Case BriefsSupreme Court (Constitution Benches)

Supreme Court: The 5-judge Constitution Bench of Ranjan Gogoi, CJ and RF Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, JJ has referred certain seminal issues to a larger bench in a 3:2 verdict. CJI Gogoi, Khanwilkar and Malhotra, JJ gave the majority opinion of referring the the questions to larger bench, whereas Nariman and Chandrachud, JJ gave dissenting opinions.

Due to the reference being made to the larger bench, the subject review petitions as well as the writ petitions will remain pending until determination of the questions indicated hereunder by a Larger Bench.

Surprisingly, the majority verdict runs in only 6-pages in a 77-pages long verdict.

Majority Verdict by CJ Gogoi for himself & Khanwilkar & Malhotra, JJ

“This Court should evolve a judicial policy befitting to its plenary powers to do substantial and complete justice and for an authoritative enunciation of the constitutional principles by a larger bench of not less than seven judges.”

Referring the issues connected to the case at hand, CJ Gogoi wrote that it may not be inappropriate if matters involving seminal issues including the interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution touching upon the right to profess, practise and propagate its own religion, are heard by larger bench of commensurate number of Judges. He, hence, ‘suggested’ that a 7-judge bench be formed to decide the abovementioned issues. 

Questions that the Larger Bench ‘may’ take up for consideration

  • Interplay between the freedom of religion under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution and other provisions in Part III, particularly Article 14.
  • Sweep of expression ‘public order, morality and health’ occurring in Article 25(1) of the Constitution.
  • Sweep of expression ‘morality’ or ‘constitutional morality. Is it over arching morality in reference to preamble or limited to religious beliefs or faith? There is need to delineate the contours of that expression, lest it becomes subjective.
  • The extent to which the court can enquire into the issue of a particular practice is an integral part of the religion or religious practice of a particular religious denomination or should that be left exclusively to be determined by the head of the section of the religious group.
  • Meaning of the expression ‘sections of Hindus’ appearing in Article 25(2)(b) of the Constitution.
  • Whether the “essential religious practices” of a religious denomination, or even a section thereof are afforded constitutional protection under Article 26.
  • What would be the permissible extent of judicial recognition to PILs in matters calling into question religious practices of a denomination or a section thereof at the instance of persons who do not belong to such religious denomination?

The majority verdict also suggested that the Larger Bench may also decide the question as to whether the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 govern the Sabarimala temple at all.

Overlapping or related issues pending before the Supreme Court

“The debate about the constitutional validity of practices entailing into restriction of entry of women generally in the place of worship is not limited to this case, but also arises in respect of entry of Muslim women in a Durgah/Mosque as also in relation to Parsi women married to a non-Parsi into the holy fire place of an Agyari.”

The Court also took note of other seminal issues arising in the pending cases regarding entry of Muslim Women in Durgah/Mosque; Parsi Women married to a non-Parsi in the Agyari; and including the practice of female genital mutilation in Dawoodi Bohra community and said that these issues may be overlapping and covered by the judgment under review and hence, the prospect of the issues arising in those cases being referred to larger bench cannot be ruled out.

    • Muslim Women in Durgah/Mosque Case is pending before a 3-judge bench of SA Bobde, SA Nazeer and Krishna Murari, JJ. On November 5, 2019, the bench had adjourned the matter for 10 days which means that the matter will now be taken up after Justice Bobde takes charge of the CJI office.
    • Parsi Women married to a non-Parsi in the Agyari case was referred to a 5-judge bench by a 3-judge bench of Dipak Misra, CJ and AM Khanwilkar and Dr. DY Chandrachud, JJ in October, 2017. The 5-judge bench of former CJ Dipak Misra and AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, JJ last heard the matter on December 14, 2017. [2017 SCC OnLine SC 1275]
    • Case relating to practice of female genital mutilation in Dawoodi Bohra community was referred to a larger bench on September 24, 2018 by a 3-judge bench of former CJ Dipak Misra and AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud, JJ. The Constitution bench is yet to be formed. [2018 SCC OnLine SC 2667]

Stay on the 2018 verdict

The verdict is silent on whether there will be a stay on the 2018 Sabarimala Verdict which means that the said judgment will continue to hold ground till the review petitions are finally decided by the Court.

Why the majority verdict is debatable?

‘Suggestive’ reference

The verdict does not make a clear reference of issues to a larger bench. The wordsthe prospect of the issues arising in those cases being referred to larger bench cannot be ruled outused in the majority verdict may mean to imply that the reference made by the Court is merely ‘suggestive’.

Nariman, J’s minority opinion also talks about the ‘suggestive’ nature of the references when it says,

“if and when the issues that have been set out in the learned Chief Justice’s judgment arise in future, they can appropriately be dealt with by the bench/benches which hear the petitions concerning Muslims, Parsis and Dawoodi Bohras.”

Hence, it would not be completely wrong to say that this judgment merely suggests the Benches in the abovementioned 3 cases to refer the issues listed down by it to a larger bench if it thinks fit.

