaid findings recorded by us, the decisions relied upon by the learned counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant shall not be applicable to the facts of the case on hand. There cannot be any dispute to the proposition of law laid down by this Court in the aforesaid decisions relied upon by the learned counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant. However, in the light of the aforesaid findings recorded by us, none of the decisions relied upon by the learned counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant shall be applicable to the facts of the case on hand.

18. Now so far as reliance placed upon the subsequent report of the RBI and the objection by the learned counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant to rely upon the subsequent report and the reliance placed upon the decision of this Court in the case of Mohinder Singh (supra) is concerned, as the impugned order passed by the learned Tribunal is in the larger public interest, this Court can take note of the subsequent development/report. However, at the same time, the same shall be in support of the order under challenge. Even otherwise, it is required to be noted and as observed hereinabove, independent to the subsequent report of the RBI, there is a specific finding with respect to the mismanagement and the fraudulent accounts. Therefore subsequent Report of the RBI Report can be taken note of, while upholding the order passed by the learned Tribunal under Section 130 of the Companies Act. As observed hereinabove, a larger public interest has been involved and reopening of the books of accounts and recasting of financial statements of the aforesaid companies is required to be carried out in the larger public interest, to find out the real truth, and as observed hereinabove both the conditions precedent while invoking power under Section 130 of the Companies Act are satisfied/complied with, therefore in the facts and circumstances of the case, we are of the opinion that the order passed by the learned Tribunal passed under Section 130 of the Companies Act, confirmed by the learned Appellate Tribunal, is not required to be interfered with.

19. In view of the above and for the reasons stated above, we see no reason to interfere with the impugned order dated 01.01.2019 passed by the learned Tribunal under Section 130 of the Companies Act for re¬opening of the books of accounts and re-casting the financial statements of the Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Limited; IL&FS Financial Services Limited and IL&FS Transportation Networks Limited for the last five years, viz. from Financial Year 2012¬13 to the Financial Year 2017-18, which came to be confirmed by the learned Appellate Court vide impugned judgment and order dated 31.01.2019. Consequently, the present appeal fails and deserves to be dismissed and is accordingly dismissed.

All connected IAs are also disposed of.

BHIVCHANDRA SHANKAR MORE V. BALU GANGARAM MORE

R. BANUMATHI, J.

1. Leave granted.

2. This appeal arises out of the judgment dated 20.08.2014 passed by the High Court of Judicature at Bombay in Writ Petition No.3290 of 2014 in and by which the High Court refused to condone the delay in filing the first appeal challenging the ex- parte decree passed in Regular Civil Suit No.35 of 2007 dated 04.07.2008.

3. Brief facts which led to filing of this appeal are as under:-

Respondents-plaintiffs No.1 to 13 filed a suit for partition in Regular Civil Suit No.35 of 2007 before the Joint Civil Judge, Junior Division, Daund seeking partition and separate possession of the suit property. In the said suit, son of defendant No.2 viz. Tanaji received the suit summons on 25.02.2007. According to appellant-defendant, they were in the neighbouring village in search of work and Tanaji did not inform them about the service of suit summons and therefore, they could not appear in the suit for partition. The said suit was decreed ex-parte and preliminary decree for partition was passed on 04.07.2008. On 15.10.2008, appellant and respondents No. 14 and 15 filed an application under Order IX Rule 13 CPC for setting aside the ex-parte decree. After considering the contentions of both the parties, the said application came to be dismissed by the trial court by order dated 06.08.2010. The trial court noted that the appellant and respondents No.14 and 15 are coming up with different reasons for their non-appearance when the suit was called for hearing. The trial court pointed out that though number of amendments were made in the application filed under Order IX Rule 13 CPC, only in the last amendment, the defendants have stated that suit summons was served on the son of applicant No.2 viz. Tanaji. The trial court observed that said Tanaji was an adult and the suit summons served on him was deemed to be an effective service of summons on the defendants.

4. Being aggrieved by the dismissal of application filed under Order IX Rule 13 CPC, on 03.09.2010, the appellant and respondents No.14 and 15 filed Civil Appeal No.108 of 2010 and the same was withdrawn on 11.06.2013. On the very next day i.e. on 12.06.2013, the appellant and respondents No.14 and 15 filed regular appeal challenging the ex-parte decree passed in Regular Civil Suit No.35 of 2007. Along with the said appeal, they also filed Civil Misc. Application No.56 of 2013 for condonation of delay of four years, ten months and eight days. The said application for condonation of delay was allowed by the Additional District Judge, Baramati vide order dated 20.02.2014. The court noted that the appellant and respondents No.14 and 15 did not get an opportunity to contest the suit on merits. The learned District Judge observed that the appellant and respondents No.14 and 15 have spent their time in wrong proceedings viz. application filed under Order IX Rule 13 CPC and the appeal thereon and therefore, it will be just and proper to condone the delay in preferring the appeal challenging the ex- parte decree passed in the partition suit. The District Court accordingly set aside the order of the trial court and allowed the application for condonation of delay in filing the appeal against the ex-parte decree.

5. Being aggrieved by the order condoning the delay and entertaining the appeal, respondents No.1 to 8 filed WP No.3290 of 2014 before the High Court. By the impugned judgment dated 20.08.2014, the High Court allowed the writ petition by holding that the application filed under Order IX Rule 13 CPC cannot be said to be wrong proceedings and hence, the time spent in pursuing the remedy by filing application under Order IX Rule 13 CPC cannot be excluded for calculating the limitation. The High Court relied upon its own judgment in Jotiba Limbaji Kanashenavar v. Ramappa Jotiba Kanashenavar 1937 Vol.XL Bom. Law Reporter 957 and held that having elected to pursue the remedy by filing an application under Order IX Rule 13 CPC and having not pursued the remedy of appeal which was open to him at that time and having failed in the application filed under Order IX Rule 13 CPC, the appellant-defendants cannot fall back upon the remedy of filing appeal and seek condonation of delay. The High court pointed out that two remedies have to be pursued simultaneously and cannot be converted into consecutive remedies and on those findings, allowed the writ petition which is the subject matter challenge.

6. Mr. Sushil Karanjkar, learned counsel appearing for the appellant submitted that the suit summons was served upon the son of defendant No.2 by name Tanaji and at the relevant point of time, the appellant and respondents No.14 and 15 were in the neighbouring village for some work and they could not pursue the matter and hence, the delay in filing the appeal cannot be said to be intentional. Placing reliance upon B. Madhuri Goud v. B. Damodar Reddy (2012) 12 SCC 693, it was submitted that consistent view taken by the Supreme Court is that the words “sufficient cause” should be liberally construed and the District Court rightly condoned the delay in filing the appeal. It was submitted that unless the delay in filing the appeal is condoned, the appellants and respondents No.14 and 15 will lose their valuable rights in the suit property which is the joint family property, without having an opportunity to contest the same on merits.

7. Mr. Vinay Navare, learned senior counsel appearing on behalf of the respondents submitted that the time spent in prosecuting the proceedings for setting aside the ex-parte decree under Order IX Rule 13 CPC is wholly irrelevant since those proceedings under Order IX Rule 13 CPC never operated as a bar for filing an appeal under Section 96(2) CPC. It was further submitted that the application filed under Order IX Rule 13 CPC was dismissed on merits and the said order has attained finality and having filed the appeal challenging the said order, the appellants cannot seek for condonation of delay on the ground that they were pursuing the other remedy under Order IX Rule 13 CPC.

8. We have carefully considered the submissions and perused the impugned judgment and other materials placed on record. The following points arise for consideration:-

(ii) When an application filed under Order IX Rule 13 CPC has been dismissed on merits, whether regular appeal under Section 96(2) CPC is barred?

9. The facts are not in dispute. The suit for partition was filed by respondents No.1 to 13 in the year 2007. It was decreed ex- parte on 04.07.2008. The appellant and respondents No.14 and 15 filed application under Order IX Rule 13 CPC on 15.10.2008 and the said application was dismissed on merits by the order dated 06.08.2010. Challenging the said order, the appellant and respondents No.14 and 15 preferred an appeal on 03.09.2010. About three years after its filing i.e. on 11.06.2013, the said appeal was withdrawn and on the next day i.e. on 12.06.2013, the appellant and respondents No.14 and 15 filed appeal challenging the decree passed in Regular Civil Suit No.35 of 2007 along with an application to condone the delay of four years, ten months and eight days.

10. A conjoint reading of Order IX Rule 13 CPC and Section 96(2) CPC indicates that the defendant who suffered an ex-parte decree has two remedies:- (i) either to file an application under Order IX Rule 13 CPC to set aside the ex-parte decree to satisfy the court that summons were not duly served or those served, he was prevented by “sufficient cause” from appearing in the court when the suit was called for hearing; (ii) to file a regular appeal from the original decree to the first appellate court and challenge the ex-parte decree on merits.

11. It is to be pointed out that the scope of Order IX Rule 13 CPC and Section 96(2) CPC are entirely different. In an application filed under Order IX Rule 13 CPC, the Court has to see whether the summons were duly served or not or whether the defendant was prevented by any “sufficient cause” from appearing when the suit was called for hearing. If the Court is satisfied that the defendant was not duly served or that he was prevented for “sufficient cause”, the court may set aside the ex- parte decree and restore the suit to its original position. In terms of Section 96(2) CPC, the appeal lies from an original decree passed ex-parte. In the regular appeal filed under Section 96(2) CPC, the appellate court has wide jurisdiction to go into the merits of the decree. The scope of enquiry under two provisions is entirely different. Merely because the defendant pursued the remedy under Order IX Rule 13 CPC, it does not prohibit the defendant from filing the appeal if his application under Order IX Rule 13 CPC is dismissed.

12. The right of appeal under Section 96(2) CPC is a statutory right and the defendant cannot be deprived of the statutory right of appeal merely on the ground that the application filed by him under Order IX Rule 13 CPC has been dismissed. In Bhanu Kumar Jain v. Archana Kumar and Another (2005) 1 SCC 787, the Supreme Court considered the question whether the first appeal was maintainable despite the fact that an application under Order IX Rule 13 CPC was filed and dismissed. Observing that the right of appeal is a statutory right and that the litigant cannot be deprived of such right, in paras (36) and (38), it was held as under:-

“36. …………… A right to question the correctness of the decree in a first appeal is a statutory right. Such a right shall not be curtailed nor shall any embargo be fixed thereupon unless the statute expressly or by necessary implication says so. [See (2004) 5 SCC 385, Deepal Girishbhai Soni and Others v. United India Insurance Co. Ltd., Boaroda and Chandravathi P.K. and Others v. C.K. Saji and Others (2004) 3 SCC 734].”

……………..

38. The dichotomy, in our opinion, can be resolved by holding that whereas the defendant would not be permitted to raise a contention as regards the correctness or otherwise of the order posting the suit for ex parte hearing by the trial court and/or existence of a sufficient case for non-appearance of the defendant before it, it would be open to him to argue in the first appeal filed by him under Section 96(2) of the Code on the merits of the suit so as to enable him to contend that the materials brought on record by the plaintiffs were not sufficient for passing a decree in his favour or the suit was otherwise not maintainable. Lack of jurisdiction of the court can also be a possible plea in such an appeal. We, however, agree with Mr Chaudhari that the “Explanation” appended to Order 9 Rule 13 of the Code shall receive a strict construction as was held by this Court in Rani Choudhury v. Lt.-Col. Suraj Jit Choudhary (1982) 2 SCC 596, P. Kiran Kumar v. A.S. Khadar and Others (2002) 5 SCC 161 and Shyam Sundar Sarma v. Pannalal Jaiswal and Others (2005) 1 SCC 436.”

13. After referring to its own judgment in Jotiba Limbaji, the High Court held that after the appeal from the order of the lower court refusing to set aside the ex-parte decree, the defendant may think of applying to the High Court in revision and in that process, considerable time might be lost. After referring to other judgments, in the impugned judgment, the High Court held as un- der:-

“15……….. An unscrupulous defendant may file the application under Order IX Rule 13 CPC and carry the order to the highest forum irrespective of the merit in it and thereafter still file appeal against the decree. Considerable time would be lost for the plain- tiff in that case. Every provision under the law of procedure is aimed at justness, fairness and full opportunity of hearing to the parties to the court proceedings. It caters to every conceivable situation. But at the same time, the law expects a litigant to be straight, honest and fair. The two remedies provided against ex-parte decree are in respect of two different situations and are expected to be resorted to only if the facts of the situation are available to a litigant. The remedies provided as simultaneous and cannot be converted into consecutive remedies.”

14. The above observation of the High Court that“ the remedies provided as simultaneous and cannot be converted into consecu- tive remedies”
cannot be applied in a rigid manner and as a strait- jacket formula. It has to be considered depending on the facts and circumstances of each case and whether the defendant in pursuing the remedy consecutively has adopted dilatory tactics. Only in cases where the defendant has adopted dilatory tactics or where there is lack of bonafide in pursuing the two remedies con- secutively, the court may decline to condone the delay in filing the first appeal. If the court refuses to condone the delay in the time spent in pursuing the remedy under Order IX Rule 13 CPC, the defendant would be deprived of the statutory right of appeal in challenging the decree on merits.

15. It is a fairly well settled law that “sufficient cause” should be given liberal construction so as to advance sustainable justice when there is no inaction, no negligence nor want of bonafide could be imputable to the appellant. After referring to various judgments, in B. Madhuri, this Court held as under:-

“6. The expression “sufficient cause” used in Section 5 of the Limitation Act, 1963 and other statutes is elastic enough to enable the courts to apply the law in a meaningful manner which serves the ends of justice. No hard-and-fast rule has been or can be laid down for deciding the applications for condonation of delay but over the years courts have repeatedly observed that a liberal approach needs to be adopted in such matters so that substantive rights of the parties are not defeated only on the ground of delay.”

16. Observing that the rules of limitation are not meant to destroy the rights of the parties, in N. Balakrishnan v. M. Krishnamurthy (1998) 7 SCC 123, this Court held as under:-

“11. Rules of limitation are not meant to destroy the rights of parties. They are meant to see that parties do not resort to dilatory tactics, but seek their remedy promptly. The object of providing a legal remedy is to repair the damage caused by reason of legal injury. The law of limitation fixes a lifespan for such legal remedy for the redress of the legal injury so suffered. Time is precious and wasted time would never revisit. During the efflux of time, newer causes would sprout up necessitating newer persons to seek legal remedy by approaching the courts. So a lifespan must be fixed for each remedy. Unending period for launching the remedy may lead to unending uncertainty and consequential anarchy. The law of limitation is thus founded on public policy. It is enshrined in the maxim interest reipublicae up sit finis litium (it is for the general welfare that a period be put to litigation). Rules of limitation are not meant to destroy the rights of the parties. They are meant to see that parties do not resort to dilatory tactics but seek their remedy promptly. The idea is that every legal remedy must be kept alive for a legislatively fixed period of time.”

As pointed out earlier, an appeal under Section 96 CPC is a statutory right. Generally, delays in preferring appeals are required to be condoned, in the interest of justice, where there is no gross negligence or deliberate inaction or lack of bonafide is imputable to the party seeking condonation of delay.

17. In the case in hand, respondents No.1 to 13 filed a suit for partition in the year 2007, which was decreed ex-parte on 04.07.2008. Appellant and respondents No.14 and 15 filed application under Order IX Rule 13 CPC and the same came to be dismissed on 06.08.2010. Being aggrieved by dismissal of application under Order IX Rule 13 CPC, the appellant and respondents No.14 and 15 preferred an appeal under Order XLIII Rule 1(d) CPC on 03.09.2010. Of course, the said appeal was pending for about three years and the same was withdrawn on 11.06.2013. Thereafter, on the next day i.e. on 12.06.2013, the appellant and respondents No.14 and 15 filed an appeal challenging the ex-parte decree and judgment dated 04.07.2008 passed in Regular Civil Suit No.35 of 2007. It cannot be said that the appellant and respondents No.14 and 15 were grossly negligent in pursuing the matter more so, when the decree was passed in the suit for partition.

18. It is pertinent to note that as per Section 97 CPC where any party aggrieved by a preliminary decree does not appeal from such decree, he shall be precluded from disputing its correctness in any appeal which may be preferred from the final decree. The object is that the questions decided by the court at the stage of passing preliminary decree cannot be challenged at the time of final decree. If no appeal had been preferred against the preliminary decree, the suit filed by the respondents-plaintiffs being a suit for partition, the appellant would be deprived of the opportunity in challenging the decree on merits. In the interest of justice, the appellant and respondents No.14 and 15 are to be given an opportunity to challenge the ex-parte decree dated 04.07.2008 on merits, notwithstanding the dismissal of their application filed under Order IX Rule 13 CPC.

19. In the facts and circumstances of the present case, the time spent in pursuing the application under Order IX Rule 13 CPC is to be taken as “sufficient cause” for condoning the delay in filing the first appeal. The impugned judgment of the High Court cannot be sustained and is liable to be set aside.

20. In the result, the impugned judgment dated 20.08.2014 passed by the High Court in WP No.3290 of 2014 is set aside and this appeal is allowed. The delay in filing the appeal against the judgment passed in Regular Civil Suit No.35 of 2007 is condoned and the appeal filed by the appellant and respondents No.14 and 15 shall stand restored. The first appellate court shall take the appeal titled “Shri Bhivchand Shankar More & Ors. v. Shri Balu Gangaram More & Ors.” on file and proceed with the same in accordance with law. We make it clear that we have not expressed any opinion on the merits of the matter.

RAJASTHAN HIGH COURT JODHPUR Vs … – LEGITQUEST

A.S. Bopanna,J.

1. Leave granted.

2. The appellants herein were the respondent Nos. 2 and 3 in the writ petition bearing DBCWP No.692 of 2017 which was considered and disposed of by the High Court of Judicature for Rajasthan at Jodhpur. Through the order dated 04.05.2017 the writ petition was allowed and the appellants herein were directed to consider the candidature of the private respondent herein for appointment on the post of Civil Judge-cum-Judicial Magistrate in the Civil Judge Cadre against the two vacancies reserved for disabled candidates in the Rajasthan Judicial Service Examination, 2016 and provide appointment as per merit of said category, if she is otherwise eligible. The said order and direction of the High Court is assailed herein primarily on the contention that the private respondent herein had not applied against the vacancies advertised for the physically challenged category but had applied as a General Category candidate and as per the merit list she was not entitled to be appointed as there were more meritorious candidates in the General Category and the appointment having been made, the process has been completed.

3. The brief facts are that the appellants herein had issued a Notification calling for applications for recruitment to the post of Civil Judge-cum-Judicial Magistrate in the Civil Judge Cadre for 72 posts. Among the same, two posts were kept reserved for persons with disabilities. The private respondent herein had responded to the said Notification but filed the application indicating her category as “General” and in the column provided for indication of the claim under the Differently Abled Category had mentioned “No”. Hence, for all purposes private respondent herein was considered as a General category candidate and had accordingly appeared for the preliminary examination. On being declared successful she had appeared for the main examination and thereafter in the interview also as General category candidate without reliance being placed on the disability certificate. The result was declared on 15.11.2016. In the said list the marks obtained by all the candidates were disclosed. The petitioner had obtained 136 marks and she was placed at Serial No.137. As against the two vacancies for the differently abled persons, one of the applicants who had obtained 138 marks was at Serial No.57. It is subsequent thereto the private respondent made a representation dated 28.11.2016 with a request to consider her candidature under the category for Differently Abled persons as visually impaired and to provide the appointment. The said representation being taken note, the private respondent was informed that her candidature under the category of Differently Abled persons cannot be accepted. It is in that view the private respondent claiming to be aggrieved filed the writ petition seeking direction for consideration of her request. While seeking consideration under the Differently Abled category the claim is that the private respondent is having 80% disability as indicated in the certificate dated 05.07.2010 issued by the competent doctor.

4. The High Court while taking note of the contention, though had passed an elaborate order the main consideration appears to be that though two vacancies were kept reserved for Differently Abled persons, only one vacancy is filled in by way of providing appointment to the candidate named Ms. Renu Motwani at Serial No.57. In that regard, though there is no definite material on record the High Court has also observed that in the earlier examination for the same post held in the year 2013 the private respondent herein was allowed to appear in the physically handicapped category because she was having 80% disability. In that view, though it is not in dispute that the private respondent had indicated her category as “General” in the application, the High Court was of the view that even though a mistake was committed by the candidate, the representation submitted by her subsequently ought to have been considered sympathetically and in this regard it was observed that the object of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 (hereinafter referred to as the “PWD Act”) should have been kept in view. In that regard the position of law relating to the consideration under the said Act was taken note and the provisions contained therein not to fill up the vacancies by any other category but to carry forward the same was also taken into consideration. In that background the consideration required herein is as to whether the High Court was justified in its approach in applying the proposition of providing opportunity to Differently Abled Persons as provided under PWD Act, notwithstanding the fact that the issue presently related to the appointment of the Judicial Officer in the backdrop of the provisions contained in the Rajasthan Judicial Service Rules governing the same and the vacancy is filled up. Further, the issue also is as to whether the direction is justified when no application was filed seeking benefit of the reserved category.

