Delhi courts delivered key verdicts in 2021 in cases like M J Akbar’s #MeToo related defamation complaint and the northeast Delhi riots and also witnessed shootouts and bomb blast in their premises. When the second wave of Covid hit the entire country, it also took away the lives of two district court judges – one of them in his early thirties – and several lawyers, while many were left scrambling for hospital beds. The judge hearing the northeast Delhi riots cases was also admitted to the ICU ward after his oxygen levels dipped.
”A woman has the right to put grievances before any platform of her choice even after decades,” the court held while acquitting journalist Priya Ramani in a private defamation complaint lodged by veteran journalist and former union minister Akbar against her.
The defamation complaint was filed by Akbar, the then minister, after the woman scribe allegedly named him during the peak of the #MeToo movement.
In February 2020, the custody and subsequent bail of 22-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi by a court here made the headlines across the country and it was held that the citizens are conscience keepers of government in any democratic nation and they cannot be put behind the bars simply because they choose to disagree. Three other accused – Nikita Jacob, Shantanu Muluk and Shubham Kar Chaudhari – withdrew their anticipatory bail pleas in the case after police assured the court that seven-day notice would be given to them before arrest.
After a long wait, a court took cognisance of a charge sheet against former Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) President Kanhaiya Kumar and nine others in a 2016 sedition case, almost a year after police received requisite sanctions to prosecute the accused in the case. Kanhaiya, and former JNU students Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, besides others, were accused of raising anti-India slogans, and appeared before the court on March 15.
The trial courts in Delhi also remained occupied with Red Fort violence and other cases related to the farmers’ protests.
In the month of May, when the city was running low on oxygen supply for COVID-19 patients, businessman Navneet Kalra was held in connection with the oxygen concentrator black-marketing case. The police said he allegedly made a profit by selling medical devices at exorbitant prices to those on death beds.
Another court directed the city police to release 12 seized oxygen concentrators and put them to immediate use for the medication of police and judicial officers, who are exposed to the COVID-19 ”due to the nature of their work”. Later on August 18, in an order passed during a virtual hearing, a Delhi court discharged senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor in a case related to his wife Sunanda Pushkar’s death in a luxury hotel here, whose body was found in a suite of a luxury hotel in the city on the night of January 17, 2014.
In the same month, another court discharged Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, his deputy Manish Sisodia and nine other AAP MLAs in a case related to the alleged assault on the then chief secretary Anshu Prakash in 2018.
The judge, however, ordered framing of charges against two AAP MLAs – Amantullah Khan and Prakash Jarwal – saying prima facie case was made out against them to proceed further with the trial after framing of charges against them.
During the year, various accused in the Delhi riots conspiracy case, including Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam, Tahir Hussain, who are charged with the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), sought bail one after another. The arguments on their bail pleas have been going on for more than five months. In several riots cases, the police bore the brunt of the courts. The court pulled them up for flaws in the investigation. Additional Sessions Judge Vinod Yadav, who was critical of the ”callous and farcical” probe in some riots cases, in one case observed that failure to conduct a proper investigation will torment ”sentinels of democracy”.
The year also witnessed the first judgment in the riots case which resulted in an acquittal of a man named Suresh charged with rioting and dacoity. The court noted that the prosecution miserably failed to prove its case. In another judgment, the court convicted a man named Dinesh Yadav for setting a woman’s house on fire.
Meanwhile, ruckus marked the courts at the fag end of the year. On September 24, two assailants dressed as lawyers opened fire at gangster Jitender Gogi inside the courtroom. The duo, who were from a rival gang, were then killed in a police counter-fire. The incident in the Rohini district court brought forth various loopholes in the security arrangements of the courts in Delhi. Two months later, the security was once again breached as a low-intensity blast went off inside a courtroom in the same court. Bharat Bhushan Kataria, a scientist with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), was later arrested for allegedly planting the tiffin bomb. In a case related to allegedly raising communal slogans near Jantar Mantar here in August, in which president of Hindu Rakshak Dal Pinky Chaudhary and advocate Ashwani Upadhyay are accused, a court made some scathing remarks and said, ”We are not a Taliban state. Rule of law is sacrosanct governing principle in our plural and multicultural society.” Cases related to conman Sukesh Chandrashekhar, accused of extorting hundreds of crores rupees from several industrialists and their kin, including the wives of former Ranbaxy promoters Shivinder and Malvinder Singh, from inside a jail here also kept making the headlines in the papers across the country. Several jail officials were arrested in the case.
Chandrashekhar and his wife and actor Leena Maria Paul were also accused of gifting luxury cars, phones and expensive accessories to actors Jacqueline Fernandez, Nora Fatehi and others out of the proceeds of crime.
During the year, Olympic medallist wrestler Sushil Kumar was nabbed by the police while he was on the run in connection with a murder case. He is lodged in Delhi’s Mandoli jail from the last seven months. His bail plea was recently rejected. In its over 1,000-pages long charge sheet, the police claimed that the brawl at the Chhatrasal Stadium, which allegedly led to the death of former junior national wrestling champion Sagar Dhankar, was a result of a criminal conspiracy hatched by Kumar to take revenge from him.