Civil Appeal No. 10972 of 2013 (Arising out of SLP (C) No. 15436 of 2009), Civil Appeal No. 10974 of 2013 (Arising out of SLP (C) No. 37703 of 2013 @ CC No. 13105 of 2009), Civil Appeal No. 10986 of 2013 (Arising out of SLP (C) No. 37708 of 2013 @ CC No. 14042 of 2009), Civil Appeal No. 10981 of 2013 (Arising out of SLP (C) No. 37705 of 2013 @ .... Case: Suresh Kumar Koushal and Anr. Vs NAZ Foundation and Ors.. Supreme Court

Case Number:Civil Appeal No. 10972 of 2013 (Arising out of SLP (C) No. 15436 of 2009), Civil Appeal No. 10974 of 2013 (Arising out of SLP (C) No. 37703 of 2013 @ CC No. 13105 of 2009), Civil Appeal No. 10986 of 2013 (Arising out of SLP (C) No. 37708 of 2013 @ CC No. 14042 of 2009), Civil Appeal No. 10981 of 2013 (Arising out of SLP (C) No. 37705 of 2013 @ ...
Party Name:Suresh Kumar Koushal and Anr. Vs NAZ Foundation and Ors.
Counsel:For Appearing Parties: Mohan Jain, ASG, J.S. Attri, Anand Grover, T.S. Doabia, K. Radhakrishnan, Shyam Divan, Ashok Desai and Siddharth Luthra, Sr. Advs., Amit Anand Tiwari, Kiran Suri, S.J. Amith, Huzefa Ahmadi, Garima Kapoor, Rishad A. Chaudhary, Mrigank Prabhakar, Ejaz Maqbool, Harshvir Pratap Sharma, K.S. Rana, Manoj V. George, Tehmina ...
Judges:G.S. Singhvi and Sudhansu Jyoti Mukhopadhaya, JJ.
Issue:Societies Registration Act, 1860; Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 - Section 2; Government of India Act, 1935 - Section 88; Punjab Excise Act, 1914 - Section 30; Indian Succession Act - Section 118; The Buggery Act, 1533; Criminal Law (India) Act, 1828 - Sections 63, 125; Offences against the Person Act 1828 - Sections 1, 15; Offences...
Citation:2014 I AD 549 (SC), (2014) 1 MLJ 68, 2014 (1) RCR 286 (Criminal), 2013 (15) SCALE 55 , 2014 (1) SCC 1, 2014 (1) SCJ 1
Judgement Date:December 11, 2013
Court:Supreme Court
 
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Judgment:

G.S. Singhvi, J.

1. Leave granted.

2. These appeals are directed against order dated 2.7.2009 by which the Division Bench of the Delhi High Court allowed the writ petition filed by NAZ Foundation - Respondent No. 1 herein, by way of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) challenging the constitutional validity of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (Indian Penal Code) in the following terms:

We declare that Section 377 Indian Penal Code, 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 Indian Penal Code 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 Indian Penal Code that have already attained finality.

3. The Background facts:

(i) Respondent No. 1 is a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 which works in the field of HIV/AIDS intervention and prevention. Its work has focussed on targeting 'men who have sex with men' (MSM) or homosexuals or gays in consonance with the integrationist policy. Alleging that its efforts have been severely impaired by the discriminatory attitudes exhibited by State authorities towards sexual minorities, MSM, lesbians and transgender individuals and that unless self respect and dignity is restored to these sexual minorities by doing away with discriminatory laws such as Section 377 Indian Penal Code it will not be possible to prevent HIV/AIDS, NAZ Foundation filed WP(C) No. 7455/2001 before the Delhi High Court impleading the Government of NCT of Delhi; Commissioner of Police, Delhi; Delhi State Aids Control Society; National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) and Union of India through Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and prayed for grant of a declaration that Section 377 Indian Penal Code to the extent it is applicable to and penalises sexual acts in private between consenting adults is violative of Articles 14, 15, 19(1)(a)-(d) and 21 of the Constitution. Respondent No. 1 further prayed for grant of a permanent injunction restraining Government of NCT of Delhi and Commissioner of Police, Delhi from enforcing the provisions of Section 377 Indian Penal Code in respect of sexual acts in private between consenting adults.

(ii) Respondent No. 1 pleaded that the thrust of Section 377 Indian Penal Code is to penalise sexual acts which are "against the order of nature"; that the provision is based on traditional Judeo-Christian moral and ethical standards and is being used to legitimise discrimination against sexual minorities; that Section 377 Indian Penal Code does not enjoy justification in contemporary Indian society and that the section's historic and moral underpinning do not resonate with the historically held values in Indian society concerning sexual relations. Respondent No. 1 relied upon 172nd Report of the Law Commission which had recommended deletion of Section 377 and pleaded that notwithstanding the recent prosecutorial use of Section 377 Indian Penal Code, the same is detrimental to people's lives and an impediment to public health due to its direct impact on the lives of homosexuals; that the section serves as a weapon for police abuse in the form of detention, questioning, extortion, harassment, forced sex, payment of hush money; that the section perpetuates negative and discriminatory beliefs towards same sex relations and sexual minorities in general; and that as a result of that it drives gay men and MSM and sexual minorities generally underground which cripples HIV/AIDS prevention methods. According to Respondent No. 1, Section 377 is used predominantly against homosexual conduct as it criminalises activity practiced more often by men or women who are homosexually active. The evidence that refutes the assumption that non-procreative sexual acts are unnatural includes socio-scientific and anthropological evidence and also the natural presence of homosexuality in society at large.