5. We have heard Ms. Meenakshi Arora, senior advocate for the appellants, Mr. Pallav Shishodia, senior advocate for the private respondent and perused the appeal papers.

6. The Notification dated 12.03.2016 issued by the appellants herein inviting online application in the prescribed format for the competitive exam for the direct recruitment to Civil Judge Cadre, 2016 relating to the reservation and the procedure for consideration of Differently Abled Persons reads as hereunder:

table

“3. Regarding the reservation for disabled persons:

A. According to Rajasthan persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Rules, 2011, aforesaid posts shown to have been reserved for disabled persons are reserved for applicants having Locomotor Disability and Cerebral Palsy (L.D & C.P) and visual impaired. Aforesaid reserved posts have been reserved for applicants having under mentioned disabilities.

Locomotor Disability And Cerebral Palsy (L.D. & C.P)

O.L. – One leg affected (R or L)

B.L. – Both legs affected (Mobility not to be restricted)

O.A. – One Arm affected (R or L)

Visual Impaired (Blind & Low Vision)

B – Blind (Mobility not to be restricted)

LV – Low Vision (Mobility not to be restricted)”

“5. In case of non-availability of fit and suitable candidate for the posts reserved for women and disabled candidates, these posts shall be filled as per the procedure and manner prescribed in Rajasthan Judicial Services Rules, 2010 (as amended).

6. A married woman candidate in order to receive benefit of reserved category shall have to present caste certificate (S.C./S.T./O.B.C.) issued on the basis of the name, place of residence and income of her father.”

“5. Exam fee:

Applicant shall have to pay exam fee in accordance with his/her category.

A. Exam fee for the candidates belonging to general category, creamy layer from backward class/special backward class/applicants from other States shall be Rs.250/-

B. Examination fee for the candidates of non-creamy layer from other backward class/special backward class shall be Rs.150/-

C. Examination fee of Candidates belonging to scheduled caste/scheduled tribe of Rajasthan and all eligible disabled applicants shall be Rs.50/-”

7. In response to the above said Notification the private respondent submitted her application and in Column 2.4 – ‘Category’ it was indicated as “General”, in Column 3.1 – ‘Persons with Disability’ – it was indicated as “No”. Further in the declaration it is stated that the private respondent has carefully read the terms and conditions of the Notification, instructions and relevant rules before filling up the application form online and to abide by them. It is also declared that the informations made are true, complete and correct. In the Column for payment of the application fee the sum of Rs.250/-prescribed as the fee for General Category Candidate along with the commission charges of Rs.10/-, in all amounting to Rs.260/-is paid. Pursuant to the application being in order the admission card was generated providing the Roll No.5046 and the category was indicated therein as “General”. It is on the said basis the private respondent had appeared for the preliminary examination, main examination and the interview. Based on the same the statement of marks of all the candidates in the order of merit was published on 15.11.2016. It is only thereafter the private respondent made a representation dated 28.11.2016 wherein she claims that she is visually impaired more than 80% and the Medical Board issued the disability certificate dated 05.07.2010. It is further indicated in the representation that she had inadvertently not mentioned the physically handicapped category in the application form. She has also stated that during the previous year she had appeared as a candidate under the category of Persons with Disabilities and therefore she be considered against the other vacant post.

8. The learned senior counsel for the appellants has contended that the private respondent did not make a claim under the quota for the category of Differently Abled Persons in the application and the claim presently made is merely because only one of the posts was filled up by a Differently Abled Person with locomotor disability and the other post if there was a claim would have been for visually impaired and as such the private respondent is claiming visual impairment at this stage. As per the Rajasthan Judicial Service Rules, 2010 the unfilled seat will have to be filled up in accordance with the normal procedure and, such vacancy will not be carried forward to the subsequent year. In that circumstance, it is contended that out of the vacancies which was reserved for Differently Abled Persons, the second vacancy which was available to a visually impaired person has been filled in by a more meritorious candidate from the General category in the absence of a visually impaired candidate, which is the normal procedure referred to in the Rules.

9. The learned senior counsel for the private respondent on the other hand has made a detailed reference to the provisions of the PWD Act, 1995, more particularly to the definitions as contained in Sections 2 (b) to (e), (o), (p), (t) as also to Sections 18 to 32, 33 and 36 as contained therein.

10. However, we do not find it necessary to advert more in detail to the said provisions since in the instant case it is not as if no reservation for Differently Abled Persons was made in the Recruitment Notification concerned nor is it a case where the Recruitment Notification is under challenge on the ground of not providing reservation. Further the decisions relied upon by the learned senior counsel for the private respondent in the case of Government of India through Secretary & Anr. vs. Rani Prakash Gupta (2010) 7 SCC 626; in the case of Union of India & Anr. vs. National Federation of the Blind (2013) 10 SCC 772 and in the case of Rajeev Kumar Gupta & Ors. vs. Union of India & Ors. (2016) 13 SCC 153, wherein this Court has addressed the issues relating to backlog of vacancies, the employer having not identified the post, the duty cast on the Government and the statutory bodies as per cadre strength and the number of posts to be reserved, would not be of assistance since the very writ petition in the instant case before the High Court was not predicated on the basis that the Notification issued in the year 2016 did not make enough provisions for Differently Abled Persons. Further though the learned senior counsel for the private respondent has contended before us that enough representation was not given from the earlier years and the unfilled vacancies of the earlier year were also required to be carried forward, the same was also not the contention before the High Court nor has the private respondent herein challenged the said Notification dated 12.03.2016 on those grounds by offering herself as a candidate under the Category of Differently Abled Persons.

11. However, one aspect of the matter which is to be taken note is with regard to the contention of the learned senior counsel for the private respondent that the mandamus issued by the High Court is sustainable since the vacancy could not have been filled up by any other category but ought to have been carried forward and in that circumstance if the provision as contained in Section 36 of PWD Act is kept in view, the action of the appellants herein in operating Rule 10(4) of the Rajasthan Judicial Service Rules, 2010 would not be sustainable. It is, therefore, contended by the learned senior counsel for the private respondent that in such circumstance in any event one post reserved for the Differently Abled person in the selection for the year 2016 should have been kept vacant to be carried forward to the next recruitment for want of candidate and in that background keeping in view Section 36 of the PWD Act, instead of carrying forward to the next recruitment the same being ordered to be filled up by an available Differently Abled person is justified.

12. In order to appreciate this aspect of the matter it would be necessary to take note of the provision as contained in Section 36 of the PWD Act, 1995 which reads as hereunder:

“Vacancies not filled up to be carried forward – Wherein any recruitment year any vacancy under section 33 cannot be filled up due to non-availability of a suitable person with disability or, for any other sufficient reason, such vacancy shall be carried forward in the succeeding recruitment year and if in the succeeding recruitment year also suitable person with disability is not available, it may first be filled by interchange among the three categories and only when there is no person with disability available for the post in that year, the employer shall fill up the vacancy by appointment of a person, other than a person with disability.

Provided that if the nature of vacancies in an establishment is such that a given category of person cannot be employed, the vacancies may be interchanged among the three categories with the prior approval of the appropriate Government.”

13. In that backdrop what is to be taken note is also the Rajasthan Judicial Service Rules, 2010 framed under the Notification dated 18.01.2010 which is in exercise of the power conferred by Article 233 and 234 read with proviso to Article 309 of the Constitution of India. The Notification reads as hereunder;

“ DEPARTMENT OF PERSONNEL

(A-Gr.2)

NOTIFICATION

Jaipur, January 18, 2010

G.S.R.81.-In exercise of the powers conferred by Article 233 and 234 read with proviso to Article 309 of the Constitution of India and all other powers enabling him in this behalf, the Governor of Rajasthan in consultation with the Rajasthan Public Service Commission and the High Court of Judicature for Rajasthan hereby makes the following rules regulating recruitment to the posts in, and the conditions and other matters related to the service of persons appointed to the Rajasthan Judicial Service, namely:-”

In the said Rajasthan Judicial Service Rules, Rule 10(4) reads as hereunder:

“(1) x x x x x x

(2) x x x x x x

(3) x x x x x x

(4) Reservation of posts for Persons with Disabilities as defined in the Rajasthan Employment of Disabled Persons Rules, 2000, shall be 3% category-wise which shall be horizontal and shall be available only at the time of initial recruitment. In the event of non-availability of eligible and suitable persons with disabilities in a particular year, the vacancy so reserved for them shall be filled in accordance with the normal procedure and such vacancies shall not be carried forward to the subsequent year.

Provided that the total number of posts reserved for all such categories in a direct recruitment shall not exceed 50% of the total vacancies.”

14. The Rule therefore framed is under the provisions of the Constitution of India which relates to the selection of the Judicial Officers, for which the yardsticks could be laid down in the Rules. On this aspect of the matter the decision relied on by the learned senior counsel for the appellants in the case of V. Surendra Mohan vs. State of Tamil Nadu & Ors. (2019) 4 SCC 237 would be apposite. In the said case, this Court in a matter relating to the selection for the post of Civil Judge (Junior Division) to the Tamil Nadu Judicial Service was confronted with a situation whereunder the Notification prescribed the percentage of disability at 40 to 50 % for partially blind and partially deaf for selection. The candidate who had assailed the action possessed the disability certificate mentioning the disability at 70 %. Since under Section 33 of the PWD Act, 1995 no restriction on disability to the extent of 40 to 50 % can be put, the restriction on disability as per the Notification was assailed before the Madras High Court which culminated in the appeal before this Court. In that context while considering the matter, this Court had adverted to the issue as to whether the restriction on disability is in breach of the provisions of the PWD Act, 1995 and is it to be set aside. In that context, the validity of the Tamil Nadu State Judicial Service (Cadre and Recruitment) Rules, 2007 vis-a-vis the provisions of the PWD Act, 1995 was examined and the power under which the Rules 2007 (which is akin to the Rajasthan Rules, 2010) being framed, as empowered under the provisions of the Constitution was taken note with reference to the earlier judgments of this Court. Though the said decision is not in relation to Section 36 of the PWD Act, 1995, prima facie when it is noticed that Rule 10(4) is contained in the Rules, 2010 framed in exercise of the powers conferred under Article 233 and 234 read with proviso to Article 309 of the Constitution of India, the Rule being operated will be justified. As already noted, neither the notification nor the Rule were under challenge. In terms thereof the appellants on taking note that there is no other application/applicant seeking the appointment under the category reserved for Differently Abled Persons has filled up by selecting the next meritorious candidate from the other category. Hence in a circumstance where no challenge is laid to the Rule the action to that extent would be justified.

15. That apart, though it is contended by the private respondent that it was a mistake in indicating “No” against the Column 3.1 – ‘Person with Disability’, what is necessary to be taken note is that against Column 2.4 – ‘Category’, it has been stated as “General”. That apart the examination fee fixed for General candidates is Rs.250/- while for the eligible disabled applicant it is fixed at Rs.50/-. The private respondent in addition to indicating her category as ‘General’ has paid the fee of Rs.250/- as applicable. Further, though the disability certificate dated 05.07.2010 is presently relied upon, there is no material to indicate that the same was enclosed along with the application or produced till the completion of interview. On this aspect, to contend that the private respondent cannot make a contrary claim, the learned senior counsel for the appellants herein has relied on the decision in the case of J&K Public Service Commission vs. Israr Ahmad (2005) 12 SCC 498 wherein it is held in para 5 as hereunder:

“5. We have considered the rival contentions advanced by both the parties. The contention of the first respondent cannot be accepted as he has not applied for selection as a candidate entitled to get reservation. He did not produce any certificate along with his application. The fact that he has not availed of the benefit for the preliminary examination itself is sufficient to treat him as a candidate not entitled to get reservation. He passed the preliminary examination as a general candidate and at the subsequent stage of the main examination he cannot avail of reservation on the ground that he was successful in getting the required certificate only at a later stage. The nature and status of the candidate who was applying for the selection could only be treated alike and once a candidate has chosen to opt for the category to which he is entitled, he cannot later change the status and make fresh claim. The Division Bench was not correct in holding that as a candidate he had also had the qualification and the production of the certificate at a later stage would make him entitled to seek reservation. Therefore, we set aside the judgment of the Division Bench and allow the appeal. No costs.

16. Further the decision in the case of Registrars General, Calcutta High Court vs. Shriniwas Prasad Shah & Ors. (2013) 12 SCC 364 is relied on, wherein this Court has disallowed the claim in a case where in the application the category of reservation was indicated but certificate was not produced and the fee applicable to general candidate was paid. In addition, the learned senior counsel for the appellants herein also refers to the inherent contradictions in the claim of the private respondent apart from the fact that the claim for consideration under the category reserved for Differently Abled Persons is not made.

17. In that regard it is pointed out that even as per the disability certificate dated 05.07.2010 sought to be relied on at present, the description of permanent disability is shown as Hemiplegia – Non-functional hand. It is in that background pointed out that though that is the nature of disability indicated therein which will be locomotor disability, in the representation dated 28.11.2016 which was made belatedly the private respondent has claimed that she is visually impaired, more than 80% and the reference made is to the same disability certificate dated 05.07.2010. The learned senior counsel for the private respondent no doubt has referred to an article relating to Hemiplegia wherein reference is also made to the difficulties in seeing. The very nature of the contention would indicate that in the instant facts the claim in the application under the category should have been made and the disability certificate was required to be produced along with the application since the nature of the disability was a matter which was to be considered by the recruiting authorities concerned, if need be on medical examination. If visual impairment as a consequence of Hemiplegia was to be considered, the percentage of disability by visual impairment will also be relevant and the same was required to be determined at the appropriate stage.

18. Therefore, in a circumstance where the issue is whether the disability claimed is locomotor disability or visual impairment and the same itself being a question to be debated, it would not be possible for the Court to act as an expert and in such circumstance a mandamus to consider the same in a particular manner would not also be justified. It is no doubt true that the employment opportunities to the differently abled persons is to be provided as a matter of right when a case is made out and there is no need for sympathetic consideration. However, in the instant facts when the claim was not made and there are debateable issues, though we could empathise with the cause of the private respondent the nature of direction issued by the High Court in any event cannot be considered as justified. This is more so, in a circumstance where the appellants had acted in terms of the Rajasthan Judicial Service Rules, 2010 when no other claim was available and had appointed a candidate from the other category and when such appointment has been made, disturbing such candidate at this juncture also will not be justified. Hence for all the afore stated reasons, we find the order dated 04.05.2017 passed by the High Court to be unsustainable and the same is accordingly set aside.

19. Accordingly, the appeal is allowed with no order as to costs. All pending applications stand disposed of.

MYSORE URBAN DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY V. K.M. CHIKKATHAYAMMA

Abhay Manohar Sapre, J.

1. S.L.P(C)No………..(D.No.31403 of 2017) are directed against the final judgment and order dated 09.11.2016 passed by the High Court of Karnataka at Bengaluru in W.A. Nos. 899/2016 and 982987 of 1 2016 whereby the High Court dismissed the appeals filed by the appellant herein and, in consequence, upheld the judgment dated 10.03.2016 of the Single Judge in W.P.Nos.3886838874/ 2015 which had allowed the writ petitions filed by the respondents herein.

2. So far as S.L.P.(C)No…….. (D.No.30522/2017) are concerned, these are] directed against the final judgment and order dated 20.10.2016 passed by the Division Bench of the High Court of Karnataka in W.A. Nos. 68296830 of 2013 which arise out of the order dated 10.10.2013 of the Single Judge passed in writ petition Nos.27994/2001 and 18756/2001.

3. Leave granted.

4. In order to appreciate the issues involved in these appeals, few relevant facts need mention infra.

5. The appellant Mysore Urban Development Authority (hereinafter referred to as “MUDA”) was the respondent whereas the respondents herein were the writ petitioners before the High Court.

6. In exercise of the powers conferred under Section 17 (1) of the Karnataka Urban Development Authorities Act, 1987 (hereinafter referred to as “The Karnataka Act”), the MUDA issued a notification No. LAQ 66/9191 dated 19.12.1991 on completion of one development scheme prepared under Section 15/16 of the Karnataka Act.

7. By this notification, the MUDA proposed to acquire the large area of the land along with other adjoining lands situated in Dattagalli village (Karnataka). The notification was published in the official State gazette on 26.12.1991. The State Government vide its order dated 27.01.1992 approved the scheme framed by the MUDA under Section 18(3) of the Karnataka Act and issued final notification No.VaNaE 833 MIB 92 on 10.12.1992 3 mentioning therein that the lands in question are needed for public purpose, viz., “formation of Dattagalli extension”. This was followed by an award passed by the Special Land Acquisition Officer (SLAO) on 27.01.1994 wherein he determined the compensation payable to the landowners. This was followed by issuance of notices to the land owners under Section 12 (2) of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 (hereinafter referred to as “the LA Act”) calling upon the land owners to deliver possession of their respective lands. The MUDA then issued a notification on 18.09.2000 as required under Section 16 (2) of the LA Act. In between, there was one litigation but it is not necessary to mention the same in detail.

8. In 2001, the respondents (writ petitioners) felt aggrieved by the acquisition proceedings and filed writ petitions questioning the legality and correctness 4 of the notification dated 19.12.1991 and consequential notifications issued thereafter in the High Court of Karnataka at Bangalore. The MUDA and State contested the writ petitions on several factual and legal grounds.

9. By order dated 15.12.2003, the Single Judge allowed the writ petitions and quashed the entire acquisition proceedings inter alia on the ground that there was a delay on the part of the MUDA in taking possession of the acquired land and hence the acquisition proceedings are rendered illegal.

10. The MUDA felt aggrieved and filed intra Court appeals before the Division Bench out of which these SLPs arise. In the appeals, the writ petitioners as respondents, filed an application (I.A. No.11 of 2016) and prayed therein for dismissal of the MUDA’s appeals as having rendered infructuous. It was contended that the MUDA has resolved on 5 02.07.2016 to drop the lands in question from the acquisition proceedings and, therefore, in the light of such decision having been taken, there is no need to examine the legality and correctness of the order of the Single Judge impugned in the appeals on merits.

11. By impugned order in both the matters, the Division Bench dismissed the appeals as not pressed and withdrawn. The order impugned dated 09.11.2016 reads as under:

“An application is moved by the respondents seeking for dismissal of the writ appeals on the ground that the Mysore Urban Development Authority (for short “MUDA”) decided, in their Board meeting on July 2, 2016, to drop the lands covered by this litigation from the acquisition process. A copy of the resolution is annexed to the application.

2. After hearing Mr. Uday Holla, learned senior advocate appearing for the respondents and Mr. P.S. Manjunath, learned advocate appearing for the appellants, we have got a clear indication that the authorities have decided not to proceed with the writ appeals.

3. Therefore, the writ appeals are dismissed as withdrawn.

4. It shall be open to the authorities to proceed further in the matter. We, however, express no opinion.”

12. It is against this order, the MUDA has felt aggrieved and filed the present appeals by way of special leave before this Court.

13. Heard learned counsel for the parties.

14. Mr. Dushyant Dave, learned senior counsel appearing for the appellant (MUDA) essentially made two submissions.

15. In the first place, learned counsel contended that the Division Bench erred in dismissing the MUDA’s appeals as withdrawn.

16. According to him, there was neither any basis nor ground much less justification to dismiss the MUDA’s appeals “as not pressed”. It was urged that in fact the Division Bench was under legal obligation to decide the appeals on merits.

17. In the Second place, learned counsel contended that the resolution dated 02.07.2016 relied on for dismissal of MUDA’s appeals, “as not pressed” was wrongly interpreted by the Division Bench. Learned counsel pointed out that the resolution dated 02.07.2016, if read properly, does not show that any express decision was taken to withdraw the appeals or that any decision was taken to drop the lands in question from the acquisition proceedings.

18. Learned counsel further submitted that even otherwise the MUDA was not competent to take such decision without obtaining the sanction of the State Government as provided under Section 19 (7) of the Karnataka Act.

19. Learned counsel pointed out that neither the MUDA and nor the State Government ever intended to withdraw from the acquisition proceedings as is clear from the letter dated 26.06.2018 of the State Government and the letter dated 14.11.2017 of the Commissioner. It was urged that these letters indicate that both i.e. the State and the MUDA wanted to pursue the appeals on merits since inception before the High Court as also in this Court.

20. Learned counsel urged that in the light of these submissions, impugned order in both the matters are not legally sustainable and the matter be remitted to the Division Bench for deciding the appeals on merits in accordance with law.

21. In reply, Mr. Mukul Rohtagi and Mr. Gopal Subramanian, learned senior counsel for the respondents (writ petitioners) while supporting the reasoning and the conclusion arrived at by the Division Bench contended that no fault could be noticed in the impugned order.

