By Prarthana Mitra
Among some of the important cases that the Supreme Court will be hearing before Chief Justice Dipak Misra retires this month, are long-awaited final verdicts on the Aadhaar, Babri Masjid, and Section 377 cases.
With 20 days left before retirement, Misra who will be replaced by Justice Ranjan Gogoi, has a Herculean task ahead of him, as he prepares to head the bench towards justice for the last time. Over the next fortnight or so, he will be delivering verdicts that have been reserved for months, even years, and could have far-reaching consequences.
“The next few weeks are going to be very important for the country. The top court is set to adjudicate on many contentious issues that will determine not just the polity but also settle contentious social issues one way or other,” said senior advocate Gyanant Singh. “It’s an unprecedented situation that so many judgments with far-reaching impact will be delivered,” he said.
Here are some of the high-profile cases being prepped for a marathon hearing this month.
The constitutional validity of Aadhaar
One of the most-awaited rulings is going to close the raging national debate over Aadhaar, NDA government’s biometric-based identification system. Activists around the country have accused the centre of violating privacy and instituting a mass-surveillance system. However, the primary case challenges Aadhaar’s constitutional validity enabled by the 2016 law. Not mandatory until then, registration and a card were later deemed necessary to avail of any subsidy or services from the government. Over rising concerns of concerns data theft, misuse by authorities, the government recently made a travesty of the system by releasing, albeit erroneously, the bank details of certain citizens.
In May this year, the apex court reserved its verdict after hearing it over 38 days.
Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case
The politically-sensitive case of the demolition of a mosque, which happened 25 years ago, may also be hearing its final verdict over the next few weeks. In 2010, Allahabad High Court ruled 2:1 that the disputed land was to be partitioned equally among the three parties — the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice Misra will have to first answer another pending and pertinent question on whether a mosque is integral to Islam. This verdict is necessary before the apex court takes up the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute.
Repeal of Section 377
A five-judge constitution bench is likely to deliver its verdict on petitions demanding decriminalization of homosexuality before Misra retires. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalizes homosexuality has been a contentious issue ever since the Section was brought back in 2013. Since then, there has been a fierce battle between India’s LGBTQ community and the Supreme Court. Repealing the draconian and regressive section would go a long way in eradicating the stigma faced by the gay community, and entitle them to basic human rights like the right to marriage.
After a week-long hearing this summer, the verdict was reserved on July 17.
Sabarimala Temple Case
After hearing the controversial case, about whether women of a certain age group can be barred from entering the Sabarimala temple, the Supreme Court had observed that denying women entry to the temple was against the constitutional mandate.
“Once you open it [temple] for public, anybody can go,” said Misra, on the decision to ban women between the ages of 10 years and 50 years, from the temple in Kerala. There is no concept of “private mandirs.” The Travancore Devaswom Board had submitted arguments claiming women won’t be able to participate in certain gruelling rituals, like the 41-day penance.
The bench then examined the legality of the ban based “on a biological factor (i.e., menstruation) exclusive to the female gender”, reserving its final verdict amid outrage from various communities.
SC/ST quota in government jobs
Amid a raging debate on the issue regarding a special provision which provides for reservation for promotion only to SCs and STs, the top court announced that the government “is not debarred from making promotions in accordance with law.” The law referred to is the one that currently holds, as per the Supreme Court judgment in M Nagaraj & Others vs Union of India case in 2006.
The NDA government’s plea to review the 2006 judgement awaits a verdict from a constitution bench led by Misra.
Besides these, the SC will also adjudicate on cases regarding adultery, whether legislators can be stopped from practising as advocates, and on the disqualification of lawmakers facing criminal charges from contesting elections.
Change of hands
CJI Misra’s last working day in office is on October 1. During his tenure spanning 13 months and six days, Misra has scripted historic judicial moments as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India.
The law ministry sent him a formal letter on Tuesday, seeking the name of his successor. Misra recommended the senior-most-judge, as is customary, for the next CJI. Described as “tough and outspoken”, Justice Gogoi has been well-known for his contempt for ‘motivated PILs.’ He had previously requested the government to do away with the technique of reserving quotas in jobs and admission on the basis of caste.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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