(iii) That private, consensual sexual relations are protected under the right to liberty under Article 21 under the privacy and dignity claim. It was further pleaded that Section 377 Indian Penal Code is not a valid law because there exists no compelling State interest to justify the curtailment of an important fundamental freedom; that Section 377 Indian Penal Code insofar as it criminalises consensual, non-procreative sexual relations is unreasonable and arbitrary and therefore violative of Article 14.

(iv) Another plea taken by Respondent No. 1 was that Section 377 creates a classification between "natural" (penile-vaginal) and "unnatural" (penile-non-vaginal) penetrative sexual acts. The legislative objective of penalising unnatural acts has no rational nexus with the classification between natural (procreative) and unnatural (non-procreative) sexual acts and is thus violative of Article 14.

4. By an order dated 2.9.2004, the Division Bench of the High Court dismissed the writ petition by observing that no cause of action has accrued to Respondent No. 1 and purely academic issues cannot be examined by the Court. The review petition filed by Respondent No. 1 was also dismissed by the High Court vide order dated 3.11.2004.

5. Respondent No. 1 challenged both the orders in SLP (C) Nos. 7217-7218/2005, which were converted to Civil Appeal No. 952/2006. This Court allowed the appeal vide order dated 3.2.2006 and remitted the writ petition for fresh decision by the High Court. The relevant portions of that order are reproduced below:

The challenge in the writ petition before the High Court was to the constitutional validity of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The High Court, without examining that issue, dismissed the writ petition by the impugned order observing that there is no case of action in favour of the Appellant as the petition cannot be filed to test the validity of the Legislation and, therefore, it cannot be entertained to examine the academic challenge to the constitutionality of the provision.

The learned Additional Solicitor General, if we may say so, rightly submits that the matter requires examination and is not of a nature which ought to have been dismissed on the ground afore-stated. We may, however, note that the appeal is being strenuously opposed by Respondent No. 6. We are, however, not examining the issue on merits but are of the view that the matter does require consideration and is not of a nature which could have been dismissed on the ground afore-stated. In this view, we set aside the impugned judgment and order of the High Court and remit Writ Petition (C) No. 7455 of 2001 for its fresh decision by the High Court.

6. NACO and the Health Ministry had filed counter in the form of an affidavit of Shri M.L. Soni, Under Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, National AIDS Control Organisation. He outlined the strategy adopted by NACO for prevention and control of HIV/AIDS in India which includes identification of high risk groups and the provision of necessary tools and information for protection and medical care. The deponent averred that National Sentinel Surveillance Data 2005 estimated that HIV prevalence in "men who have sex with men" (MSM) is 8% while in general population it is lesser than 1%. The MSM population is estimated at 25 lacs as of January 2006. Shri Soni also stated that NACO has developed programmes for undertaking targeted interventions among MSM population and that for prevention of HIV/AIDS there is a need for an enabling environment where people indulging in risky behaviour may be encouraged not to conceal information so that they are provided with access to NACO services.

7. On behalf of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, Shri Venu Gopal, Director (Judicial) filed an affidavit and pleaded that Section 377 does not suffer from any constitutional infirmity. Shri Venu Gopal further pleaded that an unlawful act cannot be rendered legitimate because the person to whose detriment it acts consents to it; that Section 377 has been applied only on complaint of a victim and there are no instances of arbitrary use or application in situations where the terms of the section do not naturally extend to Section 377 Indian Penal Code; that Section 377 Indian Penal Code is not violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. According to Shri Venu Gopal, Section 377 Indian Penal Code provides a punishment for unnatural sexual offences, carnal intercourse against the order of nature and does not make any distinction between procreative and non-procreative sex.

8. Joint Action Council Kannur and Shri B.P. Singhal, who were allowed to act as interveners, opposed the prayer made in the writ petition and supported the stand taken by the Government. Another intervener, i.e., Voices Against 377, supported the prayer of Respondent No. 1 that Section 377 should be struck down on the ground of unconstitutionality.

9. The Division Bench of the High Court extensively considered the contentions of the parties and declared that Section 377, insofar as it criminalises consensual sexual acts of adults in private is violative of Articles 21, 14 and 15 of the Constitution. While dealing with the question relating to violation of Article 21, the High Court outlined the enlarged scope of the right to life and liberty which also includes right to protection...

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