22. It was their submission that firstly, the Government did not choose to file any appeal against 9 the order of the Single Judge and, therefore, the MUDA had no independent locus to pursue the matter in appeals; Secondly, the MUDA having resolved to wriggle out of the acquisition proceedings, the Division Bench was justified in dismissing the appeals as not pressed; Thirdly, there was, therefore, no need to decide the appeals on merits; and lastly, after the dismissal of the appeals, the respondents (writ petitioners) altered their position in relation to the lands in question by spending substantial money and, therefore, this is not a fit case to entertain the special leave to appeals under Article 136 of the Constitution.

23. The short question, which arises for consideration in these appeals, is whether the Division Bench was right in dismissing the appealsas not pressed”.

24. Having heard the learned counsel for the parties and on perusal of the record of the case, we find force in the submissions urged by the learned counsel for the appellant.

25. In our opinion, the Division Bench should have decided the appeals on merits in accordance with law.

26. On perusal of the resolution dated 02.07.2016, Government letter dated 26.06.2018 and the letter dated 14.11.2017 of the Commissioner and further keeping in view the relevant provisions of the Karnataka Act, we are of the view that the appeals filed by the MUDA could not have been dismissedas not pressed”. In other words, the High Court should have dismissed the respondents’ application (I.A.No.11/2016) as being misconceived and decided the appeals on merits in accordance with law.

27. In our opinion, neither there was any express prayer made by the MUDA and nor it could be inferred from the document relied on by the Division Bench at the instance of respondents (writ petitioners) for forming an opinion “not to press the appeal”. In other words, the opinion formed by the High Court for dismissing the appealsas not pressed” had no basis. Such dismissal, in our view, certainly deprived the MUDA of their right to prosecute the appeals on merits.

28. A right of appeal is a valuable right of a litigant. He is entitled to prosecute this right as it enables him to seek adjudication of the issues on merits, which are subject matter of the appeal by the Appellate Court. He can, however, forgo such right but it has to be done with express authority and free will. The respondents, however, cannot compel the appellant to give up the right of prosecuting the appeal unless 12 the respondents are able to show any express provision in law in that behalf or valid reasons acceptable in law which deprive the appellant from prosecuting his grievance in appeal.

29. If the appellant is a juristic entity created under the Act, they have to ensure strict compliance of the relevant provisions of the Act under which they are created coupled with ensuring compliance of relevant provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure for forgoing their right to prosecute the appeal on merits.

30. If, for some reasons, there are two rival groups in a juristic entity, one prays for withdrawal and the other insisting for hearing the appeal then it is the duty of the Court to first resolve this issue in the light of the relevant provisions of law and then proceed to decide the appeal accordingly. Similarly, when such prayer is made at the instance of the respondent and is opposed by the appellant, the same has to be dealt with strictly in accordance with law by the Appellate Court.

31. The submissions urged by the learned senior counsel for the respondents (writ petitioners), which are detailed supra, have no merit.

32. In our opinion, any act done by the parties in relation to the subject matter of the appeals after the impugned order, cannot be pressed into service to support the impugned order. In other words, the legality and correctness of the impugned order has to be examined in the light of reasoning contained in the impugned order and not on the basis of the acts done by the parties subsequent to the passing of impugned order. It is for this reason the acts done by the party subsequent to passing of the impugned order are of no relevance for deciding the present appeals.

33. In view of the foregoing discussion, we are unable to concur with the reasoning and the conclusion arrived at by the Division Bench in the impugned order.

34. The appeals thus succeed and are accordingly allowed. Impugned order in both the matters are set aside. The writ appeals out of which these appeals arise are accordingly restored to their original numbers. The High Court is requested to decide the appeals on merits in accordance with law.

35. We make it clear that we have not applied our mind to the merits of controversy having formed an opinion to remand the case to the High Court. The High Court would, therefore, decide the appeals without being influenced by any of our observations.

36. We also make it clear that any step(s), if claimed to have been taken by the respondents (writ petitioners) subsequent to the impugned order, the same would not, in any way, influence the High Court while deciding the appeals on merits.

37. The parties are at liberty to claim refund of their money, if they claimed to have paid/deposited with the appellant in relation to the subject matter of the appeals.

BIRLA CORPORATION LTD. Vs. ADVENTZ … – LEGITQUEST

R. BANUMATHI, J.

1. Leave granted.

2. These appeals arise out of the judgment dated 15.05.2015 passed by the High Court of Calcutta in C.R.R. No.323 of 2011 in and by which the High Court quashed the complaint of the appellant-Company filed under Sections 379, 403 and 411 IPC read with Section 120-B IPC qua documents No.1 to 28 of the Schedule. Insofar as documents No.29 to 54 of the Schedule, the High Court remitted the matter to the trial court to proceed with the matter in accordance with law.

3. Being aggrieved by quashing of the complaint qua documents No.1 to 28, the appellant-complainant has preferred appeal (SLP (Crl.) No.9053 of 2016). Being aggrieved by remitting the matter to the trial court qua documents No.29 to 54, the respondents have filed appeal [SLP(Crl.) D No.6405 of 2019 and SLP(Crl.) D. No.6122 of 2019]. Though the SLPs by the respondents are filed with delay, in the interest of justice, delay in filing the SLPs are condoned.

4. These appeals arise out of the criminal complaint filed by the appellant-Company which belong to Madhav Prasad Birla (MPB) Group, now under the control of respondent No.17- Harshvardhan Lodha who is the son of Rajendra Singh Lodha. The impugned complaint has a background of multitude of litigations filed by the respondents and others. Brief facts which led to filing of these appeals are that one Priyamvada Devi Birla (PDB) and her husband Madhav Prasad Birla (MPB) were in control and management of several corporate entities which are collectively referred to as the M.P. Birla Group of Industries. They did not have any children. They have created several trusts for undertaking charitable activities in particular on the education side. PDB died on 03.07.2004 and MPB had predeceased her. There is an ongoing dispute over legality of a Will allegedly executed by Priyamvada Devi Birla (PDB) dated 18.04.1999 in favour of Rajendra Singh Lodha and respondent No.17-son of said Rajendra Singh Lodha. On 19.07.2004, a petition was filed by Rajendra Singh Lodha, father of respondent No.17 for grant of probate of the purported Will before the High Court at Calcutta. The Probate Petition has been converted into a testamentary suit for grant of Letters of Administration. Krishna Kumar Birla (KKB), Basant Kumar Birla (BKB), Ganga Prasad Birla (GPB) and Yashovardhan Birla (YB) have filed caveats to oppose the grant of probate of the said Will dated 18.04.1999. The High Court held that Ganga Prasad Birla (GPB) has a caveatable interest and therefore, he has a right to oppose the grant of probate of the said Will. The said testamentary suit is pending. Subsequently, Krishna Kumar Birla (KKB), Kashi Nath Tapuriah (KNT) and Pradip Kumar Khaitan (PKK) filed an application for grant of probate of the 1982 Will of Madhav Prasad Birla (MPB) and Ganga Prasad Birla (GPB); Kashi Nath Tapuriah (KNT) and Pradip Kumar Khaitan (PKK) have filed an application for grant of probate of the 1982 Will of Madhav Prasad Birla (MPB) before the High Court at Calcutta and the said testamentary proceedings are also pending.

5. Respondents No.1 to 5 who are shareholders of the appellant Company and the trust-Birla Education Trust represented by respondent No.6, had filed a Company petition in CP No.1/2010 under Sections 397 and 398 of the Companies Act, 1956 before the Company Law Board (CLB) alleging oppression and mismanagement being perpetrated by respondent No.17 who is in administration and operation of the said Company. The petition before the CLB has been filed through respondents No.6 to 9 who are shown as accused Nos.6 to 9 in the complaint.

6. On 24.03.2010, respondents No.12 to 16 have filed five civil suits in the High Court of Calcutta (CS Nos.73-77/2010) under Section 92 of the Code of Civil Procedure stating that in the year 1988, MPB and PDB had created five mutual and reciprocal trusts to leave the estate covered by these trusts for charity. These trusts are said to have been revoked just three days prior to the alleged Will dated 18.04.1999. In the said suits in CS No.73-77/2010, respondents No.12 to 16 have challenged the revocation of the five trusts and prayed for recovery of the properties of the public charity and for enforcement of the public trust obligations of the properties vested in the said five trusts.

7. The company petition in CP No.1/2010 was filed before CLB (now pending before NCLT) on 10.03.2010. In the said company petition, documents No.1 to 54 have been filed. The advance copy of the company petition and the copies of the documents have been served upon the appellant-Company. Document No.1-Internal Audit Report of the appellant Company was filed in the civil suits filed by respondents No.12 to 16 challenging the revocation of the five trusts created by MPB and PDB. Alleging theft and misappropriation of all the documents No.1 to 54, the appellant Company filed the criminal complaint under Sections 379, 403, 411 read with Section 120B IPC against respondents No.1 to 16 and in the said complaint, appellant was represented by Shri Samir Ganguly who is the Vice-President (Legal) of the appellant-company. The gravamen of the allegations in the complaint is that copies of 54 documents were used before the Company Law Board (CLB) in C.P. No.1 of 2010 filed by respondents No.1 to 5 and Birla Education Trust represented by respondent No.6. Copy of one such document viz., Internal Audit Report of Chanderia Unit of the appellant Company has been filed along with the interlocutory applications filed by respondents No.13 to 16 in the civil suits which were filed challenging the revocation of trusts and for recovery of properties vested in the trust.

8. Let us understand the array of the parties. Each one of respondents No.1 to 5 are the shareholders of the appellant- Company. Respondent No.6-Pradip Kumar Khaitan is a reputed lawyer and a trustee of Birla Education Trust. Respondent No.7- Akshay Poddar is a Director of respondent No.1-Adventz Investments & Holdings Limited. Respondent No.8-Santosh Kumar Poddar is the Director of respondent No.3-Britex (India) Limited. Respondent No.9-Bal Kishan Toshniwal is the Director of respondent No.2-Govind Promoters Private Limited. Respondent No.10-Birla Buildings Limited is in-charge of the overall maintenance and upkeep of Birla Buildings where the appellant Company is located. Respondent No.11-S. Chakrabarty is the Chief Executive Officer of respondent No.10. Respondents No.12 to 16 are ones who have filed the suits CS No.73-77/2010 under Section 92 CPC before the High Court at Calcutta challenging the revocation of the trusts and for recovery of the properties of the public charity. Respondent No.17-Harshvardhan Lodha is the son of late Rajendra Singh Lodha and now the Director-cum-Chairman of the appellant-Company against whom C.P. No.1 of 2010 has been filed.

9. The allegations in the complaint in brief are as under:-

The complaint contains a list of fifty-four documents with their brief description given in the Schedule of the complaint. Document No.1 is an Internal Audit Report of Chanderia unit of the appellant Company for the period ending November, 2009. According to the appellant-complainant, keeping in mind the confidential nature of the report, only six copies were made. Out of which, five sets were sent to officers of the Company individually named and one was retained by the Auditor. The Internal Audit Report produced by the respondents is the copy of one of the original five sets which was sent to one Bachh Raj Nahar-Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Company. It is alleged that respondents No.1 to 16 have stolen/misappropriated documents No.2 to 28 from the appellant’s premises and that after photocopying the documents, they were kept back in the appellant’s premises. It is alleged that documents No.29 to 54 have been stolen/misappropriated from the appellant’s premises and that after photocopying the documents, they were not returned in the appellant’s premises and the originals are still in the possession of the respondents. Before making the complaint, the complainant-appellant had conducted an internal enquiry to find out how these documents reached the respondents.

10. These documents have at all times been kept at the registered office of the appellant-Birla Buildings. These documents have restricted access and are meant for the consumption of designated and specified individuals only. These documents include intra-company correspondence, internal audit reports, agreements etc. in relation to operations of the Company. The appellant-complainant alleges that respondents No.1 to 9 and 12 to 16 gained access to the Internal Audit Report and other documents unauthorizedly and illegally with the aid of respondent No.10-Birla Buildings Limited and respondent No.11-S. Chakrabarty, CEO who are in-charge of upkeep of the building in which the office of the appellant-complainant is situated.

11. The appellant further averred that by letter dated 29.03.2010, the Company through its advocate called upon the advocate of respondents No.1 to 6 to disclose as to how they obtained the documents mentioned in the Schedule of the complaint. The respondents sent reply dated 30.03.2010 and evaded giving any response to the said query on the premise that there was no procedure of the Company Law Board (CLB) for seeking such information. Appellant-Company sent a letter dated 17.04.2010 to respondents No.12 to 16 calling upon them to explain as to how they came in possession of the documents; but there was no reply. In the rejoinder filed by respondents No.1 to 6, they again failed and/or refused to state how they procured these documents.

12. Appellant alleged that without the consent of the appellant Company, the respondents/accused have dishonestly stolen/misappropriated the documents and thus committed theft and conspiracy to commit theft. It is also averred that the respondents/accused dishonestly received or retained the stolen property knowing and having reason to believe the same to be stolen property and as such committed the offence punishable under Section 411 IPC. It is alleged that the respondents/accused thus dishonestly committed theft of the documents No.1 to 54 belonging to the appellant Company and misappropriated them by converting the same for their own use and thus committed the offences punishable under Sections 379, 403 IPC read with Section 120-B IPC.

13. Complainant Shri Samir Ganguly was examined on 06.10.2010. Since some of the accused persons are residents beyond local jurisdiction of the court, the trial court/the Magistrate fixed the matter for enquiry under Section 202 Cr.P.C. on 08.10.2010. An employee of the appellant Company by name P.B. Dinesh was examined on 08.10.2010. Considering the averments in the complaint and the statement of Complainant Shri Samir Ganguly and P.B. Dinesh, the learned Magistrate vide order dated 08.10.2010 found that there are sufficient grounds for proceeding against all the sixteen respondents and ordered issuance of summons to the respondents for the offences punishable under Sections 380, 411 and 120B IPC.

14. Aggrieved by the summoning order dated 08.10.2010, respondents filed petition under Section 482 Cr.P.C. before the High Court for quashing the criminal proceedings. Insofar as compliance of the procedure in taking cognizance of the offences, the High Court held that upon perusal of the averments in the complaint and the statement of representative of the company Shri Samir Ganguly and P. B. Dinesh, the Magistrate satisfied himself that there were sufficient grounds for proceeding against the accused and ordered to issue process against the sixteen accused and the High Court held that on the procedural aspect, the Magistrate did not commit any error. The High Court held that since originals of documents No.1 to 28 are still in the custody of the complainant, taking away the information contained in such documents cannot be considered to be “movable property” and the temporary removal of the documents for taking away the contents thereon by itself cannot be the subject of the offence of theft or dishonest misappropriation of property as well as dishonest receiving of the stolen property. On those findings, the High Court held that the complaint would not survive in respect of the documents No.1 to 28. Insofar as documents No.29 to 54 are concerned, the High Court held that as the originals of those documents are missing, the complaint discloses ingredients of the offence of theft. The High Court held that insofar as documents No.29 to 54 are concerned, the complainant can proceed against the respondents and accordingly remitted the matter to the trial court.

15. On behalf of the appellant, Mr. C.A. Sundaram, learned senior counsel submitted that the appellant discharged the initial burden placed upon it by adducing pre-summoning evidence by examining two witnesses and based upon the averments in the complaint and the statement of witnesses Shri Samir Ganguly and P.B. Dinesh, the Magistrate satisfied himself that there are sufficient grounds for proceeding against the accused and the High Court rightly held that there was no irregularity in the procedure followed by the Magistrate in issuing process against the respondents. The learned senior counsel submitted that respondents No.1 to 9 have produced the documents before the Company Law Board and respondents No.12 to 16 have filed document No.1-Internal Audit Report which are highly confidential documents and having not disclosed the source for the accusation/possession of the documents, prima facie case in dishonest removal of the documents have been made out and the Magistrate rightly found that there are sufficient grounds for proceeding against the respondents/accused and took the cognizance of the offences under Sections 380, 411 and 120-B IPC.

16. The learned senior counsel for the appellant submitted that when the Magistrate has taken cognizance of the offence, the High Court ought not to have substituted its views for the summoning order passed by the Magistrate qua documents No.1 to 28. In support of his submission, reliance was placed upon Smt. Nagawwa v. Veeranna Shivalingappa Konjalgi and Others (1976) 3 SCC 736 and number of other decisions. It was submitted that the High Court was not right in quashing the criminal complaint qua documents No.1 to 28.

17. In appeal preferred by the respondents, they assailed the order of issuance of process against the respondents by the Magistrate contending that there were no adequate materials so as to arrive at satisfaction of the Magistrate that there were sufficient grounds for proceeding against the respondents. It was submitted that the production of the copies of the documents in the Company Law Petition and in the civil suits would not amount to theft and the averments in the complaint and the statement of the complainant and witness P.B. Dinesh would not attract the ingredients of theft and there was no application of mind of the learned Magistrate and the Magistrate mechanically issued process against the respondents and the High Court ought to have quashed the proceedings in toto.

18. On behalf of respondents No.1 to 5, Mr. Kapil Sibal, learned senior counsel submitted that the complaint lacks specification as to the time and manner of the commission of the offence and who committed theft of the documents and when and how the same was detected. The learned senior counsel contended that the averments in the complaint do not make out a prima facie case of theft and that the materials placed before the Magistrate were inadequate and there were no sufficient grounds for proceeding against the respondents and the High Court ought to have quashed the entire proceedings in toto. The learned senior counsel further submitted that document No.1-Internal Audit Report of the appellant Company and other documents have been filed by the respondents in the company petition before the CLB to substantiate their case of oppression and mismanagement, which can never amount to theft. Learned senior counsel contended that when the documents are produced in the proceedings before the Company Law Board for vindication of their rights or defence, the criminal complaint filed by the appellant is nothing but a “legal thumb screw” and the High Court rightly quashed the criminal proceedings qua documents No.1 to 28. It was submitted that since there was neither application of mind by the Magistrate nor any reasoned order has been passed disclosing the satisfaction of the mind, the entire proceedings before the Magistrate is liable to be quashed.

19. Mr. Mukul Rohatgi, learned senior counsel appearing on behalf of respondent No.10 and Mr. Amit Desai, learned senior counsel appearing on behalf of respondent No.11 submitted that respondent No.10 has the overall responsibility of the management and maintenance of the “building” in which the office of the appellant is situated and there are no specific allegations in the complaint as to how respondents No.10 and 11 had access to these documents which were in the custody of designated employees of the complainant. It was submitted that in the absence of allegations in the complaint to prove commission of offence by respondents No.10 and 11, the mere fact that respondents No.10 and 11 are responsible for the maintenance of the building by itself, cannot lead to an inference that respondents No.10 and 11 are responsible for the theft.

20. On behalf of respondent No.11, learned senior counsel submitted that respondent No.11 is the CEO of respondent No.10-Company and is overall administrative in-charge of the company’s affairs in Birla Building and in the absence of specific allegations against him, the mere official position of respondent No.11 will not automatically make him vulnerable to criminal prosecution. The learned senior counsel further submitted that the doctrine of vicarious liability is based upon a legal presumption and creates fictional liability and since the doctrine of vicarious liability is not available (as a matter of law) in regard to offences under the IPC, the complainant cannot rely upon a legal presumption of an act or mensrea to proceed against respondent No.11 in a criminal case.

21. On behalf of respondents No.13 to 16, Mr. Ranjit Kumar and Mr. Debal Banerjee, learned senior counsel submitted that the trial court had not applied its mind to the materials on record and the averments in the complaint and the statement of the witnesses do not make a prima facie case and the Magistrate mechanically issued process against respondents No.12 to 16. It was submitted that filing a document in the judicial proceedings can never be termed as an act of “theft” or “dishonest misappropriation” so as to attract the ingredients of Sections 380 and 411 IPC read with Section 120-B IPC.

22. Reiterating the contention of other respondents, Mr. K.V. Viswanathan, learned senior counsel appearing on behalf of respondent No.6 submitted that respondent No.6 is a well reputed lawyer and a trustee of the Birla Education Trust which is a shareholder of the appellant Company. The learned senior counsel further submitted that in the absence of specific allegations against respondent No.6, he cannot be made vicariously liable merely because he is adorning the position of trustee in Birla Education Trust. It was submitted that the complaint filed by the appellant is intended to arm twist the respondents from ventilating the legitimate rights before the appropriate judicial forum and in the absence of materials, the proceedings initiated against respondent No.6 is liable to be quashed.

23. On behalf of respondents No.7 to 9, Mr. Sidharth Luthra, learned senior counsel submitted that absolutely there are no averments as to how the said documents had gone out of the possession of the appellant-complainant and mere possession of the copy of the documents will not amount to theft nor would amount to conspiracy. It was submitted that even assuming that the evidence was illegally obtained, the same cannot be shut out and it cannot amount to theft.

24. We have considered the submissions of the learned senior counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant and the respondents and carefully perused the impugned judgment and materials on record.

25. The following questions arise for consideration in these appeals:-

(i) Whether the allegations in the complaint and the statement of the complainant and other materials before the Magistrate were sufficient to constitute prima facie case to justify the satisfaction of the Magistrate in issuing process against the respondents?