Reference of a review petition

If it is believed that a reference has indeed been made in the majority verdict, it will again be debatable on the ground that a reference cannot be made in a review petition. A judgment of the Supreme Court of is final, and a review of such judgment is an exception. Whatever the Court decides in a Review Petition become the law. So will a reference of a review petition to a larger bench mean creation of a new forum? Too many loose ends have been left in the majority verdict that the Court will have to tie up sooner or later.

It is also pertinent to note that in the majority verdict, no ‘error on the face of record’ has been pointed out. In fact, the majority verdict has not answered the review at all. Which explains why the majority verdict runs in only 6 pages and 9 paras.

Dissenting opinion by Nariman, J for himself and Chandrachud, J

“Bona fide criticism of a judgment, albeit of the highest court of the land, is certainly permissible, but thwarting, or encouraging persons to thwart, the directions or orders of the highest court cannot be countenanced in our Constitutional scheme of things.”

Disagreeing with the majority opinion that the Review Petitions be kept in a lurch while the larger bench decides the seminal issues concerning right to religion and women rights, Nariman and Chandrachud, JJ said that the only issue before the Court in the present case was the review petitions and the writ petitions that were filed in relation to the judgment in Indian Young Lawyers Association v. State of Kerala, 2018 SCC Online SC 1690.

Stating that if and when the issues that have been set out in the learned Chief Justice’s judgment arise in future, they can appropriately be dealt with by the bench/benches which hear the petitions concerning Muslims, Parsis and Dawoodi Bohras, Nariman and Chandrachud, J said,

“What a future constitution bench or larger bench, if constituted by the learned Chief Justice of India, may or may not do when considering the other issues pending before this Court is, strictly speaking, not before this Court at all.”

They, hence, went on to examine the issue at hand and noticed that there was a clear consensus on the following 3 issues:

  • The devotees of Lord Ayyappa do not constitute a separate religious denomination and cannot, therefore, claim the benefit of Article 26 or the proviso to Section 3 of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Act, 1965.
  • The four majority judgments specifically grounded the right of women between the ages of 10 to 50, who are excluded from practicing their religion, under Article 25(1) of the Constitution, emphasizing the expression “all persons” and the expression “equally” occurring in that Article, so that this right is equally available to both men and women of all ages professing the same religion.
  • Section 3 of the 1965 Act traces its origin to Article 25(2)(b) of the Constitution of India, and would apply notwithstanding any custom to the contrary, to enable Hindu women the right of entry 18 in all public temples open to Hindus, so that they may exercise the right of worship therein. As a concomitant thereof, Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 is violative of Article 25(1) of the Constitution of India and ultra vires Section 3 of the 1965 Act.

Given the consensus on the three issues delineated above, Nariman, J, hence, wrote that no ground for review of the majority judgments was made out and the review petitions were hence dismissed.

Nariman and Chandrachud, JJ, hence, directed the State of Kerala to give wide publicity to the 2018 Sabarimala judgment through the medium of television, newspapers, etc. Pressing upon the need to implement the 2018 Sabarimala Verdict, they asked the government to take steps to secure the confidence of the community in order to ensure the fulfillment of constitutional values. The State government may have broad-based consultations with representatives of all affected interests so that the modalities devised for implementing the judgment of the Court meet the genuine concerns of all segments of the community, Nariman, J said in the minority opinion.

[Kantaru Rajeevaru v. India Young Lawyers’ Association, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1461, decided on 14.11.2019]


Read more about the opinions of all the judges in the 4:1 majority verdict here.

Hot Off The PressNews

Supreme Court: Adding to the series of important rulings that are being passed before CJI Ranjan Gogoi retires, the Court is to pronounce 2 major verdicts tomorrow. CJI Gogoi retires on November 17, 2019.


SABARIMALA REVIEW PETITION


The 5-judge Constitution Bench of Ranjan Gogoi, CJ and RF Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, JJ will pronounce the verdict in a batch of petitions seeking review of its September 28, 2018 judgement that allowed women of all age groups to enter the Sabarimala temple in Kerala.

In the September 28, 2018 verdict the 5-judge Constitution Bench held that not allowing women of any age group to enter the Sabarimala Temple was unconstitutional. The lone dissenting opinion in the matter was that of Justice Indu Malhotra, who said:

the right to move the Supreme Court under Article 32 for violation of Fundamental Rights, must be based on a pleading that the petitioner’s personal rights to worship in the Temple have been violated. the petitioners herein did not claim to be devotees of the Sabarimala temple. The absence of this bare minimum requirement must not be viewed as a mere technicality, but an essential requirement to maintain a challenge for impugning practices of any religious sect, or denomination.”

She was also of the opinion that in the case of the Sabarimala Temple, the manifestation is in the form of a ‘Naishtik Brahmachari’. The belief in a deity, and the form in which he has manifested himself is a fundamental right protected by Article 25(1) of the Constitution.

Read more about the opinions of all the judges in the 4:1 majority verdict here.


