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With Ayodhya verdict, CJI starts clearing high profile pending cases

Ending all the speculations, the Chief Justice of India Mr. Ranjan Gogoi who is due to retire on November 17 decided to deliver the verdict in Ayodya dispute at 10.30 am on Saturday which is not a working day for the Supreme Court. This is the first among five high profile cases pending with the benches lead by the CJI. Though he has only four working days in hand, with Ayodhya verdict on a weekend the CJI has given indication to fully utilise the last week of his tenure.    

With Ayodhya verdict, CJI starts clearing high profile pending cases
Supreme Court (file pic) Image Credit:

The much awaited judgement in the Ayodhya dispute will come at 10.30 am on Saturday. The Chief Justice of India Mr. Ranjan Gogoi who is due to retire on November 17 took the decision after meeting with Chief Secretary and Director General of Police, Uttar Pradesh and subsequent consultation with the four other judges of the bench. The five judge bench of the Supreme Court lead by the CJI had reserved the verdict on October 16 after 40 days of hearing.

Ayodhya verdict will be the first of the five high profile cases pending with the CJI lead benches off the Supreme Court on which the decision is reserved. Though there are only four working days left with the CJI, the decision of Ayodhya on Saturday is an indication that he would utilize the last week of his tenure to its fullest. These are the five high profile cases pending with the SC benches chaired by CJI.

Ayodhya Dispute

The most sensitive of these judgments would be for the Ayodhya Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute case. A 5-judge Constitution bench headed by the CJI had reserved the verdict on October 16 after concluding the 40-day-long hearing in the case, thereby bringing down curtains on the judicial battle over the 2.77-acre land that went on for 70 years. Besides, CJI Gogoi and CJI designate Justice S.A. Bobde, D.Y. Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S.A. Nazeer are in the bench.

Fourteen appeals have been filed in the Supreme Court against the Allahabad High Court's 2010 judgment, delivered in four civil suits, which had partitioned the 2.77-acre disputed land equally among the three parties -- the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla.

The case pertains to ownership of 2.77 acres of disputed land in Ayodhya. While Hindu parties have claimed that the land is the birthplace of Lord Ram, the Muslim parties have claimed otherwise. Several gazettes, historians, land documents, travelogues and reports of Archaeological Survey of India were quoted during the course of the arguments.

Wary that the judgment should not result in a law and order situation, several Muslim and Hindu rightwing groups including Bharatiya Janata Party and its parent organisation, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have appealed for peace and restraint. It has also been urged that there should be no celebrations or excessive mourning over the verdict. The UP Government has ordered to close all the schools and colleges in the state from Saturday to Monday.

Rafale Judgment Review

This case is related to the apparent clean chit to the Central government by the Supreme Court on Rafale aircraft purchase deal. The Supreme Court in its December 14, 2018 order had refused to call for an investigation into allegations of corruption in the Rafale aircraft deal. Subsequently, a joint review petition was filed by advocate Prashant Bhushan, and former Union ministers Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha.

On May 10, the last day before summer vacations, a bench headed by CJI Gogoi and comprising Justices S.K. Kaul and K.M. Joseph reserved its order in the case.

The main contention of the plea was that the Central Bureau of Investigation had failed to register a First Information Report on a corruption complaint filed by the petitioners in October 2018 regarding the purchase of 36 jets. The petitioners also claimed that the Central government misled the court by not presenting all the facts before it. The Centre argued that Supreme Court court enjoyed limited jurisdiction over government policy and that it had taken a "conscious decision" to go ahead with the deal to procure the jets.

Contempt Case against Rahul Gandhi for 'Chowkidar Chor Hai'

It is related to a slogan used by Rahul Gandhi during Lok Sabha Election 2019. In one of his public speeches the then Congress president had credited the slogan to the SC. A related case on which a judgment is also expected pertains to a criminal contempt plea filed by BJP leader Meenakshi Lekhi against Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.

Though Gandhi has unconditionally apologised for wrongfully attributing the phrase 'chowkidar chor Hai 'to the apex court following its verdict on April 10 allowing the maintainability of the Rafale review petitions, on May 10, the bench headed by CJI Gogoi also reserved its judgment in the matter.

Sabarimala Review Petition

This is related to allowing entry of women of menstruating age in the Sabarimala temple. As the hill shrine will open for the annual festival this year on November 16, the judgement is very important for the devotees and Kerala government.

The Kerala state had witnessed high drama during the nearly three month long annual pilgrim season last year with around a dozen women in the 10-50 age group being prevented from entering the Sabarimala temple by protesting devotees after the doors were opened for all women following the apex court verdict.

In its September 28, 2018 judgment, the Supreme Court held that not allowing women in their "menstruating years" into the Sabarimala is ultra vires the constitution, and all women should be allowed to enter the temple. The 4:1 verdict, delivered by a five-judge constitution bench headed by then CJI Dipak Misra, noted that "the dualistic approach against women degrades the status of women." It allowed women of all age-groups the right to enter the temple.

The order was challenged by the Travancore Devaswom Board, the Pandalam Royal Family and groups of devotees through a total of 65 review petitions. The petitions were heard by a constitution bench of CJI Gogoi and Justices A.M. Khanwilkar, R.F. Nariman, D.Y. Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra. The bench reserved its orders on these review petitions after hearing them for a full day on February 6.

Will the office of CJI come under RTI?

This is the most important related to the judiciary itself as bringing the CJI office under the RTI Act will automatically bring the appointment of judges under public scrutiny.

A five-judge constitution bench headed by CJI Gogoi on April 4 reserved its judgment on an appeal to bring the office of the Chief Justice of India under the Right to Information Act, 2015.The plea was filed by Supreme Court secretary general against a January 2010 judgment of the Delhi high court which held the office of the CJI to be a "public authority" as per the definition provided by Section 2(h) of the RTI Act. After it remained pending in the Supreme Court for nine years, the appeal was taken up by the bench headed by the CJI.

Applicability of Finance Act on tribunals

Another important judgment which is awaited pertains to a petition filed by Revenue Bar Association against provisions of Finance Act 2017 that affected the power and structures of various tribunals. The petitioner stated that the Finance Act, as it is passed as a money bill, cannot change the composition of tribunals.

The petition also noted that the provisions of the Finance Act affecting various tribunals such as the National Green Tribunal, Income Tax Appellate Tribunal and National Company Law Appellate Tribunal were unconstitutional and in violation of the doctrine of separation of powers. The Centre's response was that provisions were brought in as part of a money bill since they dealt with the salaries and allowances of the members of the tribunals for which the money came from the consolidated funds of India. This was opposed by the petitioners on the ground that a bill merely covering salaries does not become a money bill. The Supreme Court had reserved its judgment in the case on April 2, this year.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are the personal views of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Devdiscourse and Devdiscourse does not claim any responsibility for the same.)

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