(ii) Whether the respondents are right in contending that in taking cognizance of the offences under Sections 380, 411 and 120-B IPC and ordering issuance of process against the respondents is vitiated due to non- application of mind?

(iii) Whether the High Court was right in quashing the criminal proceedings qua documents No.1 to 28 on the ground that mere information contained in the documents cannot be considered as “moveable property” and cannot be the subject of the offence of theft or receipt of stolen property?

(iv) Whether filing of the documents in question in the petition before the Company Law Board to substantiate their case of oppression and mismanagement and document No.1 in the civil suits challenging revocation of the trust deeds would amount to theft justifying taking cognizance of the offences?

(v) Whether there is dishonest moving of documents causing wrongful loss to the appellants and wrongful gain to the respondents?

(vi) Whether filing of documents in the judicial proceedings can be termed as an act of theft causing wrongful gain to oneself and wrongful loss to the opponent so as to attract the ingredients of Section 378 IPC?

26. Complaint filed under Section 200 Cr.P.C. and enquiry contemplated under Section 202 Cr.P.C. and issuance of process:- Under Section 200 of the Criminal Procedure Code, on presentation of the complaint by an individual, the Magistrate is required to examine the complainant and the witnesses present, if any. Thereafter, on perusal of the allegations made in the complaint, the statement of the complainant on solemn affirmation and the witnesses examined, the Magistrate has to get himself satisfied that there are sufficient grounds for proceeding against the accused and on such satisfaction, the Magistrate may direct for issuance of process as contemplated under Section 204 Cr.P.C. The purpose of the enquiry under Section 202 Cr.P.C. is to determine whether a prima facie case is made out and whether there is sufficient ground for proceeding against the accused.

27. The scope of enquiry under this section is extremely restricted only to finding out the truth or otherwise of the allegations made in the complaint in order to determine whether process should be issued or not under Section 204 Cr.P.C. or whether the complaint should be dismissed by resorting to Section 203 Cr.P.C. on the footing that there is no sufficient ground for proceeding on the basis of the statements of the complainant and of his witnesses, if any. At the stage of enquiry under Section 202 Cr.P.C., the Magistrate is only concerned with the allegations made in the complaint or the evidence in support of the averments in the complaint to satisfy himself that there is sufficient ground for proceeding against the accused.

28. In National Bank of Oman v. Barakara Abdul Aziz and Another (2013) 2 SCC 488, the Supreme Court explained the scope of enquiry and held as under:-

“9. The duty of a Magistrate receiving a complaint is set out in Section 202 CrPC and there is an obligation on the Magistrate to find out if there is any matter which calls for investigation by a criminal court. The scope of enquiry under this section is restricted only to find out the truth or otherwise of the allegations made in the complaint in order to determine whether process has to be issued or not. Investigation under Section 202 CrPC is different from the investigation contemplated in Section 156 as it is only for holding the Magistrate to decide whether or not there is sufficient ground for him to proceed further. The scope of enquiry under Section 202 CrPC is, therefore, limited to the ascertainment of truth or falsehood of the allegations made in the complaint:

(i) on the materials placed by the complainant before the court;

(ii) for the limited purpose of finding out whether a prima facie case for issue of process has been made out; and

(iii) for deciding the question purely from the point of view of the complainant without at all adverting to any defence that the accused may have.”

29. In Mehmood Ul Rehman v. Khazir Mohammad Tunda and Others (2015) 12 SCC 420, the scope of enquiry under Section 202 Cr.P.C. and the satisfaction of the Magistrate for issuance of process has been considered and held as under:-

“2. Chapter XV Cr.P.C. deals with the further procedure for dealing with “Complaints to Magistrate”. Under Section 200 Cr.P.C, the Magistrate, taking cognizance of an offence on a complaint, shall examine upon oath the complainant and the witnesses, if any, present and the substance of such examination should be reduced to writing and the same shall be signed by the complainant, the witnesses and the Magistrate. Under Section 202 Cr.P.C, the Magistrate, if required, is empowered to either inquire into the case himself or direct an investigation to be made by a competent person “for the purpose of deciding whether or not there is sufficient ground for proceeding” . If, after considering the statements recorded under Section 200 Cr.P.C and the result of the inquiry or investigation under Section 202 Cr.P.C, the Magistrate is of the opinion that there is no sufficient ground for proceeding, he should dismiss the complaint, after briefly recording the reasons for doing so.

3. Chapter XVI Cr.P.C deals with “Commencement of Proceedings before Magistrate”. If, in the opinion of the Magistrate taking cognizance of an offence, there is sufficient ground for proceeding, the Magistrate has to issue process under Section 204(1) Cr.P.C for attendance of the accused.”

30. Reiterating the mandatory requirement of application of mind in the process of taking cognizance, in Bhushan Kumar and Another v. State (NCT of Delhi) and Another (2012) 5 SCC 424, it was held as under:-

“11. In Chief Enforcement Officer v. Videocon International Ltd. (2008) 2 SCC 492 (SCC p. 499, para 19) the expression “cognizance” was explained by this Court as“it merely means ‘become aware of’ and when used with reference to a court or a Judge, it connotes ‘to take notice of judicially’. It indicates the point when a court or a Magistrate takes judicial notice of an offence with a view to initiating proceedings in respect of such offence said to have been committed by someone.”

It is entirely a different thing from initiation of proceedings; rather it is the condition precedent to the initiation of proceedings by the Magistrate or the Judge. Cognizance is taken of cases and not of persons. Under Section 190 of the Code, it is the application of judicial mind to the averments in the complaint that constitutes cognizance. At this stage, the Magistrate has to be satisfied whether there is sufficient ground for proceeding and not whether there is sufficient ground for conviction. Whether the evidence is adequate for supporting the conviction can be determined only at the trial and not at the stage of enquiry. If there is sufficient ground for proceeding then the Magistrate is empowered for issuance of process under Section 204 of the Code.”

31. Under the amended sub-section (1) to Section 202 Cr.P.C., it is obligatory upon the Magistrate that before summoning the accused residing beyond its jurisdiction, he shall enquire into the case himself or direct the investigation to be made by a police officer or by such other person as he thinks fit for finding out whether or not there is sufficient ground for proceeding against the accused.

32. By Cr.P.C. (Amendment) Act, 2005, in Section 202 Cr.P.C. of the Principal Act with effect from 23.06.2006, in sub-section (1), the words “…and shall, in a case where accused is residing at a place beyond the area in which he exercises jurisdiction…” were inserted by Section 19 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Act, 2005. In the opinion of the legislature, such amendment was necessary as false complaints are filed against persons residing at far off places in order to harass them. The object of the amendment is to ensure that persons residing at far off places are not harassed by filing false complaints making it obligatory for the Magistrate to enquire. Notes on Clause 19 reads as under:-

“False complaints are filed against persons residing at far off places simply to harass them. In order to see that the innocent persons are not harassed by unscrupulous persons, this clause seeks to amend sub-section (1) of Section 202 to make it obligatory upon the Magistrate that before summoning the accused residing beyond his jurisdiction he shall enquire into the case himself or direct investigation to be made by a police officer or by such other person as he thinks fit, for finding out whether or not there was sufficient ground for proceeding against the accused.”

33. Considering the scope of amendment to Section 202 Cr.P.C., in Vijay Dhanuka and Others v. Najima Mamtaj and Others (2014) 14 SCC 638, it was held as under:-

“12. ….The use of the expression “shall” prima facie makes the inquiry or the investigation, as the case may be, by the Magistrate mandatory. The word “shall” is ordinarily mandatory but sometimes, taking into account the context or the intention, it can be held to be directory. The use of the word “shall” in all circumstances is not decisive. Bearing in mind the aforesaid principle, when we look to the intention of the legislature, we find that it is aimed to prevent innocent persons from harassment by unscrupulous persons from false complaints. Hence, in our opinion, the use of the expression “shall” and the background and the purpose for which the amendment has been brought, we have no doubt in our mind that inquiry or the investigation, as the case may be, is mandatory before summons are issued against the accused living beyond the territorial jurisdiction of the Magistrate.”

Since the amendment is aimed to prevent persons residing outside the jurisdiction of the court from being harassed, it was reiterated that holding of enquiry is mandatory. The purpose or objective behind the amendment was also considered by this Court in Abhijit Pawar v. Hemant Madhukar Nimbalkar and Another (2017) 3 SCC 528 and National Bank of Oman v. Barakara Abdul Aziz and Another (2013) 2 SCC 488.”

34. The order of the Magistrate summoning the accused must reflect that he has applied his mind to the facts of the case and the law applicable thereto. The application of mind has to be indicated by disclosure of mind on the satisfaction. Considering the duties on the part of the Magistrate for issuance of summons to accused in a complaint case and that there must be sufficient indication as to the application of mind and observing that the Magistrate is not to act as a post office in taking cognizance of the complaint, in Mehmood Ul Rehman, this Court held as under:-

“22. ….the Code of Criminal Procedure requires speaking order to be passed under Section 203 Cr.P.C. when the complaint is dismissed and that too the reasons need to be stated only briefly. In other words, the Magistrate is not to act as a post office in taking cognizance of each and every complaint filed before him and issue process as a matter of course. There must be sufficient indication in the order passed by the Magistrate that he is satisfied that the allegations in the complaint constitute an offence and when considered along with the statements recorded and the result of inquiry or report of investigation under Section 202 Cr.P.C., if any, the accused is answerable before the criminal court, there is ground for proceeding against the accused under Section 204 Cr.P.C., by issuing process for appearance. The application of mind is best demonstrated by disclosure of mind on the satisfaction. If there is no such indication in a case where the Magistrate proceeds under Sections 190/204 Cr.P.C., the High Court under Section 482 Cr.PC. is bound to invoke its inherent power in order to prevent abuse of the power of the criminal court. To be called to appear before the criminal court as an accused is serious matter affecting one’s dignity, self-respect and image in society. Hence, the process of criminal court shall not be made a weapon of harassment.”

35. In Pepsi Foods Ltd. and Another v. Special Judicial Magistrate and Others (1998) 5 SCC 749, the Supreme Court has held that summoning of an accused in a criminal case is a serious matter and that the order of the Magistrate summoning the accused must reflect that he has applied his mind to the facts of the case and law governing the issue. In para (28), it was held as under:-

“28. Summoning of an accused in a criminal case is a serious matter. Criminal law cannot be set into motion as a matter of course. It is not that the complainant has to bring only two witnesses to support his allegations in the complaint to have the criminal law set into motion. The order of the Magistrate summoning the accused must reflect that he has applied his mind to the facts of the case and the law applicable thereto. He has to examine the nature of allegations made in the complaint and the evidence both oral and documentary in support thereof and would that be sufficient for the complainant to succeed in bringing charge home to the accused. It is not that the Magistrate is a silent spectator at the time of recording of preliminary evidence before summoning of the accused. The Magistrate has to carefully scrutinise the evidence brought on record and may even himself put questions to the complainant and his witnesses to elicit answers to find out the truthfulness of the allegations or otherwise and then examine if any offence is prima facie committed by all or any of the accused.”

The principle that summoning an accused in a criminal case is a serious matter and that as a matter of course, the criminal case against a person cannot be set into motion was reiterated in GHCL Employees Stock Option Trust v. India Infoline Limited (2013) 4 SCC 505.

36. To be summoned/to appear before the Criminal Court as an accused is a serious matter affecting one’s dignity and reputation in the society. In taking recourse to such a serious matter in summoning the accused in a case filed on a complaint otherwise than on a police report, there has to be application of mind as to whether the allegations in the complaint constitute essential ingredients of the offence and whether there are sufficient grounds for proceeding against the accused. In Punjab National Bank and Others v. Surendra Prasad Sinha 1993 Supp (1) SCC 499, it was held that the issuance of process should not be mechanical nor should be made an instrument of oppression or needless harassment.

37. At the stage of issuance of process to the accused, the Magistrate is not required to record detailed orders. But based on the allegations made in the complaint or the evidence led in support of the same, the Magistrate is to be prima facie satisfied that there are sufficient grounds for proceeding against the accused. In Jagdish Ram v. State of Rajasthan and Another (2004) 4 SCC 432, it was held as under:-

“10. ….The taking of cognizance of the offence is an area exclusively within the domain of a Magistrate. At this stage, the Magistrate has to be satisfied whether there is sufficient ground for proceeding and not whether there is sufficient ground for conviction. Whether the evidence is adequate for supporting the conviction, can be determined only at the trial and not at the stage of inquiry. At the stage of issuing the process to the accused, the Magistrate is not required to record reasons.”

38. Extensive reference to the case law would clearly show that the allegations in the complaint and complainant’s statement and other materials must show that there are sufficient grounds for proceeding against the accused. In the light of the above principles, let us consider the present case whether the allegations in the complaint and the statement of the complainant and other materials before the Magistrate were sufficient enough to constitute prima-facie case to justify the Magistrate’s satisfaction that there were sufficient grounds for proceeding against the respondents-accused and whether there was application of mind by the learned Magistrate in taking cognizance of the offences and issuing process to the respondents.

39. Respondents No.1 to 5 are minority shareholders in the appellant-Company. Respondent No.6 is a lawyer and a trustee of Birla Education Trust. Respondent No.6 had been empowered to file petition before the CLB. Respondents No.7, 8 and 9 are the Directors of respondents No.1, 3 and 2 respectively. On 10.03.2010, Company Petition CP No.1/2010 was filed before the Company Law Board under Sections 235, 237, 247, 250, 397, 398, 402 and 403 of the Companies Act, 1956 by respondents No.1 to 5 who are the shareholders of the appellant Company alleging oppression and mismanagement. M/s Birla Education Trust (represented by respondent No.6) is also one of the petitioners in the Company Petition. Along with the Company Petition, the copy of the documents in question i.e. documents No.1 to 54 including document No.1-Internal Audit Report were filed and advance copy of the Company Petition and copy of the documents were given to the appellant.

40. On 24.03.2010, respondents No.12 to 16 have filed five civil suits under Section 92 of Code of Civil Procedure before the High Court of Calcutta being CS Nos.73-77 of 2010 challenging the revocation of five public charitable trusts created by Madhav Prasad Birla (MPB) and Priyamvada Devi Birla (PDB) in 1988. Respondents No. 12 to 16 have averred that the trusts have assets worth thousands of crores of rupees which are vested with the trusts dedicated for charity. In the said suits, respondents No.12 to 16 have challenged the revocation of the trusts and sought for recovery of the property that are vested in the public charity through the five trusts set up by MPB and PDB and the said suits are pending. On 29.03.2010, five interlocutory applications have been filed in the aforesaid suits praying for interim reliefs and in those applications, respondents No.12 to 16 annexed photocopy of the document No.1-Internal Audit Report of the Chanderia unit of Birla Corporation Limited for the period ending November, 2009. About seven months thereafter on 04.10.2010, criminal complaint was filed by the appellant against respondents No.1 to 16 under Sections 379, 403 and 411 read with Section 120-B IPC alleging theft of the documents and receipt of stolen property and dishonest misappropriation of the documents. Of the sixteen accused, six are corporate entities and rest are natural persons. Respondents No.1 to 5 are the shareholders who filed the Company Petition CP No.1 of 2010. Respondents No.12 to 16 are the plaintiffs who have instituted civil suits challenging the revocation of the five trusts and for recovery of the properties that are vested in the public charity.

41. Respondents No.3, 6, 12 and some of the other respondents are the residents beyond the local limits of the trial court – 10 th Metropolitan Magistrate, Calcutta. Since number of accused are residents beyond the local limits of the trial court, as per amended provision of Section 202 Cr.P.C., it is obligatory upon the Magistrate that before summoning the accused, he shall enquire into the case or direct the investigation to be made by a police officer or by such other person as he thinks fit for finding out whether or not there are sufficient grounds for proceeding against the accused. In the present case, the learned Magistrate has opted to hold such enquiry himself.

42. The complaint alleges that the respondents have gained unauthorized access and possession of the documents No.1 to 54. It is alleged that documents No.1 to 28 have been stolen/misappropriated from the premises of the appellant and that after photocopying the documents, they were kept back in the premises. In so far as documents No.29 to 54, it is alleged that they have been stolen/misappropriated and have not been returned and are still in the possession of the respondents. It is alleged that respondents No.1 to 16 had gained unauthorized access and exercised to control over the said documents. It is further alleged that by letter dated 29.03.2010, on being called upon to disclose as to how the respondents had obtained the documents, the respondents by letter dated 30.03.2010 evaded making response to the query on the premise that there was no procedure of the CLB for seeking such information.

43. The gist of the allegations in the complaint are:-

(i) Respondent No.10-Company is in-charge of day to day maintenance of the building which houses office of the complainant and others. Respondent No.11 is the CEO In-charge of respondent No.10 and responsible for the day to day administration of respondent No.10.

(ii) Respondents No.1 to 9 are in possession of photocopies of documents No.1 to 28 and stated to be in possession of originals of documents No.29 to 54;

(iii) Use of photocopies of documents No.1 to 24 by respondents No.1 to 9 in the company petition before the CLB and use of document No.1-Internal Audit Report by respondents No.12 to 16 in the civil suits filed by them;

(iv) The documents are highly confidential and meant for use/consumption only of designated and specified individuals of the appellant Company and the respondents have gained unauthorized access to the documents and exercise of control over the documents; and

(v) Omission to explain the source of copies of documents in spite of issuance of notice dated 29.03.2010 to respondents No.1 to 9 and notice dated 01.04.2010 to respondents No.12 to 16.

44. With reference to document No.1-Internal Audit Report of Chanderia Unit, it is alleged that one copy of the original of document No.1 was marked to Bachh Raj Nagar and it was claimed to be still with them. With reference to documents No.2 to 28, in para No.(20) of the complaint, it is alleged that the documents were kept in the premises on the 3 rd and 4 th floor with the concerned individuals or their secretaries and the respondents have gained unauthorised access and had control over the documents. The allegations against the respondents is that respondents No.10 and 11 are under the control and management of the Birla Buildings and has security and the overall responsibility of the management and maintenance of the same. It is alleged that the respondents in connivance with respondents No.10 and 11 have gained unauthorised access to the documents and thus the documents have been stolen from the premises and then misappropriated. The averments in the complaint even if taken at its face value and accepted in its entirety do not constitute prima facie offence under Section 378 IPC.

45. After referring to filing of CP No.1/2010 where the xerox copies of the documents were annexed, the complaint alleges as under:-

“9. ….The Company submits that the said documents are highly confidential internal records and correspondence of Company and its officers. These documents were at all time kept inside the registered office of the Company at the said premises. These documents have restricted access and are meant for the perusal and consumption only of designated and specified individuals. These documents and the information contained therein is the property of company over which no unauthorized person has any right.”

46. On 06.10.2010, Vice-President (Legal) – Power of Attorney of the complainant Company, Shri Samir Ganguly was examined as a representative of the Company under Section 200 Cr.P.C. Shri Samir Ganguly has stated “that the accused persons have filed various litigations before various forums. These accused persons have committed a serious crime of theft of various documents which I have mentioned in my compliant.” Shri Samir Ganguly has further stated as under:-

“….Our office situated at Birla Building, 9/1, R.N. Mukherjee at 3 rd & 4 th Floor. Accused No.10 has full control of maintenance and security to each and every floor….”

“.….In normal course, the accused persons could never have access to those documents except by illegal means. The documents are highly confidential like internal audit report of one of our units which is not supposed to be in their possession. Other accused persons have filed five civil suits basing on those stolen documents, from which I apprehend that all accused persons in connivance with each other have procured those documents by theft……”

47. Being the Vice-President (Legal) and a representative of the Company, Shri Samir Ganguly may not have personal knowledge of the averments made in the complaint and he has not attributed any specific overt act to any of the respondents. Shri Samir Ganguly has only alleged that he apprehends that all the accused persons in connivance with each other have procured the documents. The allegations in the statement of the complainant are vague and lack material particulars as to the commission of the theft. Complainant Shri Samir Ganguly has neither attributed to any facts nor material particulars as to the commission of theft.

48. Respondent No.10-Birla Buildings Limited is responsible for the day to day affairs of the maintenance of the building. Respondent No.11-S. Chakrabarty is the CEO of Respondent No.10-Birla Buildings Limited. In the complaint, there are no specific averments against respondents No.10 and 11 as to how they had access to the 3 rd and 4 th floors of the building owned by the appellant Company and as to how they are responsible in moving the documents out of the possession of the appellant. Likewise, no specific overt act of “dishonest removal” of the documents is attributed to the other respondents. The mere fact that respondents No.10 and 11 are responsible for security and maintenance of the building cannot lead to an inference that respondents No.10 and 11 are responsible for the theft.