RAFALE REVIEW PETITION


The 3-judge bench of Ranjan Gogoi, CJ and Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph, JJ will pronounce the verdict in the petition seeking review of it’s 2018 order where the bench had dismissed the petition seeking probe in the much talked about Rafale Deal by holding that there was no reason for any intervention by this Court on the sensitive issue of purchase of 36 defence aircrafts by the Indian Government

The Bench, in the said order, said that they interacted with the senior Air Force Officers who answered Court queries including that of the acquisition process and pricing. Stating that it cannot sit in judgment over the wisdom of deciding to go in for purchase of 36 aircrafts in place of 126 and cannot possibly compel the Government to go in for purchase of 126 aircraft, the Court said

“Our country cannot afford to be unprepared/ underprepared in a situation where our adversaries are stated to have acquired not only 4th generation, but even 5th generation aircrafts, of which, we have none. It would not be correct for the Court to sit as an appellate authority to scrutinize each aspect of the process of acquisition.”

Read more about the 3-judge bench verdict in Rafale Deal case here.


Case BriefsHigh Courts

Kerala High Court: The Bench of Sunil Thomas, J. allowed the bail application filed by a member of a political party involved in protests against the entry of women in Sabarimala, on the ground that his custodial interrogation did not seem necessary for the investigation.

Petitioner herein was accused of offences punishable under Sections 143, 147, 148, 294(b), 506(ii), 324, 427, 332 and 307 read with Section 149 of Penal Code, 1860 and Section 3(2)(e) of Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984. Allegation of the prosecution was that on 02-01-2019, petitioner along with 350 people conducted a procession protesting against the entry of women in Sabarimala. They pelted stones at the office of a political party, on police officers, and also attacked the defacto complainant.

The Court noted that the earlier bail application filed by petitioner – leader of the political party – was dismissed by this Court considering that he had committed the main overt acts. He seems to be the. However, even though his earlier bail application was dismissed, the investigating agency had not arrested him till the date of this hearing. It seemed that the investigation had progressed considerably.

Considering the change of circumstances, it was opined that custodial interrogation of the petitioner may not be absolutely essential at that point of time. Hence, he was granted the benefit of pre-arrest bail.[Sivan v. State of Kerala, 2019 SCC OnLine Ker 1006, Order dated 26-03-2019]

Hot Off The PressNews

Supreme Court: The 5-judge Constitution Bench of Ranjan Gogoi, CJ and RF Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, JJ has reserved verdict on a batch of petitions seeking review of its September 28, 2018 judgement that allowed women of all age groups to enter the Sabarimala temple in Kerala.

In the September 28, 2018 verdict the 5-judge Constitution Bench held that not allowing women of any age group to enter the Sabarimala Temple was unconstitutional. The lone dissenting opinion in the matter was that of Justice Indu Malhotra, who said:

“the right to move the Supreme Court under Article 32 for violation of Fundamental Rights, must be based on a pleading that the petitioner’s personal rights to worship in the Temple have been violated. the petitioners herein did not claim to be devotees of the Sabarimala temple. The absence of this bare minimum requirement must not be viewed as a mere technicality, but an essential requirement to maintain a challenge for impugning practices of any religious sect, or denomination.”

She was also of the opinion that in the case of the Sabarimala Temple, the manifestation is in the form of a ‘Naishtik Brahmachari’. The belief in a deity, and the form in which he has manifested himself is a fundamental right protected by Article 25(1) of the Constitution.

Read more about the opinions of all the judges in the 4:1 majority verdict here.

(With inputs from PTI)

Hot Off The PressNews

Supreme Court:  The Court said that it may not start the hearing on pleas seeking review of the Sabarimala verdict from January 22 , as Justice Indu Malhotra, one of the judges is on medical leave. Justice Indu Malhotra was the only woman judge of the five-judge constitution bench which had delivered the verdict in the Sabarimala case on September 28 last year. She was also the only judge who renderred a dissenting opinion in a 4:1 majority verdict.

The observation came after lawyer Mathews J Nedumpara mentioned the case and sought live streaming of hearing on the petitions seeking review of the apex court’s verdict allowing all women inside Sabarimala temple, on January 22.

In the September 28, 2018 verdict the 5-judge Constitution Bench held that not allowing women of any age group to enter the Sabarimala Temple was unconstitutional. Justice Indu Malhotra, in her dissenting opinion said:

“the right to move the Supreme Court under Article 32 for violation of Fundamental Rights, must be based on a pleading that the petitioner’s personal rights to worship in the Temple have been violated. the petitioners herein did not claim to be devotees of the Sabarimala temple. The absence of this bare minimum requirement must not be viewed as a mere technicality, but an essential requirement to maintain a challenge for impugning practices of any religious sect, or denomination.”

She was also of the opinion that in the case of the Sabarimala Temple, the manifestation is in the form of a ‘Naishtik Brahmachari’. The belief in a deity, and the form in which he has manifested himself is a fundamental right protected by Article 25(1) of the Constitution.

Read more about the opinions of all the judges in the 4:1 majority verdict here.

(With inputs from PTI)