By Prarthana Mitra
After the Diwali break, the nation’s top court will be taking up some of its most contentious issues again this week. But for starters, a three-judge bench headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi refused early hearing of the petitions in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case on Monday, saying it has already been docketed for January 2019.
As per the hearing on October 29, an “appropriate bench” would schedule further hearing. The petition from Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha (ABHM) said, “Since Ram Janam Bhoomi at Ayodhya is the matter of tremendous faith of Hindus and they are very much hopeful about the decision at an early date of the aforesaid appeals.”
After refusing to revisit or reconsider an observation it made in 1994, about a mosque not being integral to practising Islam, the top court is currently hearing 14 appeals against the Allahabad High Court judgement, which directed the disputed land to be partitioned equally among three parties — the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla.
Here are some of the cases the Supreme Court will be hearing over the course of the week.
To start the week off, the Supreme Court on Monday adjourned the hearing in CBI director Alok Verma’s removal to Friday, saying they need time to go through the Central Vigilance Commission’s report following the inquiry into the allegations of corruption brought against him.
Exiled Verma and his deputy-in-chief Rakesh Asthana blamed each other of corruption on Friday during their deposition before the CVC. After having investigated the bribery claims against both, the CVC turned in their preliminary inquiry report to the top court over the weekend in a sealed cover. On October 26, the Supreme Court had asked CVC to complete the inquiry into the allegations brought against Verma within a period of 2 weeks.
Mallikarjun Kharge earlier in November moved top Court against Verma’s removal and divestment of his powers, questioning the centre’s authority in terminating Verma’s tenure and its motive behind unilaterally transferring the CBI chief.
The original case involved an investigation overseen by Asthana, into multiple counts of money laundering and corruption brought against meat exporter Moin Qureshi. During the course of the probe, Verma and Asthana started trading allegations of corruption against one another.
Devender Kumar, a former investigating officer in the Qureshi case, now faces accusations of forgery in the recording of witness Sathish Sana’s statement. Sana later claimed that Asthana coerced him to pay Rs 5 crore in exchange of relief from repeated summons and a clean chit. The conversation and collection were allegedly carried out by Manoj Prasad, an investment banker based in Dubai. A raid last month recovered eight mobile phones and an iPad from Kumar’s residence in Delhi.
An FIR lodged against Asthana contained details of the money trail; the CBI has also recovered texts and call data which prove that several calls were exchanged between Asthana, another senior official from a different intelligence agency and Somesh Prasad’s wife after Prasad’s arrest, possibly to learn more about the unfolding investigation.
However, Asthana had already intimated the cabinet secretary in a letter dated August 24, detailing Sana’s relief-bribe of Rs 2 crore to CBI Chief Alok Verma (along with 10 other instances of similar bribery). The CBI later claimed that Kumar fabricated Sana’s statement “as an afterthought…to corroborate the baseless allegations made by Asthana against CBI director Alok Verma” to the Central Vigilance Commissioner, PTI reported.
Next up in the roster would be a hearing of pleas challenging the court’s verdict on lifting the ban on women’s entry into the Sabarimala Temple in September. The historic verdict has been a point of controversy over the last month and a half in the temple town of Kerala, where women of menstruating age were barred time and again from entering the temple premises to offer their prayers to the eternal celibate deity Lord Ayappa.
The verdict forbade the temple board to discriminate on the basis of physiological phenomena and ruled that women have the fundamental right to pray that is not contingent upon esoteric religious practices. Taking objection to this overhaul, the temple board and several religious outfits took to the streets, denying women their rightful entry to the sanctum sanctorum, waiting it out until the pilgrimage season come to an end.
When the gates to Sabarimala opened from October 17-22, large mobs of RSS affiliates assembled to heckle pilgrims en route from Nilakkal to Pamba. They flagged down cars carrying women and forced them to turn back. Law and enforcement failed the handful of women who made it past the mob to undertake the trek from Nilakklal to the hilltop shrine. Similar protests and mob intimidation persisted when the temple opened for the second time in November, despite implementation of Section 144. Not a single female devotee or journalist has made it past the fiery mob so far. A review petition was filed by the right-wing groups which will be heard over the course of the week.
Rafale defence deal case
During the last hearing, the Supreme Court asked the central government for pricing details of the controversial defence deal with the French government, within 10 days, which is what the top court will most likely be hearing this week.
After the government said it is classified information, the court asked for a written submission that the details cannot be shared. In the previous hearing, the court had also asked for a lowdown on the decision-making process after former BJP ministers Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha, and activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan, moved top Court to seek an independent investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the matter. The 32-page complaint with 46 annexures listed evidence of multiple serious and cognisable offences listed under the Prevention of Corruption Act, committed by public servants occupying the highest position in the state. Additionally, it urged the court to oversee the probe and asked for the registration of a first information report (FIR) based on which CBI is to investigate the alleged corruption.
Shortly after this, CBI chief who was preparing to investigate the matter was sent on enforced leave due to an internal struggle in the nation’s nodal investigative agency.
Shouri, Sinha and Bhishan who had previously alleged that the Rafale deal ascribed majority offset contracts to Anil Ambani’s newly-minted Reliance Defence, had submitted a representation to this effect to Verma on October 4.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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