49. So far as respondent No.11 who is the CEO of respondent No.10-Company is concerned, it is stated that he is responsible for the day to day affairs of respondent No.10-Company and the complainant invoked the doctrine of vicarious liability. The learned senior counsel Mr. Desai has submitted that for proceeding against respondent No.11, the complaint must show “active role” of the natural person. Reliance was placed upon Sunil Bharti Mittal v. Central Bureau of Investigation (2015) 4 SCC 609, wherein it was held as under:-

“43. Thus, an individual who has perpetrated the commission of an offence on behalf of a company can be made an accused, along with the company, if there is sufficient evidence of his active role coupled with criminal intent…..”

50. As rightly submitted by learned senior counsel for respondents No.10 and 11, it is inconceivable that respondent No.11, CEO of respondent No.10-Company, if committed the offence of theft, would have been permitted to continue in that profession. Be it noted, the complainant-appellant Company is also a shareholder in respondent No.10-Company and had its nominee Mr. S.N. Prasad on the Board of Directors of the appellant at the relevant time till his death in December, 2012. It is pertinent to note that no complaint has ever been made against respondent No.11 against alleged theft or any other overt act. In the absence of particulars or prima-facie case in the complaint or the statement of Shri Samir Ganguly against respondents No.10 and 11, the satisfaction of the Magistrate appears to be on the presumptive footing that respondents No.10 and 11 are in-charge of maintenance of the building. Likewise, issuance of process to other respondents is only on the presumptive footing that they have filed copies of the documents in CP No.1/2010 and in the civil suits filed challenging revocation of the trusts.

51. In his order dated 06.10.2010, the Magistrate observed that since some of the accused persons are residents beyond the local jurisdiction of the court, the matter further requires to be enquired into under Section 202 Cr.P.C. and therefore, fixed the matter for further enquiry on 08.10.2010. On 08.10.2010, P.B. Dinesh, employee of the appellant Company was examined who have stated that respondent No.14-Kumar Mangalam Birla is the Chairman of Aditya Birla Group having their office in Mumbai; respondent No.15-Sidharth Birla is also a part of that Company and he resides at Alipore, Calcutta; respondent No.13-Rajendra Prasad Pansari is a resident of Calcutta who has now joined Birla Group. Witness P.B. Dinesh has stated that these respondents have procured documents stolen from the appellant’s custody and filed case before the Company Law Board on the basis of those documents.

52. Based on the allegations in the complaint and the statements of Shri Samir Ganguly and P.B. Dinesh, the Metropolitan Magistrate took cognizance and directed issuance of summons to respondents No.1 to 16. As pointed out earlier, as per Notes on Clause 19, the object behind the amendment to Section 202 Cr.P.C. is to ensure that innocent persons who are residing at far off places are not harassed by unscrupulous persons. The amendment therefore, makes it obligatory upon the Magistrate that before summoning the accused residing beyond the jurisdiction, the Magistrate has to enquire the case either himself or direct investigation to be made by the police officer and is required to apply his mind and record his satisfaction with reasons.

53. As pointed our earlier, P.B. Dinesh had merely stated that respondent No.14-Shri Kumar Mangalam Birla is the Chairman of Aditya Birla Group having their office in Mumbai and respondent No.15-Shri Sidharth Birla is a part of the Company and resides at Alipore. P.B. Dinesh has also stated that respondent No.13- Rajendra Prasad Pansari stays in Calcutta and that he was an ex-employee of Birla Corporation and now he has joined Birla Group. P.B. Dinesh has thus stated about residence of respondent No.14 being at Mumbai and residence of respondents No.13 and 15 at Calcutta. There are no specific allegations against respondent No.14 or against any other respondents who are residing outside the jurisdiction. Likewise, no specific allegation as to how respondent No.14 or other respondents who are residing outside the jurisdiction have gained entry into the building of the appellant Company and committed theft of the documents nor any specific allegation as to the alleged conspiracy.

54. In the statement of P.B. Dinesh, there is only a bare statement that respondents No.13 to 15 have filed case before the Company Law Board that the documents are highly confidential and that they have procured the documents stolen from the custody of the appellant. There are no specific allegations against respondents No.13 to 15. Likewise, there are no specific allegations against the other accused who are residing outside the jurisdiction of the court and how and when they committed theft of the documents that how they entered into conspiracy. Considering the various litigations pending between the parties before issuing summons, the learned Magistrate ought to have considered the complaint and statement of witnesses and satisfied himself that there are prima facie materials showing the ingredients of the offence of theft (house theft) and receipt of stolen property.

55. While ordering issuance of process against the accused, the Magistrate must take into consideration the averments in the complaint, statement of the complainant examined on oath and the statement of witnesses examined. As held in Mehmood Ul Rehman, since it is a process of taking a judicial notice of certain facts which constitute an offence, there has to be application of mind whether the materials brought before the court would constitute the offence and whether there are sufficient grounds for proceeding against the accused. It is not a mechanical process.

56. As held in Chandra Deo Singh v. Prokash Chandra Bose alias Chabi Bose and Another AIR 1963 SC 1430 and in a series of judgments of the Supreme Court, the object of an enquiry under Section 202 Cr.P.C. is for the Magistrate to scrutinize the material produced by the complainant to satisfy himself that the complaint is not frivolous and that there is evidence/material which forms sufficient ground for the Magistrate to proceed to issue process under Section 204 Cr.P.C. It is the duty of the Magistrate to elicit every fact that would establish the bona fides of the complaint and the complainant.

57. The order of the Magistrate dated 08.10.2010 reads as under:-

“The representative of the complainant Company is present. This court takes the case record up for enquiry under Section 202 Cr.P.C. itself. Witness P.B. Dinesh is examined during the enquiry and his statement has been recorded. Purpose of the enquiry seems to have been meted out. Perused the affidavit filed for that purpose on behalf of the complainant company. Perused the documents (both original and xerox copies) suppolied and relied on by the complainant company in support of its case. Considering all above I find sufficient grounds for proceeding against all the sixteen accused persons for commission of an offence under Sections 380, 411, 120B IPC. Cognizance is taken. Issue summons accordingly upon the accused persons fixing 10.12.2010 for S/R and appearance. Requisites at once.”

For taking cognizance of the offence, the Magistrate thus inter alia relied upon the statement of the complainant and P.B. Dinesh to arrive at a conclusion that a prima facie case is made out against the respondents. As discussed earlier, neither the statement of the complainant nor the statement of P.B. Dinesh contain the particulars as to the commission of the offence to have satisfied the Magistrate that there were sufficient grounds for proceeding against the accused. By perusal of the above order passed by the Magistrate, we find absolutely nothing to indicate application of mind in taking cognizance of the offence against respondents No.1 to 16 including the respondents who are residents beyond the jurisdiction of the court. Though speaking or elaborate reasoned orders are not required at this stage, there must be sufficient indication that there was application of mind by the Magistrate to the facts constituting the commission of offence.

58. There are no averments in the complaint nor allegations in the statement of the complainant or witness P.B. Dinesh as to when and how the theft was committed. The complaint has been filed alleging commission of the offence punishable under Sections 380, 411 and 120B IPC. The Magistrate has taken cognizance under Sections 380, 411 and 120B IPC. The offence under Section 380 IPC in the case instituted otherwise than on a police report is a warrant case triable by the Magistrate under Chapter XIX – Trial of warrant cases by Magistrates, XIX-B – Cases instituted otherwise than on police report. For the offences triable under Chapter XIX – trial of warrant cases by the Magistrate, the court has to frame the charge. As per Section 212 Cr.P.C., the charge shall contain such particulars as to the time and place of the alleged offence and the person against whom or the thing in respect of which, the offence was committed as are reasonably sufficient to give the accused notice of the matter with which he is charged. In the present case, the complaint lacks particulars as to time and the place of theft or the person who has committed theft. There are no averments in the complaint alleging that how the documents had gone out of the possession of the complainant. There are only mere statement of the complainant Shri Samir Ganguly that respondents No.12 to 16 have filed civil suits basing on the stolen documents and that he apprehends that all the accused persons in connivance with each other must have procured the documents by theft. In the absence of particulars, by mere possession of the documents or mere production of the documents in the Company Petition or civil suits, it cannot be said that sufficient grounds were made out to proceed against the accused or that the satisfaction of the Magistrate was well founded justifying issuance of process.

59. As held in Pepsi Foods Limited, summoning the accused for a criminal offence is a serious matter and the respondents are answerable in the criminal court. The non-application of mind as to the materials cannot be brushed aside as a procedural irregularity. There is no indication in the order of the Magistrate dated 08.10.2010 as to application of the mind and as to the satisfaction of the Magistrate as to the sufficient ground for proceeding against the respondents under Sections 380, 411 and 120-B IPC.

60. The High Court held that witness P.B. Dinesh has stated about alleged involvement of some of the accused and there is no fundamental error committed by the Magistrate in following the procedure under Chapter XIX of the Criminal Procedure Code. The High Court further observed that the flaw at the worst would be a procedural irregularity. The order dated 08.10.2010 taking cognizance of the offence under Sections 380, 411 and 120B IPC against respondents No.1 to 16 are liable to be set aside. The Magistrate who is conducting an investigation under Section 202 Cr.P.C. has full power in collecting the evidence and examining the matter. We are conscious that once the Magistrate is exercised his discretion, it is not for the Sessions Court or the High Court to substitute its own discretion for that of the Magistrate to examine the case on merits. The Magistrate may not embark upon detailed enquiry or discussion of the merits/demerits of the case. But the Magistrate is required to consider whether a prima case has been made out or not and apply the mind to the materials before satisfying himself that there are sufficient grounds for proceeding against the accused. In the case in hand, we do not find that the satisfaction of the Magistrate for issuance of summons is well founded.

61. The object of investigation under Section 202 Cr.P.C. is “for the purpose of deciding whether or not there is sufficient ground for proceeding” . The enquiry under Section 202 Cr.P.C. is to ascertain the fact whether the complaint has any valid foundation calling for issuance of process to the person complained against or whether it is a baseless one on which no action need be taken. The law imposes a serious responsibility on the Magistrate to decide if there is sufficient ground for proceeding against the accused. The issuance of process should not be mechanical nor should be made as an instrument of harassment to the accused. As discussed earlier, issuance of process to the accused calling upon them to appear in the criminal case is a serious matter and lack of material particulars and non-application of mind as to the materials cannot be brushed aside on the ground that it is only a procedural irregularity. In the present case, the satisfaction of the Magistrate in ordering issuance of process to the respondents is not well founded and the order summoning the accused cannot be sustained. The impugned order of the High Court holding that there was compliance of the procedure under Section 202 Cr.P.C. cannot be sustained and is liable to be set aside.

Production of copies of documents in the Company Petition – whether would amount to theft:

62. So far as documents No.1 to 28 filed in the company petition, the High Court held that since originals of documents No.1 to 28 are still in the custody of the appellant Company-complainant, temporary removal of those documents and the subject of alleged removal was “the information” contained in those documents, the same cannot be considered to be “movable property”. The High Court took the view that such temporary removal of documents and use of information cannot be the subject of the offence of theft or dishonest misappropriation of property as well as dishonest receiving of the stolen property.

63. Insofar as documents No.1 to 28 are concerned, the point falling for consideration is whether the temporary removal of the documents and filing of photocopies and use of the information/contents of the documents can be the subject matter of theft.

64. Contention of the appellant is that the very act of moving the documents out of the possession of the appellant-Company would amount to theft. It was submitted that the loss need not be caused by permanent deprivation of the property; but loss due to theft may be caused even by temporary moving of the property. In support of this contention, the learned senior counsel for the appellants placed much reliance upon Pyare Lal Bhargava v. State of Rajasthan AIR 1963 SC 1094. In the said case, wherein the appellant-Pyare Lal Bhargava, a superintendent in the Chief Engineer’s Office, at the instance of one Ram Kumar Ram got a file from the Secretariat through a clerk and took the file to his house, made it available to said Ram Kumar Ram who replaced the same documents in the file with other papers and thereafter, returned the file the next day. In the said case, the arguments was advanced contending that appellant/accused Pyare Lal Bhargava was one of the officers working in the department and the facts do not constitute the offence of theft for the reason that there was no intention to take it dishonestly as he had taken it only for the purpose of showing the documents to Ram Kumar Ram and returned it on the next day to the office and therefore, he had not taken the said file out of the possession of any person. Rejecting the said contention, the Supreme Court held that “………To commit theft, one need not take movable property permanently out of the possession of another with the intention not to return it to him. It would satisfy the definition if he took any movable property out of the possession of another person though he intended to return it later on……..” In the light of the ratio laid down in Pyare Lal Bhargava, temporary removal of original documents for the purpose of replicating the information contained in them in some other medium would thus fulfill the requirement of “moving” of property which is the actus reus of the offence of theft as defined under Section 378 IPC.

65. In Pyare Lal Bhargava, yet another contention raised was that the accused did not intend to take it dishonestly as he did not receive any “wrongful gain” or caused any “wrongful loss” to any other person. Rejecting the said contention, in Pyare Lal Bhargava, the Supreme Court held as under:-

“8. ………. To commit theft one need not take movable property permanently out of the possession of another with the intention not to return it to him. It would satisfy the definition if he took any movable property out of the possession of another person though he intended to return it later on. We cannot also agree with learned Counsel that there is no wrongful loss in the present case. Wrongful loss is loss by unlawful means of property to which the person losing it is legally entitled. It cannot be disputed that the appellant unauthorizedly took the file from the office and handed it over to Ram Kumar Ram. He had, therefore, unlawfully taken the file from the department, and for a short time he deprived the Engineering Department of the possession of the said file. The loss need not be caused by a permanent deprivation of property but may be caused even by temporary dispossession, though the person taking it intended to restore it sooner or later. A temporary period of deprivation or dispossession of the property of another causes loss to the other…………”

66. One of the foremost components of theft is that the subject matter of the theft needs to be a “moveable property”. “Moveable property” is defined in Section 22 IPC which includes a corporeal property of every description. It is beyond doubt that a document is a “moveable property” within the meaning of Section 22 IPC which can be the subject matter of theft. A “document” is a “corporeal property”. A thing is “corporeal” if it has a body, material and a physical presence. As per Section 29 IPC, “Document” denotes

“any matter expressed or described upon any substance by means of letters, figures or marks or by more than one of those means, intended to be used, or which may be used as evidence of that matter”

The first Explanation to Section 29 IPC provides that it is immaterial by what means or upon what substance these are formed. This definition would include within its ambit photocopy of a document. As per Explanation No.2 of Section 29 IPC, letters, figures or marks shall be deemed to be expressed by such letters, figures or marks within the meaning of the Section. Such letters, figures or marks thus have a material and physical presence. Therefore, it can also be inferred that the said information would be deemed to fall within the purview of “Document” – a corporeal property.

67. Information contained in a document, if replicated, can be the subject of theft and can result in wrongful loss, even though the original document was only temporarily removed from its lawful custody for the purpose of extracting the information contained therein. In the case of K.N. Mehra vs. State of Rajasthan AIR 1957 SC 369, this Court held that gain or loss contemplated need not be a total acquisition or a total deprivation but it is enough if it is a temporary retention of property by the person wrongfully gaining or a temporary keeping out of property from person legally entitled.

68. The High Court, in our view, was not right in holding that the replication of the documents or use of information in the documents No.1 to 28 and the contents thereon are not corporeal property and would not amount to theft qua documents No.1 to 28. The documents and the replication of the documents and the contents thereon have physical presence and therefore, are certainly “corporeal property” and the same can be the subject matter of theft.

69. The main question falling for consideration is whether in the facts and circumstances of the case in hand whether temporary removal of the documents and using them in the litigations pending between the parties would amount to theft warranting lodging of a criminal complaint.

70. Admittedly, documents No.1 to 54 including the Document No.1-Internal Audit Report of Chanderia unit of the appellant Company has been filed by the respondents in the company petition. These documents are intra-company correspondence, internal audit reports, agreements, etc. in relation to the operations of the appellant Company. Admittedly, these documents have been produced in the company petition by the shareholders of the appellant-Company to substantiate their case of oppression and mismanagement by respondent No.17 and for vindication of their rights. As discussed infra in the facts and circumstances of the case in hand, in our view taking away of the documents temporarily and using them in the pending litigations between the parties would not amount to theft.

71. In the criminal complaint, by order dated 08.10.2010, the Magistrate has taken the cognizance of the offence under Section 380 IPC – “Theft in dwelling house, etc.”. In order to constitute theft, the following ingredients are essential:-

ii. The property must be moveable;

iii. It should be taken out of the possession of another person;

iv. It should be taken without the consent of that person;

v. There must be some removal of the property in order to accomplish the taking of it.

72. Intention is the gist of the offence. It is the intention of the taker which must determine whether taking or moving of a thing is theft. The intention to take “dishonestly” exists when the taker intends to cause wrongful loss to any other which amounts to theft. It is an essential ingredient of the offence of “theft” that the movable property should have been “moved” out of the possession of any person without his consent. “Movable property” is defined in Section 22 of IPC, which reads as under:-

“Movable property – The words “movable property” are intended to include corporeal property of every description, except land and things attached to the earth or permanently fastened to anything which is attached to the earth.”

“Dishonestly” has been defined in Section 24 IPC, which reads as under:-

Dishonestly – Whoever does anything with the intention of causing wrongful gain to one person or wrongful loss to another person, is said to do that thing “dishonestly”.

“Wrongful gain” and “Wrongful loss” have been defined in Section 23 IPC which read as under:-

“Wrongful gain” – “Wrongful gain” is gain by unlawful means of property to which the person gaining is not legally entitled.

“Wrongful loss” – “Wrongful loss” is the loss by unlawful means of property to which the person losing it is legally entitled.

Gaining wrongfully, losing wrongfully – A person is said to gain wrongfully when such person retains wrongfully, as well as when such person acquires wrongfully. A person is said to lose wrongfully when such person is wrongfully kept out of any property, as well as when such person is wrongfully deprived of property.”

73. In the facts and circumstances of the case, it is to be seen in using the documents in the litigation, whether there is “dishonest intention” on the part of the respondents in causing “wrongful loss” to the appellant Company and getting “wrongful gain” for themselves. Respondents No.1 to 5 are the shareholders of the appellant-Company and they have produced the photocopies of the documents No.1 to 54 in the CLB proceedings which were filed by them on the ground of oppression and mismanagement. Merely because the respondents have produced the copies of the documents in the CLB proceedings, it cannot be said that the respondents have removed the documents with “dishonest” intention. Copies of documents are produced in support of the case of respondents No.1 to 5 and to enable the Court to arrive at the truth in a judicial proceeding involving alleged oppression and mismanagement in the affairs of the appellant Company by respondent No.17. A person can be said to have “dishonest intention” if in taking the property it is the intention to wrongful gain by unlawful means or to cause wrongful loss by unlawful means. As discussed earlier, the complaint does not allege that there was any wrongful gain to the respondents or wrongful loss to the appellant-Company so as to constitute ingredients of theft under Section 378 IPC. The complaint only alleges that the copies of the document were used in the CLB proceedings by respondents No.1 to 5. There is no allegation of “wrongful gain” to the respondents or “wrongful loss” to the appellant.

74. As pointed out earlier, documents No.1 to 54 are filed in the Company Petition to substantiate their case of oppression and mismanagement. Filing of documents in the CLB proceedings is only to assert their claim of oppression and mismanagement of the appellant Company. According to the respondents, there is a bona fide dispute of oppression and mismanagement and the documents No.1 to 54 are filed only to substantiate their case. When a bona fide dispute exists between the parties as to whether there is oppression and mismanagement, there is no question of “wrongful gain” to the respondents or “wrongful loss” to the appellant. In using the documents, when there is no dishonest intention to cause “wrongful loss” to the complainant and “wrongful gain” to the respondents, it cannot be said that the ingredients of theft are made out.

75. As discussed earlier, respondents No.12 to 16 have filed five civil suits challenging the cancellation of the trusts for recovery of the property that had vested in public charity through the trust deeds. Respondents No.12 to 16 have filed copy of document No.1-Internal Audit Report of Chanderia Unit of the appellant Company. By the time, the document was filed in the interlocutory applications filed in the civil suits, the document was already filed in CP No.1/2010. Here again, there is a bona fide dispute as to the correctness of cancellation of the revocation of the trusts deed and to substantiate the averments in the complaint and in the interlocutory applications. It cannot be said that the respondents No.1 to 16 had dishonest intention in using the documents so as to cause “wrongful loss” to the appellant or “wrongful gain” to themselves so as to attract the ingredients of theft under Section 378 IPC.

76. How the respondents had access to the documents may be one thing. It may perhaps have bearing on the evidentiary value to be attached to the documents. But to say that it amounts to theft and seeking to prosecute the respondents is nothing but an attempt to cow down their defence in the litigation or to deprive the respondents of their valuable defence. In Pooran Mal v. Director of Inspection (Investigation), New Delhi and Others (1974) 1 SCC 345, it has been held by the Constitution Bench that even in case of illegal search and seizure, the documents obtained cannot be shut out from consideration as long as they are relevant to the matters in issue. In the present case, the documents are used in good faith in the legal proceedings i.e. Company Petition filed by respondents No.1 to 5 alleging oppression and mismanagement and the other suits are the civil suits challenging the cancellation of the Trusts. These cases are pending and both the parties are hotly contesting those cases. Use of the documents in judicial proceeding by the respondents is to substantiate the case of oppression and mismanagement of the appellant-Company. Absolutely, no “dishonest intention” or “wrongful gain” could be attributed to the respondents. Likewise, there is no “wrongful loss” to the appellants so as to attract the ingredients of Sections 378 and 380 IPC.

77. The intention under Section 24 IPC “dishonestly” must be to cause “wrongful loss” to the other or to have “wrongful gain” for oneself. In determining whether a person has acted dishonestly or not, it is the intention which has to be seen. By filing the documents in the legal proceedings, there is no intention on the part of the respondents to cause “wrongful loss” to the appellant nor intention to make “wrongful gain” to themselves. Filing of the documents in the legal proceedings is only to vindicate their stand in the company petition. We find much force in the submission of the learned senior counsel, Mr. Sibal, appearing for respondents No.1 to 5 that the attempt of the appellant in trying to prosecute the respondents appears to arm-twist the respondents in an attempt to shut out the relevant material documents before the CLB proceedings by prosecuting respondents No.1 to 9 and in the civil suits.

78. Whether respondents should have called for the documents in accordance with various provisions:- Contention on behalf of the appellant is that despite there being adequate provisions under Section 10-E of Companies Act and Section 91 Cr.P.C. relating to summoning of documents and of discovery, interrogatories and inspection of documents under Order XI CPC, the respondents resorted to dubious methods to procure the documents and thus, cannot skirt the liability for their actions by contending that since the documents were used for a legal proceeding, it cannot be theft.

79. Undoubtedly, adequate provisions have been provided in all the laws concerned with the instant case to enable a party to a suit or the concerned court to require the production of all documents and materials considered necessary or desirable for proper adjudication of the dispute at hand. If a document in possession is not produced after notice, there is further presumption under Section 114 illus.(g) that the evidence if produced would have been unfavourable to the opposite party.

80. The respondents herein are alleged to have used the documents of appellant-Corporation without calling upon them to produce the documents in accordance with law. Of course, the litigants and their counsel are expected to comply with the provisions of law and court discovery rules in producing the documents. But merely because the respondents have not called for the documents as per the provisions, it cannot be said that they have committed “theft”. It may be that the respondents have not issued notice calling upon the appellant-Corporation to produce the documents or may not have taken steps in accordance with various provisions of law calling upon them to produce documents. This may probably be the point to be raised in appropriate proceedings so as to advance arguments as to the evidentiary value to be attached to the documents. But it would be far-fetched to say that the respondents have dishonestly removed the documents and committed the offence of theft and that they are to face criminal prosecution for theft of the documents. It would only be an arm-twisting tactics to deprive the respondents from pursuing their defence with relevant evidence and materials. Since we have held that there are no sufficient ground for proceeding against the respondents and that the order of issuance of summons itself is not sustainable, we are not inclined to go further deep on this aspect; nor express our views as to the evidentiary value to be attached to the documents in the relevant proceedings. Lest, it would amount to expressing our views in the pending proceedings between the parties.

81. Whether the criminal prosecution against the respondents be permitted to continue:- As discussed earlier, admittedly the parties are entangled in several litigations. Allegations of theft and misappropriation are relating to the documents No.1 to 28 and the documents No.1 to 54 which are filed in the company petition and filing of Internal Audit Report in the civil suits. As discussed earlier, there are no specific allegations as to when, where and how the respondents have committed theft; nor are there specific allegations against the respondents accused. Allegations in the complaint, being taken at their face value, do not disclose prima-facie case nor the ingredients of the offence of house theft or misappropriation are made out.

82. Exercise of power under Section 482 Cr.P.C. envisages three circumstances in which the inherent jurisdiction may be exercised namely:- (i) to give effect to an order under the Code; (ii) to prevent abuse of the process of court; and (iii) to otherwise secure the ends of justice. Inherent jurisdiction under Section 482 Cr.P.C. though wide has to be exercised sparingly, carefully and with caution.

83. It is well settled that the inherent jurisdiction under Section 482 Cr.P.C. is designed to achieve a salutary purpose and that the criminal proceedings ought not to be permitted to degenerate into a weapon of harassment. When the Court is satisfied that the criminal proceedings amount to an abuse of process of law or that it amounts to bringing pressure upon the accused, in exercise of the inherent powers, such proceedings can be quashed. In Smt. Nagawwa v. Veeranna Shivalingappa Konjalgi and Others (1976) 3 SCC 736, the Supreme Court reviewed the earlier decisions and summarised the principles as to when the issue of process can be quashed and held as under:-

“5. ………….. Once the Magistrate has exercised his discretion it is not for the High Court, or even this Court, to substitute its own discretion for that of the Magistrate or to examine the case on merits with a view to find out whether or not the allegations in the complaint, if proved, would ultimately end in conviction of the accused. These considerations, in our opinion, are totally foreign to the scope and ambit of an inquiry under Section 202 of the Code of Criminal Procedure which culminates into an order under Section 204 of the Code. Thus it may be safely held that in the following cases an order of the Magistrate issuing process against the accused can be quashed or set aside:

(1) where the allegations made in the complaint or the statements of the witnesses recorded in support of the same taken at their face value make out absolutely no case against the accused or the complaint does not disclose the essential ingredients of an offence which is alleged against the accused;

(2) where the allegations made in the complaint are patently absurd and inherently improbable so that no prudent person can ever reach a conclusion that there is sufficient ground for proceeding against the accused;

(3) where the discretion exercised by the Magistrate in issuing process is capricious and arbitrary having been based either on no evidence or on materials which are wholly irrelevant or inadmissible; and

(4) where the complaint suffers from fundamental legal defects, such as, want of sanction, or absence of a complaint by legally competent authority and the like.

The cases mentioned by us are purely illustrative and provide sufficient guidelines to indicate contingencies where the High Court can quash proceedings.”

84. In State of Haryana and Others v. Bhajan Lal and Others 1992 Supp (1) SCC 335, the Supreme Court considered the scope of inherent powers of the Court and after referring to earlier decisions, the Supreme Court enumerated categories of cases by way of illustration where the extraordinary jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India can be exercised by the High Court to prevent abuse of process of Court or otherwise to secure ends of justice. It was held that

“where the uncontroverted allegations made in the FIR or complaint and the evidence collected in support of the same do not disclose the commission of any offence and make out a case against the accused.”

85. In the present case, it is one thing to say that the documents have not been secured in accordance with the law and no value could be attached to them. But merely because documents have been produced from one source or other, it cannot be said that documents have been dishonestly removed to obtain “wrongful gain” to the respondents and cause “wrongful loss” to the appellant. Where it appears that the criminal complaint has been filed to bring pressure upon the respondents who are shown as accused in the criminal case, the complaint is to be quashed.

86. In Indian Oil Corpn. v. NEPC India Ltd. and Others (2006) 6 SCC 736, the Supreme Court after observing that there is a growing tendency in business circles to convert powerful civil disputes in criminal cases held as under:-

“14. While no one with a legitimate cause or grievance should be prevented from seeking remedies available in criminal law, a complainant who initiates or persists with a prosecution, being fully aware that the criminal proceedings are unwarranted and his remedy lies only in civil law, should himself be made accountable, at the end of such misconceived criminal proceedings, in accordance with law. One positive step that can be taken by the courts, to curb unnecessary prosecutions and harassment of innocent parties, is to exercise their power under Section 250 CrPC more frequently, where they discern malice or frivolousness or ulterior motives on the part of the complainant. Be that as it may.”

87. In Madhavrao Jiwajirao Scindia and Others v. Sambhajirao Chandrojirao Angre and Others (1988) 1 SCC 692, it was held that “when a prosecution at the initial stage is asked to be quashed, the test to be applied by the court is as to whether the uncontroverted allegations as made prima-facie establish the offence.” It was further held that “while considering the matter, the court is to take into consideration any special feature which appear in a particular case showing whether or not it is expedient in the interest of justice to permit a prosecution to continue.”

88. The FIR or the criminal proceedings can be quashed if the allegations do not make out a prima-facie case or allegations are so improbable that no prudent person would ever reach a just conclusion that there are sufficient grounds for proceeding against the accused. So far as, the allegation of retention of the documents No.29 to 54, in our view, no allegation as to when and how the original documents were removed and retained by the respondents. Where on the admitted facts no prima-case case is made out against the accused for proceeding or when the Supreme Court is satisfied that the criminal proceedings amount to abuse of process of court, Supreme Court has the power to quash any judicial proceedings in exercise of its power under Article 136 of the Constitution of India. In our view, the present case is a fit case for exercising the power in quashing the criminal complaint qua the documents No.29 to 54 also.

89. We summarise our conclusions as under:-

(i) By the order of the Magistrate dated 08.10.2010, cognizance was taken against respondents No.1 to 16 for commission of the offences under Sections 380, 411 and 120B IPC. There are no averments in the complaint nor are there allegations in the statement of the complainant or the witness P.B. Dinesh as to when and how the theft was committed and the order of the Magistrate dated 08.10.2010 taking cognizance of the criminal case against respondents No.1 to 16 qua documents No.1 to 54 is liable to be set aside.

(ii) It is held that the “document” as defined in Section 29 IPC is a “moveable property” within the meaning of Section 22 IPC which can be the subject matter of theft. The information contained thereon in the documents would also fall within the purview of the “corporeal property” and can be the subject matter of the theft. The findings of the High Court is modified to that extent.

(iii) In the facts and circumstances of the present case, use of documents No.1 to 28 and documents No.29 to 54 by the respondents in judicial proceedings is to substantiate their case namely, “oppression and mismanagement” of the administration of appellant-Company and their plea in other pending proceedings and such use of the documents in the litigations pending between the parties would not amount to theft. No “dishonest intention” or “wrongful gain” could be attributed to the respondents and there is no “wrongful loss” to the appellant so as to attract the ingredients of Sections 378 and 380 IPC.

(iv) Considering the facts and circumstances of the present case and the number of litigations pending between the parties, in our considered view, continuation of the criminal proceedings would be an abuse of the process of the court. The order of the Magistrate dated 08.10.2010 taking cognizance of the offences and the issuance of summons to respondents No.1 to 16 and the criminal proceedings thereon are liable to be quashed.

90. In the result, the impugned judgment of the High Court dated 15.05.2015 qua Documents No.29 to 54 is set aside and the appeals arising out of SLP(Crl.) D.Nos.6405 and 6122 of 2019 preferred by the respondents are allowed. The appeal arising out of SLP(Crl.) No.9053 of 2016 preferred by the appellants qua Documents No.1 to 28 is dismissed.

POONA RAM Vs. MOTI RAM (D) TH. LRS – LEGITQUEST

MOHAN M. SHANTANAGOUDAR, J.

1. The judgment dated 28.08.2006 passed by the High Court of Judicature of Rajasthan at Jodhpur in Civil Second Appeal No. 97 of 1984 and the concurrent judgment dated 10.10.2006 in Civil Review Petition No. 18 of 2006, dismissing the same, are called in question in this appeal by the unsuccessful defendants.

2. The brief facts leading to this appeal are as under

A suit came to be filed for declaration of title and for possession by Respondent No. 1 herein. Undisputedly, the plaintiff Moti Ram had no document of title to prove his possession, but claimed possessory title based on prior possession for a number of years. However, according to the plaintiff, he had been wrongly dispossessed by defendants on 30.04.1972,which was within the 12 years preceding the filing of the present suit. The Trial Court decreed the suit and the First Appellate Court reversed the findings of the Trial Court. The First Appellate Court dismissed the said suit on the ground that the defendants had proved their title and possession over the suit property

3 As mentioned supra, the plaintiff did not have any title deed with respect to the suit property. He based his claim mainly on his alleged long possession over the property, and claimed that there was nobody with better title over it than him. Per contra, the defendants relied on two sale deeds, viz., Ex. A­6 dated 06.02.1956, executed by the original owner Khoom Singh in favour of Purkha Ram, and Ex. A­2 dated 21.06.1966, executed by Purkha Ram in favour of the appellant/Defendant No. 1. It was also not disputed that the plaintiff did not have possession as on the date of filing of the suit, inasmuch as he has alleged that he was wrongly dispossessed by the defendant on 30.04.1972, prior to filing the suit.

4. The only questions to be decided in this appeal are whether the plaintiff had better title over the suit property and whether he was in settled possession of the property, which required dispossession in accordance with law.

5. Ms. Christi Jain, learned counsel appearing for the appellant/Defendant No. 1, taking us through the material on record, contends that there is nothing on record to show that the plaintiff was in possession of the property at any point of time, much less for a longer time lawfully. There is no material to show that the plaintiff has possessory title over the suit property. Additionally, she argues that the sale deeds mentioned supra relied upon by the defendants would clearly reveal that the defendants were in possession of the property as owner thereof, from the date of purchase of the suit property.

6. Undisputedly and as duly admitted by both parties, the property in question originally belonged to Jagirdar Khoom Singh of Barmer.The property in question is part of a larger property under the Jagirdari system, a few parts of which were rented out or sold. After the system of Jagirdari was abolished, these jagirs were resumed in the year 1955­56. While a few persons continued in illegal possession, others had purchased parts of the land from the Jagirdar, and the remaining land vested in the State Government and municipalities. After the resumption of the jagir, it seems that the Barmer Municipality established a planned and well­managed colony named Nehru Nagar on the said land.Ex.12, Ex. 13 and Ex. 14 are the survey maps of the Municipality.A perusal of Ex. 12 (first survey) reveals that Moti Ram was in possession of the land, the plot to the east of which was possessed by Nawala Harijan and in the east of Nawala Harijan’s plot, possession ofPurkha Ram(to recall, predecessor­ in­interest of the defendants) on the site has been indicated. Further, the possession of Purkha Ram has also been indicated on a plot to the south of the land duly possessed by Moti Ram. Thus, it is clear that the plots of land owned by Khoom Singh, in possession of these persons, were not uniformly situated. However, after the Municipality took over possession, it seems that orderly formation of the plots was undertaken. Though there was some confusion raised by the plaintiff with regard to the boundaries of the property in question, the First Appellate Court being the final court of fact, on due appreciation of the entire material on record, gave a definite finding that the Trial Court was not justified in decreeing the suit, and observed that Purkha Ram was in possession of the property in question even prior to 1966, and had sold the same through registered sale deed in June 1966 vide Ex. A­2. This sale deed shows the measurement of the land, which corresponds to the plots in question approximately. The judgment of the First Appellate Court reveals that the Municipality had let out only three plots to the Jagirdar, and those three plots together measured 32 x 66 hands (unit of measurement). Thus, each plot measured 32 x 22 hands.These were numbered as Plot No. 4, Plot No. 5 and Plot No. 7. The disputed site is Plot No. 7.

7. The official record (survey map), Ex. 14, which relates to the plot in question, i.e., Plot No. 7, reveals that it was owned by Poona Ram, who is Defendant No. 1 and the appellant herein. It is also relevant to note that sanction for constructing the house was given to Purkha Ram in the year 1957. Obviously, such sanction would have been accorded only on the basis of title and possession of the property.

8. Section 64 of the Limitation Act, 1963 contemplates a suit for possession of immovable property based on previous possession and not on title, if brought within 12 years from the date of dispossession. Such a suit is known in law as a suit based on possessory title as distinguishable from proprietary title. It cannot be disputed and is by now well settled that ‘settled possession’ or effective possession of a person without title entitles him to protect his possession as if he were a true owner.

9. The law in India, as it has developed, accords with jurisprudential thought as propounded by luminaries like Salmond.Salmond onJurisprudence(12 Edn. at paras 59­60) states:­

“These two concepts of ownership and possession, therefore, may be used to distinguish between the de factopossessor of an object and itsde jure owner, between the man who actually has it and the man who ought to have it. They serve also to contract the position of one whose rights are ultimate, permanent and residual with that of one whose rights are only of a temporary nature.

x x x x x

In English law possession is a good title of right against any one who cannot show a better. A wrongful possessor has the rights of an owner with respect to all persons except earlier possessors and except the true owner himself. Many other legal systems, however, go much further than this, and treat possession as a provisional or temporary title even against the true owner himself. Even a wrongdoer, who is deprived of his possession, can recover it from any person whatever, simply on the ground of his possession. Eventhe true owner, who takes his own, may be forced in this way to restore it to the wrongdoer, and will not be permitted to set up his own superior title to it. He must first give up possession, and then proceed in due course of law for the recovery of the thing on the ground of his ownership. The intention of the law is that every possessor shall be entitled to retain and recover his possession, until deprived of it by a judgment according to law.

Legal remedies thus appointed for the protection of possession even against ownership are called possessory, while those available for the protection of ownership itself may be distinguished as proprietary. In the modern and medieval civil law the distinction is expressed by the contrasted termspetitorium(a proprietary suit) and possessorium (a possessory suit).”

10. As far back as 1924, in the case of Midnapur Zamindary Co. Ltd. v. Naresh Narayan Roy, AIR 1924 PC 144, the learned Judge observed that in India, persons are not permitted to take forcible possession; they must obtain such possession as they are entitled to through a court. Later, in the case of Nair Service Society Ltd. v. K.C. Alexander, AIR 1968 SC 1165, this Court ruled that when the facts disclose no title in either party, possession alone decides.It was further held that if Section 9 of the Specific Relief Act, 1877 (corresponding to the present Section 6) is employed, the plaintiff need not prove title and the title of the defendant does not avail him. When, however, the period of six months has passed, questions of title can be raised by the defendant, and if he does so the plaintiff must establish a better title or fail. In other words, such a right is only restricted to possession in a suit under Section 9 of the Specific Relief Act (corresponding to the present Section 6) but does not bar a suit on prior possession within 12 years from the date of dispossession, and title need not be proved unless the defendant can provide one.

11. It was also observed by this Court in Nair Service Society Ltd(supra) that a person in possession of land in assumed character of owner and exercising peaceably the ordinary rights of ownership has a perfectly good title against the entire world except the rightful owner. In such a case, the defendant must show in himself or his predecessor a valid legal title and probably a possession prior to the plaintiff’s, and thus be able to raise a presumption prior in time.

12. In the case ofRame Gowda (dead) by Lrs.v. M. Varadappa Naidu (dead) by Lrs. and another, (2004) 1 SCC 769, a three­Judge Bench of this Court, while discussing the Indian law on the subject, observed as under:­

“8. It is thus clear that so far as the Indian law is concerned the person in peaceful possession is entitled to retain hispossessionand inorder to protect such possession he may even use reasonable force to keep out a trespasser. A rightful owner who has been wrongfully dispossessed of land may retake possession if he can do so peacefully and without the use of unreasonable force. If the trespasser is in settled possession of the property belonging to the rightful owner, the rightful owner shall have to take recourse to law; he cannot take the law in his own hands and evict the trespasser or interfere with his possession. The law will come to the aid of a person in peaceful and settled possession by injuncting even a rightful owner from using force or taking law in his own hands, and also by restoring him in possession even from the rightful owner (of course subject to the law of limitation), if the latter has dispossessed the prior possessor by use of force. In the absence of proof of better title, possession or prior peaceful settled possession is itself evidence of title. Law presumes the possession to go with the title unless rebutted. Theownerof anypropertymayprevent evenby using reasonable force a trespasser from an attempted trespass, when it is inthe process of being committed, or is of a flimsy character, or recurring, intermittent, stray or casual in nature, or has just been committed, while the rightful owner did not have enough time to have recourse to law. In the last of the cases, the possession of the trespasser, just entered into would not be called as one acquiesced to by the true owner.”

13. The crux of the matter is that a person who asserts possessory title over a particular property will have to show that he is under settled or established possession of the said property. But merely stray or intermittent acts of trespass do not give such a right against the true owner.Settled possession means such possession over the property which has existed for a sufficiently long period of time, and has beenacquiesced to by the true owner. A casual act of possession does not have the effect of interrupting the possession of the rightful owner. A stray act of trespass, or a possession which has not matured into settled possession, can be obstructed or removed by the true owner even by using necessary force. Settled possession must be (i) effective, (ii) undisturbed, and (iii) to the knowledge of the owner or without any attempt at concealment by the trespasser. There cannot be a straitjacket formula to determine settled possession. Occupation of a property by a person as an agent or a servant acting at the instance of the owner will not amount to actual legal possession. The possession should contain an element of animus possidendi. The nature of possession of the trespasser is to be decided based on the facts and circumstances of each case.

14. As mentioned supra, Purkha Ram had purchased three plots from Jagirdar Khoom Singh. In sale deed Ex. A­6, three plots have been mentioned as plots of three houses. One of these, being Plot No. 7, was sold by Purkha Ram to the appellant, one plot being Plot No. 4 was sold to Teja Ram and the third plot being Plot No. 5 was retained by Purkha Ram.

15. In order to prove possession of the property, the plaintiff relied upon the rent note Ex. 1, which shows that the plot in question was let out by the plaintiff to one Joga Ram in the year 1967. On12.05.1967, a fire broke outand the entire fodder stored on the plot got burnt. Thereafter, the plot was kept vacant. DW­7, who has been referred to in order to establish spreading of the fire, stated that the fire started due to sparks coming from a railway engine. But there was no railway line adjacent to the disputed land which could have caused a fire.Even otherwise, the rent note Ex. 1 does not refer to the plot in question, and its boundaries have also not been mentioned. Merely on doubtful material and cursory evidence, it cannot be held that the plaintiff was ever in possession of the property, and that too in settled possession.

16. The plaintiff/Respondent No. 1 makes much of the old body of a motor vehicle belonging to him lying on the property. Ex. 2 clearly reveals that one part of the motor vehicle was lying on the disputed property and another part was lying on the plot of the plaintiff.The said body of the motor vehicle is about 3 to 4 feet in length only and the same was lying on the boundary of the disputed property. But the plaintiff/Respondent No. 1 claims possession of the entire plot based on such fact. Absolutely no material is found to show that the plaintiff/Respondent No. 1 was in actual possession, much less continuous possession, of the property for a longer period which may be called settled possession or established possession. As mentioned supra, mere casual possession, that too relying on a motor vehicle body lying on a part of the property, would not prove settled possession of the plaintiff.

17. The plaintiff has to prove his case to the satisfaction of the Court. He cannot succeed on the weakness of the case of the defendant. Even otherwise, there is no confusion at all regarding the identity of the property in question and on the basis of material on record, the First Appellate Court has correctly ruled that the appellant/Defendant No. 1 has proved his title and possession over the suit property since the date of his purchase of the property. Prior to the purchase, his predecessor­in­interest was in possession of the same.

18. Having regard to the position of law and facts of the case, we are of the considered opinion that the High Court was not justified in interfering with the judgment of the First Appellate Court, which has come down very heavily on the procedure adopted by the trial Judge in deciding the matter, more particularly when no fault can be found on facts with the judgment of the First Appellate Court. Generally, it is not open to the High Court to interfere with the findings of fact recorded by the First Appellate Court when such findings are based on the evidence on record, and are not perverse or against the material on record.

19. The conclusion arrived at by the High Court and the reasons assigned for the same are not correct inasmuch as there is absolutely no material in favour of the case of the plaintiff to show possessory title. In order to claim possessory title, the plaintiff will have to prove his own case, and also will have to show that he has better title than any other person. Since there is no documentary proof that the plaintiff was in possession of the suit property, that too for a long period, he cannot be allowed to succeed based on minor discrepancies in the evidence of the defendants.Accordingly, the appeal succeeds and is allowed.

20. The impugned judgment of the High Court dated 28.08.2006 and its review stands set aside and the judgment of the First Appellate Court is restored. Consequently, suit stands dismissed.

LEGITQUEST – New India Ass. Co. Ltd Vs. Genus Power Inf. Ltd

Uday U. Lalit, J.

1. Leave granted. This appeal challenges the order dated 30.05.2013 passed by the High Court of Delhi in Arbitration Petition No.212 of 2011 appointing an arbitrator to adjudicate the disputes between the present parties.

2. The respondent has a manufacturing unit for which it had purchased a Standard Fire and Special Perils Policy (‘policy’ for short) from the appellant on 17.04.2009, which policy was for a period of one year and the total sum assured was Rs.91 crores and 10 lacs only. On 29.10.2009 there was a fire explosion in the adjoining Indian Oil Corporation Terminal causing extensive damage to the manufacturing unit of the respondent. On being notified, the appellant appointed a category “A” Licensed Surveyor and Loss Assessor in compliance of Section 64 UM of the Insurance Act, 1938 to assess the damage. In the assessment of the respondent and as per the claim lodged by it, the loss caused to its plant and machinery, buildings fixtures and furnitures and stocks was to the tune of Rs.28.79 crores. It appears that the Surveyor submitted his final report on 27.07.2010 and assessed the loss at Rs.6,09,77,406/-. It is contended by the appellant but denied by the respondent that the final survey report was duly communicated to the respondent on 01.11.2010.

3. On 11.03.2011 the respondent signed a detailed letter of subrogation which was on a stamp paper, accepting Rs.5,96,08,179/- in full and final settlement of its claim under the policy and the relevant portion of said letter dated 11.03.2011 was to the following effect:

To,

New India Assurance Co. Ltd.

Regional Office

Nehru Place, Tonk Road,

Jaipur

Dear Sir,

That in consideration of claim amount of Rs.5,96,08,179 (Rupees Five Crores Nintey Six Lakhs Eight Thousand One Hundred Seventy Nine only) (herein after referred as “Claim amount”) as full and final settlement amount of our claim No.330203/11/10/01/00100001 arising under policy No.330203/11/09/11/00000018 (herein after referred as “Policy”) covering fire loss of my/our factory situated on Plot No.SPL 3, Sitapura, – Industrial area Jaipur (herein after referred as “Factory Premises”) due to fire that took place in IOC Terminal on 29-10-2009, we hereby subrogate our rights on behalf of M/S Genus Power Infrastructures Limited Jaipur (herein after referred as “Insured”) in favour of New India Assurance Co. Ltd. (herein after referred as “Insurer”) as under:-

That we the Insured hereby subrogate all the rights and remedies (to the extent provided by aforesaid contract of Insurance and under the General law and further any other Law enforceable consequence to the above loss) against the RIICO, Indian Oil Corporation, Govt. of Rajasthan, other insurance company or any other agency/authority of Govt. of Rajasthan, semi Govt. etc. whom so ever is liable in respect whereof in favour of the Insurer regarding Fire accident taken place on 29-10-2009 in IOC terminal in Sitapura Industrial Area, Jaipur and claim arises under “Policy” covering fire loss of Insured factory in “Factory Premises” in favour of the “Insurer”.

That we the Insured further assign and transfer all rights to Insurer to recover the claim amount or any part thereof from RIICO, Indian Oil Corporation, Govt. of Rajasthan, other insurance company or any other agency/authority of Govt. of Rajasthan, semi Govt. etc. who so ever is liable.

That we the Insured further assign and transfer all rights to agitate the Claim before the RIICO, Indian Oil Corporation, Govt. of Rajasthan, other insurance company or any other agency/authority of Govt. of Rajasthan, semi Govt. etc. who so ever is liable to pay the compensation/claim. The Insurer will be entitled to file complaint/claim before any court of law, tribunal or any other adjudicatory authority and plead the same on behalf of ourselves and in getting success in adjudication therein will be entitled to retain the amount paid……. …………………………………………………………….. ………………………………………………………………

In witness whereof we get our hands on this Subrogation letter on the 11th day of March 2011.

For Genus Power Infrastructure ltd.

Authorized Signatory

Signature

4. After nearly three weeks i.e on 31.03.2011 the respondent issued a notice to the appellant stating that the discharge voucher was signed under extreme duress, coercion and undue influence exercised by the appellant who took undue advantage of the extreme financial difficulties of the respondent. The respondent further sought to appoint its nominee arbitrator. On 21.04.2011 the appellant replied that there was no arbitrable dispute which existed between the parties inasmuch as the respondent had voluntary signed the letter of subrogation and had accepted payment in full and final settlement of its claim. In the meantime on 05.04.2011 the respondent had filed a petition under section 11 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (The ‘Act’ for short) before the High Court of Delhi alleging that it had accepted the payment as stated above because of extreme financial difficulty, duress and coercion. On 10.05.2013 the High Court after recording rival submissions of the parties adjourned the matter which was then taken up on 30.05.2013 when the High Court observed;

“Vide order dated 10th May, 2013, this Court has already observed that there is a valid arbitration agreement between the parties and there are disputes which are covered under the arbitration agreement. The learned counsel for the respondent submits that the disputes are not arbitrable. The respondent can raise this objection before the learned arbitrator.”

In that view of the matter the High Court proceeded to appoint a sole arbitrator to adjudicate the disputes between the parties.

5. The aforesaid order dated 30.05.2013 is the subject matter of challenge in the present appeal. Appearing for the appellant Mr. Gaurab Banerji, learned Senior Advocate submitted that the letter of subrogation was a detailed agreement which was finalized and signed after negotiations between the parties and in the presence of two witnesses. The amount agreed to was the amount recommended by the surveyor, reduced by the mandatory reinstatement premium payable under clause 15 of the policy and as such the settlement took place at the amount recommended by the surveyor. Placing reliance on the financial status of the respondent, it was submitted that its annual turnover is more than Rs.500 crores for last few years and it was quite improbable that such a company would feel financially constrained and stand coerced as alleged, in giving discharge on receipt of Rs.5.98 crores. Mr. Krishnan Venugopal, learned Senior Advocate appearing for the respondent submitted that knowing that the respondent was under tremendous pressure owing to the complete destruction of its manufacturing unit and not being in a position to negotiate, the appellant by using its dominant position had forced the respondent to sign the discharge voucher and accept the payment as stated above. In support, reliance was placed on the decision of this court in National Insurance Co. Ltd. vs. Boghara Polyfab (P) Ltd. [2009 (1) SCC 267] by Mr. Venugopal.

6. The question that arises is whether the discharge in the present case upon acceptance of compensation and signing of subrogation letter was not voluntary and whether the claimant was subjected to compulsion or coercion and as such could validly invoke the jurisdiction under Section 11 of the Act. The law on the point is clear from following decisions of this court. In National Insurance Co. Ltd. vs. Boghara Polyfab Pvt. Ltd. In paras 26 and 51 it was stated as under:-

“26. When we refer to a discharge of contract by an agreement signed by both the parties or by execution of a full and final discharge voucher/receipt by one of the parties, we refer to an agreement or discharge voucher which is validly and voluntarily executed. If the party which has executed the discharge agreement or discharge voucher, alleges that the execution of such discharge agreement or voucher was on account of fraud/coercion/undue influence practiced by the other party and is able to establish the same, then obviously the discharge of the contract by such agreement/voucher is rendered void and cannot be acted upon. Consequently, any dispute raised by such party would be arbitrable.

51. The Chief Justice/his designate exercising jurisdiction under Section 11 of the Act will consider whether there was really accord and satisfaction or discharge of contract by performance. If the answer is in the affirmative, he will refuse to refer the dispute to arbitration. On the other hand, if the Chief Justice/his designate comes to the conclusion that the full and final settlement receipt or discharge voucher was the result of any fraud/coercion/undue influence, he will have to hold that there was no discharge of the contract and consequently, refer the dispute to arbitration. Alternatively, where the Chief Justice/his designate is satisfied prima facie that the discharge voucher was not issued voluntarily and the claimant was under some compulsion or coercion, and that the matter deserved detailed consideration, he may instead of deciding the issue himself, refer the matter to the Arbitral Tribunal with a specific direction that the said question should be decided in the first instance.”

7. In the decision rendered in Union of India vs. Master Construction Co. [(2011) 12 SCC 349] this court observed as under:

“18. In our opinion, there is no rule of the absolute kind. In a case where the claimant contends that a discharge voucher or no-claim certificate has been obtained by fraud, coercion, duress or undue influence and the other side contests the correctness thereof, the Chief Justice/his designate must look into this aspect to find out at least, prima facie, whether or not the [pic]dispute is bona fide and genuine. Where the dispute raised by the claimant with regard to validity of the discharge voucher or no-claim certificate or settlement agreement, prima facie, appears to be lacking in credibility, there may not be a necessity to refer the dispute for arbitration at all.

19. It cannot be overlooked that the cost of arbitration is quite huge-most of the time, it runs into six and seven figures. It may not be proper to burden a party, who contends that the dispute is not arbitrable on account of discharge of contract, with huge cost of arbitration merely because plea of fraud, coercion, duress or undue influence has been taken by the claimant. A bald plea of fraud, coercion, duress or undue influence is not enough and the party who sets up such a plea must prima facie establish the same by placing material before the Chief Justice/his designate. If the Chief Justice/his designate finds some merit in the allegation of fraud, coercion, duress or undue influence, he may decide the same or leave it to be decided by the Arbitral Tribunal. On the other hand, if such plea is found to be an afterthought, make-believe or lacking in credibility, the matter must be set at rest then and there.

22. The above certificates leave no manner of doubt that upon receipt of the payment, there has been full and final settlement of the contractor’s claim under the contract. That the payment of final bill was made to the contractor on 19-6-2000 is not in dispute. After receipt of the payment on 19-6-2000, no grievance was raised or lodged by the contractor immediately. The authority concerned, thereafter, released the bank guarantee in the sum of Rs 21,00,000 on 12-7-2000. It was then that on that day itself, the contractor lodged further claims.”[pic]

8. It is therefore clear that a bald plea of fraud, coercion, duress or undue influence is not enough and the party who sets up a plea, must prime facie establish the same by placing material before the Chief Justice/his designate. Viewed thus, the relevant averments in the petition filed by the respondent need to be considered, which were to the following effect:-

“(g) That the said surveyor, in connivance with the Respondent Company, in order to make the Respondent Company escape its full liability of compensating the Petitioner of such huge loss, acted in a biased manner, adopted coercion undue influence and duress methods of assessing the loss and forced the Petitioner to sign certain documents including the Claim Form. The Respondent Company also denied the just claim of the Petitioner by their acts of omission and commission and by exercising coercion and undue influence and made the Petitioner Company sign certain documents, including a pre-prepared discharge voucher for the said amount in advance, which the Petitioner Company were forced to do so in the period of extreme financial difficulty which prevailed during the said period. As stated aforesaid, the Petitioner Company was forced to sign several documents including a letter accepting the loss amounting to Rs.6,09,55,406/- and settle the claim of Rs.5,96,08,179/- as against the actual loss amount of Rs.28,79,08,116/- against the interest of the petitioner company. The said letter and the aforesaid pre-prepared discharge voucher stated that the petitioner had accepted the claim amount in full and final settlement and thus, forced the petitioner company to unilateral acceptance the same. The petitioner company was forced to sign the said document under duress and coercion by the Respondent Company. The Respondent Company further threatened the petitioner Company to accept the said amount in full and final or the Respondent Company will not pay any amount toward the fire policy. It was under such compelling circumstances that the petitioner company was forced and under duress was made to sign the acceptance letter.”

9. In our considered view, the plea raised by the respondent is bereft of any details and particulars, and cannot be anything but a bald assertion. Given the fact that there was no protest or demur raised around the time or soon after the letter of subrogation was signed, that the notice dated 31.03.2011 itself was nearly after three weeks and that the financial condition of the respondent was not so precarious that it was left with no alternative but to accept the terms as suggested, we are of the firm view that the discharge in the present case and signing of letter of subrogation were not because of exercise of any undue influence. Such discharge and signing of letter of subrogation was voluntary and free from any coercion or undue influence. In the circumstances, we hold that upon execution of the letter of subrogation, there was full and final settlement of the claim. Since our answer to the question, whether there was really accord and satisfaction, is in the affirmative, in our view no arbitrable dispute existed so as to exercise power under section 11 of the Act. The High Court was not therefore justified in exercising power under Section 11 of the Act.

10. In the circumstances, we allow the present appeal in the aforesaid terms and set aside the order of the High Court . No order as to costs.

LEGITQUEST – THE STATE OF MADHYA PRADESH Vs. KANHA …

Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, J

1. Delay condoned.

2. This appeal is by the State against the judgment and order dated 2 December 2011 of the High Court of Madhya Pradesh at its Gwalior Bench. The High Court converted the conviction of the respondent under Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code („Penal Code?) to Section 324 of the Indian Penal Code and sentenced him to imprisonment for forty days, undergone by him, with a fine of Rs 3,000.

3. According to the prosecution, on 8 October 2003, an altercation took place between two parties. The respondent, with an intention to kill one Dashrath Singh, shot him with a fire-arm and caused bleeding injuries on his right thigh. The brother of Dashrath Singh filed a complaint on the same day at the Gwalior Police Station. It was stated in the complaint that there was enmity between the parties over a love marriage which was opposed by the families as well as a dispute over a disc cable connection business. The allegation against the accused was that armed with deadly weapons, they formed an illegal assembly with a common motive of causing harm to the injured. The charge-sheet was filed under Sections 147 and 307 read with 149 and 323 of the Penal Code. The respondent was found guilty of the offence under Section 307 of the Penal Code and was sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for three years along with a fine of Rs 1,000 by the Trial Court. Seven other co-accused were acquitted of all the charges levelled against them.

4. The respondent preferred an appeal before the High Court. The High Court converted the conviction of the respondent from that under Section 307 to Section 324 of the Penal Code and sentenced him to imprisonment for forty days, which had already been undergone by him, with a fine of Rs 3,000.

5. The State has preferred this appeal, by Special Leave.

6. We have heard learned counsel for the State and learned counsel appearing for the respondent.

7. Learned counsel appearing for the State submitted that the High Court based its judgment on a manifestly incorrect appreciation of the evidence. Eleven punctured wounds of sizes varying from 0.4 x 0.5 cm to 0.4 x 0.6 cm were found on the body of the injured by Dr P K Mishra (PW 1). These injuries were stated to have been caused by a firearm six hours prior to the medical examination. It is urged by the learned counsel for the State that the High Court has failed to consider the evidence before it. The nature of injuries as well as the weapon of offence clearly prove an intention to commit murder and the hurt caused satisfies the ingredients of Section 307 of the Penal Code. Hence the appeal deserves to be allowed.

8. On the other hand, learned counsel appearing for the respondent submits that the nature of the injuries was not explained in the evidence of the prosecution. Neither Dr PK Mishra (PW1) nor Dr Amar Mukund Tiwari (PW2) gave their opinion about the nature of the injuries and there was no evidence to prove that the injuries caused to Dashrath Singh were grievous in nature or life- threatening. Hence, it is urged by the learned counsel that they are simple injuries. It was further submitted that since the injuries were caused by an instrument of shooting, the offence will fall under Section 324 instead of 307 of the Penal Code.

9. The High Court accepted the contention of the respondent that the nature of injuries was not conclusively proved. The High Court held that in the absence of evidence that the injuries were grievous or dangerous to life, they were simple in nature. In the view of the High Court, the offence will fall under Section 324 instead of Section 307 of the Penal Code.

10. Section 307 of the Penal Code reads thus:

“307.Attempt to murder.—Whoever does any act with such intention or knowledge, and under such circumstances that, if he by that act caused death, he would be guilty of murder, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine; and if hurt is caused to any person by such act, the offender shall be liable either to imprisonment for life, or to such punishment as is hereinbefore mentioned.

Attempts by life convicts.—When any person offending under this section is under sentence of imprisonment for life, he may, if hurt is caused, be punished with death. Illustrations

(a) A shoots at Z with intention to kill him, under such circumstances that, if death ensued, A would be guilty of murder. A is liable to punishment under this section.

(b) A, with the intention of causing the death of a child of tender years, exposes it in a desert place. A has committed the offence defined by this section, though the death of the child does not ensue.

(c) A, intending to murder Z, buys a gun and loads it. A has not yet committed the offence. A fires the gun at Z. He has committed the offence defined in this section, and, if by such firing he wounds Z, he is liable to the punishment provided by the latter part of the first paragraph of this section.

(d) A, intending to murder Z, by poison, purchases poison and mixes the same with food which remains in A”s keeping; A has not yet committed the offence in this section. A places the food on Z”s table or delivers it to Z”s servants to place it on Z”s table. A has committed the offence defined in this section.”

The first part of Section 307 refers to “an act with such intention or knowledge, and under such circumstances that, if he by that act caused death, he would be guilty of murder” The second part of Section 307, which carries a heavier punishment, refers to „hurt? caused in pursuance of such an „act

11. Several judgements of this Court have interpreted Section 307 of the Penal Code. In State of Maharashtra v Balram Bama Patil, (1983) 2 SCC 28 this Court held that it is not necessary that a bodily injury sufficient under normal circumstances to cause death should have been inflicted:

“9…To justify a conviction under this section it is not essential that bodily injury capable of causing death should have been inflicted. Although the nature of injury actually caused may often give considerable assistance in coming to a finding as to the intention of the accused, such intention may also be deduced from other circumstances, and may even, in some cases, be ascertained without any reference at all to actual wounds. The section makes a distinction between an act of the accused and its result, if any. Such an act may not be attended by any result so far as the person assaulted is concerned, but still there may be cases in which the culprit would be liable under this section. It is not necessary that the injury actually caused to the victim of the assault should be sufficient under ordinary circumstances to cause the death of the person assaulted. What the Court has to see is whether the act, irrespective of its result, was done with the intention or knowledge and under circumstances mentioned in this section. An attempt in order to be criminal need not be the penultimate act. It is sufficient in law, if there is present an intent coupled with some overt act in execution thereof.” (Emphasis supplied)

This position in law was followed by subsequent benches of this Court. In State of M P v Saleem (2005) 5 SCC 554 , this Court held thus:

“13. It is sufficient to justify a conviction under Section 307 if there is present an intent coupled with some overt act in execution thereof. It is not essential that bodily injury capable of causing death should have been inflicted. The section makes a distinction between the act of the accused and its result, if any. The court has to see whether the act, irrespective of its result, was done with the intention or knowledge and under circumstances mentioned in the section. Therefore, an accused charged under Section 307 IPC cannot be acquitted merely because the injuries inflicted on the victim were in the nature of a simple hurt.”(Emphasis supplied)

In Jage Ram v State of Haryana (2015) 11 SCC 366 , this Court held that to establish the commission of an offence under Section 307, it is not essential that a fatal injury capable of causing death should have been inflicted:

“12. For the purpose of conviction under Section 307 IPC, the prosecution has to establish (i) the intention to commit murder; and (ii) the act done by the accused. The burden is on the prosecution that the accused had attempted to commit the murder of the prosecution witness. Whether the accused person intended to commit murder of another person would depend upon the facts and circumstances of each case. To justify a conviction under Section 307 IPC, it is not essential that fatal injury capable of causing death should have been caused. Although the nature of injury actually caused may be of assistance in coming to a finding as to the intention of the accused, such intention may also be adduced from other circumstances. The intention of the accused is to be gathered from the circumstances like the nature of the weapon used, words used by the accused at the time of the incident, motive of the accused, parts of the body where the injury was caused and the nature of injury and severity of the blows given, etc.”

The above judgements of this Court lead us to the conclusion that proof of grievous or life-threatening hurt is not a sine qua non for the offence under Section 307 of the Penal Code. The intention of the accused can be ascertained from the actual injury, if any, as well as from surrounding circumstances. Among other things, the nature of the weapon used and the severity of the blows inflicted can be considered to infer intent.

12. The Trial court based its conviction on the evidence adduced at the trial. PW1, Dr P K Mishra had examined the injured on 8 October 2003 and found 11 punctured wounds of sizes varying from 0.4 x 0.5 cm to 0.4 x 0.6 cm. The injuries were bleeding, but no blackness was present. He noted that the wounds were caused by a fire arm and were inflicted in six hours before the examination. The witness stated that the confirmation of the injuries depended on the X-Ray report and expert opinion of the ward doctor. The report of the Radiologist (PW2) stated that he had observed multiple small rounded radiopaque shadows of metallic density. This is indicative of the presence of firearm injuries.

13. Based on the evidence of the witnesses, the Trial court came to the conclusion that the injuries were caused by the respondent. Dashrath Singh (PW11) deposed that the respondent shot at him in the right thigh with a country rifle. The complainant (PW12) stated that the respondent fired at PW11 with a deliberate intention to kill him. The ocular evidence is cogent and corroborated by the medical evidence.

14. Based on the evidence on record, the Trial court held that it could not be proved that the other accused had a common intention of causing injuries or death upon Dashrath Singh. Thus, the co-accused were acquitted of charges.

15. The Trial court found that PW4, PW8 and PW13, who were present near the place of incident, had sustained injuries. The witnesses had admitted that they were hit by bullet shots. The court concluded that it was established that at the date, time and venue of the said incident, a fire arm had been used and the afore-mentioned witnesses had also suffered bullet injuries. The Court held that it was substantiated that the shots fired by the respondent first hit the injured Dashrath Singh. The injured Dashrath Singh had stated that the house of the respondent was 40-50 metres from the spot where the incident took place. It was held that in such circumstances if a fire arm is shot at such a distance, the shot gets dispersed and may hit persons in the vicinity. There existed a long standing dispute between the parties with regard to the business of cable discs and an altercation took place with regard to it. In the quarrel that ensued, the respondent fired at Dashrath Singh, injuring him.

16. The evidence establishes that the injuries were caused by a fire-arm. The multiplicity of wounds indicates that the respondent fired at the injured more than once. The fact that hurt has been caused by the respondent is sufficiently proven. The lack of forensic evidence to prove grievous or a life-threatening injury cannot be a basis to hold that Section 307 is inapplicable. This proposition of law has been elucidated by a two-judge bench of this Court in Pasupuleti Siva Ramakrishna Rao v State of Andhra Pradesh (2014) 5 SCC 369:

“18. There is no merit in the contention that the statement of medical officer that there is no danger to life unless there is dislocation or rupture of the thyroid bone due to strangulation means that the accused did not intend, or have the knowledge, that their act would cause death. The circumstances of this case clearly attract the second part of this section since the act resulted in Injury 5 which is a ligature mark of 34 cm × 0.5 cm. It must be noted that Section 307 IPC provides for imprisonment for life if the act causes “hurt”. It does not require that the hurt should be grievous or of any particular degree. The intention to cause death is clearly attributable to the accused since the victim was strangulated after throwing a telephone wire around his neck and telling him that he should die. We also do not find any merit in the contention on behalf of the accused that there was no intention to cause death because the victim admitted that the accused were not armed with weapons. Very few persons would normally describe the Thums up bottle and a telephone wire used, as weapons. That the victim honestly admitted that the accused did not have any weapons cannot be held against him and in favour of the accused.” (Emphasis supplied)

17. In the present case, the nature of the injuries shows that there were eleven punctured wounds. The weapon of offence was a firearm. The circumstances of the case clearly indicate that there was an intention to murder. The presence of 11 punctured and bleeding wounds as well as the use of a fire arm leave no doubt that there was an intention to murder. Thus, the second part of Section 307 of the Penal Code is attracted in the present case. The judgement of the High Court overlooks material parts of the evidence and suffers from perversity.

18. Hence, we set aside the judgement of the High Court and restore the order of conviction by the Trial court under Section 307 of the Penal Code as well as the sentence awarded of rigorous imprisonment of 3 years and a fine of Rs 1000. The appeal is, accordingly allowed. The respondent shall forthwith surrender to serve out the sentence. A copy of the judgment shall be forwarded by the Registry to the Chief Judicial Magistrate concerned to secure compliance.

FINAL ORDER:

In view of the signed reportable judgment, we set aside the judgement of the High Court and restore the order of conviction by the Trial court under Section 307 of the Penal Code as well as the sentence awarded of rigorous imprisonment of 3 years and a fine of Rs 1000. The appeal is, accordingly allowed. The respondent shall forthwith surrender to serve out the sentence. A copy of the judgment shall be forwarded by the Registry to the Chief Judicial Magistrate concerned to secure compliance. Pending application, if any, stands disposed of.

THE STATE OF TAMIL NADU Vs. DR … – LEGITQUEST

A.M. Khanwilkar, J.

1. These appeals emanate from the common judgment and order of the High Court of Judicature at Madras dated 28 th April, 2006 disposing of the concerned writ petitions instituted by the private respondent(s) in the respective appeals. Although four separate writ petitions were filed, one common factum noticed from the factual narration in the impugned judgment is that the property owned and possessed by the private respondents in the concerned appeals came to be acquired for the purpose of implementing the “Mass Rapid Transport System” (for short “MRTS”) Railway Project, under the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 (for short “1894 Act”). After following due process, the acquisition proceedings culminated with the passing of the award and taking over of possession of the concerned property. After possession was taken, the subject property was made over to the appropriate authority for implementation of the Railway Project.

2. The private respondent(s) in the respective appeals had, however, unsuccessfully challenged the acquisition proceedings by filing writ petitions in the High Court. While rejecting the challenge, the High Court vide order dated 12 th December, 2003 observed that the appropriate authority of the State Government ought to consider the representation made by the private respondents in the concerned appeals for allotment of a housing site by way of rehabilitation as a special category of displaced persons, in view of the dictum presumably in Hansraj H. Jain Vs. State of Maharashtra and ors. (1993) 3 SCC 634 (incorrectly mentioned as Lakhjit Singh Vs. State of Punjab-1993 AIR SCW 2938 which is a decision in a criminal matter). The operative part of the said order reads thus:

“5. The learned counsel for the petitioner while relying upon the pronouncement of the Supreme Court reported in AIR 1986 SC 2025, AIR 1988 SC 2181, AIR 1991 SC 90 and AIR SCW 1993 @ 2923, persuasively contended that there could be direction to the State Government to allot lands from any one of the Housing schemes in the city. There is forece and substance in this contention.

6. In the circumstances, the present applications taken out by the petitioners do deserve further consideration and the petitioners request for housing site deserves to be considered by the State by way of rehabilitation.

7. Hence, it is made clear that in the event of the petitioners applying to the State Government and Tamil Nadu Housing Board for allotment of house sites in any one of the housing projects promoted by the Tamil Nadu Housing Board, their request shall be considered for allotment of lands, as a special category of displaced persons by the acquisition of lands for the railways as has been held by the Supreme Court in Lakhjit Singh Vs. State of Punjab reported in 1993 AIR SCW 2938.

8. With the above observations, the above miscellaneous petitions are ordered accordingly.”

3. In furtherance of the direction given by the High Court, the private respondent(s) pursued representation before the State Government. Eventually, the State Government declined to grant any relief to the private respondent(s) and communicated its decision to them vide letter dated 26 th May, 2005. It may be apposite to reproduce one such communication, issued to the private respondent in Civil Appeal No.8625 of 2009 and Civil Appeal No.8630 of 2009. The same reads thus:

“GOVERNMENT OF TAMIL NADU

Housing and Urban Development Department Secretariat, Chennai-9
From Thiru Lal Rawana Sailo, I.A.S.,
Secretary to Government
Letter No.41629/UD3(2)/2003-13 Dated: 26.05.2005

To
Thiru P. Arivudainambi,
MIG No.3, Santhome High Road,
Foreshre Estate, TNH Board, Chennai-600028.

Tmt. S. Sulochana,
19, Leith Castle Street,
Sea View Apartments, Santhome,
Chennai-600028

Sir/Madam,

Sub: Land Acquisition-Mass Rapid Transit System-Lands acquired for Mass Rapid Transmit Syste, S.No.300/12 measuring 5445 sq.ft. belonging to Tmt. S. Sulochna-S.No.300/13 measuring 5554 sq.ft. belonging to Thiru P. Arivudainambi-Request for allotment of plots-requested.

Ref: 1. High Court order dated 01.12.2003 in WPMP No.23077/2003 and W.P. No.3372/2003 etc.

2. High Court of Madras order dated 12.12.2003 in W.P.M.P. No.28883/2003 in W.P. No.3372/2003 etc.

3. Your lawyer Notice dated 10.11.2004.

4. Your petition dated 01.08.2004, 21.02.2005 and 21.04.2005.

5. High Court order dated 04.03.2005 and 18.03.2005 in W.P. No.7469/2005.

In the High Court order first cited, the Hon’ble Court has dismissed your W.P.M.P.23078/2003 and 11290/2003.

2. In the High Court order second cited it has been observed by the Hon’ble Court that in the event of petitioners applying to the State Government and Tamil Nadu Housing Board for allotment of House sites in any one of the Housing projects formulated by the Tamil Nadu Housing Board, their request shall be considered. Therefore in pursuance of the orders of the Hon’ble Court your representation has been examined by the Government in consultation with the Tamil Nadu Housing Board.

3. I am, accordingly, directed to inform you that during the land acquisition process you were informed of the procedural formalities by the Land Acquisition Officer and as per statutory requirements award No.1/2003 was also passed on 08.01.2003 on land acquisition proceedings. As ordered in W.P.No.16929/99 the land in question for a public purpose. The Hon’ble Court had also on 10.10.2002 on your submission directed in W.P.No.141183/2000 and W.P.No.15974/2000 alongwith W.P.No.36980/2002 to deposit the compensation amount in the High Court which was also complied with. Therefore, the land in question was already taken over by the Land Acquisition Officer and handed over to the Metropolitan Transport Project (Railways) for Mass Rapid Transit System scheme after observing all statutory provisions and Hon’ble Court orders.

4. You have again submitted a lawyer notice in the reference 3 rd cited and sent petitions in the reference 4 th cited to the Government for reconsideration of your request. Therefore, your request was once again examined by the Government in the light of the High Court orders in the reference 5 th cited. The Hon’ble High Court, in the said order dated 04.03.2005 and modified on 18.03.2005, has ordered that, instead of the Housing Board, the Government would pass appropriate orders in accordance with law. Hence the whole issue was again re-examined by the Government afresh.

5. As already submitted by the Government before the High Court on more than one occasion, I am directed to inform you that your request for allotment of land in any one of the Tamil Nadu Housing Board/Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority scheme will not arise as the lands were not acquired for the purpose of Tamil Nadu Housing Board of Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority schemes but they were acquired for Mass Rapid Transit System and handed over to the Metropolitan Transport Project (Railways) which come under Government of India for their railway scheme. Hence acquisition of your land in S.No.300/12 measuring 5445 and 5554 sq.ft. respectively was not arbitrary or illegal in any way as all procedural formalities were gone thro’ by the Land Acquisition Officer as per the Land Acquisition Act. The lands were already vested with the Metropolitan Transport Project (Railways) for Mass Rapid Transit System and, therefore, there is no justification for allotment of land to you in any scheme area when the lands were not acquired either by Tamil Nadu Housing Board or Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority.

6. I am, therefore, directed to inform you that in view of the foregoing valid reasons your request is not feasible of compliance.

Copy to:

The Member-Secretary, Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority, Chennai-8.

The Managing Director, Tamil Nadu Housing Board, Chennai-35. The Collector of Chennai, Singaravelar Maaligai, Rajaji Salai, Chennai-I.

The Special Tahsildar (Land Acquisition) MRTS, Tiurmailai Railway Station, Mylapore, Chennai-4.

The Special Tahsildar, (Land Acquisition), Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority, Chennai-8 (for guidance and information).”

(emphasis supplied)

The representation made by the private respondents in the other appeals, however, were not replied to, as a result of which they filed fresh writ petition(s) which were heard analogously with the writ petition(s) filed by the private respondent(s) in the aforementioned two appeals questioning the communication dated 26 th May, 2005, rejecting their representation.

4. All connected writ petitions were accordingly heard and decided together by the impugned judgment. The reason which weighed with the High Court to allow the writ petitions filed by the concerned private respondent(s) can be discerned from the discussion in paragraph Nos.6 and 7 of the impugned judgment. We deem it apposite to reproduce the same along with the operative order contained in paragraph Nos.8 and 9 of the impugned judgment. The same read thus:

“6. We have already referred to the fact that this order has become final. Though it is stated that the petitioners/land owners deposited, the fact remains, even without resorting to acquisition proceeding, possession of the lands was forcibly taken from the petitioners. It is also not in dispute that, in order to implement the project, namely, M.R.T.S. Scheme, possession of the lands was taken forcibly and the construction work was started without awaiting for the completion of the acquisition proceedings. That was that reason for the learned Judge to pass the directions in the order dated 12.12.2003. In fact, the learned Judge heavily relied on the Supreme Court decision reported in 1993 AIR SCW 2923 (cited supra) while passing the positive direction to the Government. As rightly observed by the learned Judge in the order dated 12.12.2003, the petitioners are entitled to alternate site under the Special Category of displaced persons due to the acquisition of their lands for the Railways. Unfortunately, in W.P. No.39279 of 2005, the second respondent, in spite of the reasoned positive direction dated 12.12.2003 of the learned Judge of this Court, rejected the request of the petitioner. Likewise, in the other two cases, though the order was passed even as early as on 12.12.2003 and representations were made on 18.4.2005, no order has been passed by the Government till this date.

7. In view of the peculiar factual position, viz, that the land of the petitioners were taken possession forcibly even before initiation of the acquisition proceedings; and of the stand taken by the petitioners that they lost their respective housing plots; and also taking note of the positive direction of this Court, dated 12.12.2003, to provide equivalent alternate site under the special category of displaced persons; we are of the view that the rejection order dated 26.5.2005 passed by the Government in respect of the petitioner in W.P. No.39279 of 2005 is liable to be quashed. As far as the petitioners in W.P. Nos.11907 and 11908 of 2006 are concerned, they are also entitled to similar allotment as directed in the order dated 12.12.2003.

8. In these circumstances, we issue the following directions:-

(i) The Secretary to Government, Housing and Urban Land Development Department, Fort St. George, Chennai-9 is directed to allot alternate land to the petitioners, approximate in extent to the acquired land, within the Corporation/City limits, within a period of eight weeks from the date of receipt of copy of this order.

(ii) the petitioners are liable to pay the cost of the land as fixed by the Tamil Nadu Housing Board.

9. Writ petitions are allowed with the above directions. No costs. Connected Miscellaneous Petitions stand closed.”

(emphasis supplied)

5. By these appeals, the State Government has assailed the aforementioned judgment. According to the appellant, the lands in question were acquired in accordance with law and, after following due process, possession thereof was taken over and thereafter made over to the appropriate authority of the MRTS Project (Railways). In other words, the land was not acquired for the Tamil Nadu Housing Board as such. It is urged that the direction issued by the High Court vide the impugned judgment is on an erroneous assumption that the State Government was obliged to provide an alternative housing site to the private respondent(s) in the concerned appeals, in terms of the direction given by the High Court vide order dated 12 th December, 2003. It is then contended that the direction given by the High Court in the impugned judgment is in the nature of granting an extra-legal concession by way of allotment of an alternative site in lieu of acquired lands sans any such legal obligation on the State under the 1894 Act or any policy in force pertaining to the project of MRTS (Railways) to be implemented by the Ministry of Railway, Government of India. The appellant has relied on the decisions of this Court to buttress the proposition that the private respondent(s) had no legal right to get an alternative housing site in such a situation. The appellant has also distinguished the reported judgments referred to by the High Court in the impugned judgment as being inapplicable to the facts of the present case.

6. The private respondent(s), on the other hand, have supported the view expressed by the High Court in the impugned judgment and would submit that the direction was in furtherance of the obligation of the State flowing from the order dated 12 th December, 2003. Further, in light of the reported decisions adverted to by the High Court in the impugned judgment, it is not open to the appellant-State to deny the relief of allotment of an alternative housing site to them as a special category of displaced persons due to the stated project. In addition, the private respondent(s), during the pendency of these appeals, had filed an affidavit to place on record that in the past, the State Government exercised discretionary power to allot alternative housing site to the affected persons due to the acquisition of their land for public purposes. The private respondent(s) would submit that no interference in the fact situation of the present case is warranted and the appeals be dismissed.

7. We have heard Mr. V. Giri, learned Senior Counsel, for the appellant and Mr. A. Mariarputham, learned Senior Counsel, for the private respondent(s).

8. The foremost reason which weighed with the High Court is, the direction issued by the High Court vide order dated 12 th December, 2003 had attained finality. Indubitably, that order has not been challenged by the State or any other State Authority. Nevertheless, the purport of the order is nothing more than a direction to the State Government and the Tamil Nadu Housing Board “to consider” the representation(s) made by the private respondent(s) for allotment of an alternative housing site in any one of the housing projects promoted by the Tamil Nadu Housing Board, as a special category of displaced persons. Thus, the direction is not in the nature of a peremptory direction to allot an alternative housing site despite absence of any policy with reference to the project under consideration or obligation flowing from the provisions of 1894 Act. This is the first fallacy committed by the High Court in the impugned judgment.

9. As regards the decisions of the Supreme Court referred to by the High Court, we must agree with the appellant that the same have no application to the fact situation of the present case. For, in State of U.P. Vs. Smt. Pista Devi and Ors. ((1986) 4 SCC 251) , the direction was issued to the development authority which had acquired the land for the public purpose of developing housing schemes with a view to provide housing accommodation to the residents of Meerut City. Reliance has been placed upon paragraph Nos.9 and 10, which read thus:

“9. It is, however, argued by the learned counsel for the respondents that many of the persons from whom lands have been acquired are also persons without houses or shop sites and if they are to be thrown out of their land they would be exposed to serious prejudice. Since the land is being acquired for providing residential accommodation to the people of Meerut those who are being expropriated on account of the acquisition proceedings would also be eligible for some relief at the hands of the Meerut Development Authority. We may at this stage refer to the provision contained in Section 21(2) of the Delhi Development Act, 1957 which reads as follows:

“21. (2) The powers of the Authority or, as the case may be, the local authority concerned with respect to the disposal of land under sub-section 1 shall be so exercised as to secure, so far as practicable, that persons who are living or carrying on business or other activities on the land shall, if they desire to obtain accommodation on land belonging to the Authority or the local authority concerned and are willing to comply with any requirements of the Authority or the local authority concerned as to its development and use, have an opportunity to obtain thereon accommodation suitable to their reasonable requirements on terms settled with due regard to the price at which any such land has been acquired from them: Provided that where the Authority or the local authority concerned proposes to dispose of by sale any land without any development having been undertaken or carried out thereon, it shall offer the land in the first instance to the persons from whom it was acquired, if they desire to purchase it subject to such requirements as to its development and use as the Authority or the local authority concerned may think fit to impose.”

10. Although the said section is not in terms applicable to the present acquisition proceedings, we are of the view that the above provision in the Delhi Development Act contains a wholesome principle which should be followed by all Development Authorities throughout the country when they acquire large tracts of land for the purposes of land development in urban areas. We hope and trust that the Meerut Development Authority, for whose benefit the land in question has been acquired, will as far as practicable provide a house