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Tuesday 28 January 2020

CJI to deliver 5 verdicts in 8 days: From Ayodhya to Rafale

In the Ayodhya case, if the CJI-headed bench cannot deliver a verdict before his retirement, a new bench has to be constituted afresh to hear the case all over again

On 17 November this month, Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi will retire, before which he is expected to pronounce the verdict of the benches of the Supreme Court he heads in some important cases.

The court reopened on Monday after the Diwali holiday. The CJI has only eight days left to work, as the apex court will be closed again on 11 and 12 November. The cases in which he has to pronounce verdicts include cases like the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land title dispute, the review petition filed for the decision of the apex court in the Rafale plane case and entry of women of menstruating age in the Sabarimala temple.

It will not be possible for the CJI to pronounce any judgment on the day of his retirement, as several formalities need to be addressed that day. Here is a list of some of the important cases on which CJI Gogoi has to pronounce the verdict.

1. CJI heads bench that will address Ayodhya dispute

All eyes are on the decision of the politically sensitive Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, which would impact the social and religious fabric of the country. The Constitution bench of five judges headed by the CJI reserved the judgment on 16 October after the conclusion of the 40-day hearing in the case.

The judicial battle over 2.77 acre of land that has been going on for 70 years will conclude now. As many as 14 appeals have been filed in the Supreme Court against the 2010 verdict of the Allahabad High Court. It was distributed into four civil suits. The high court had equally divided the 2.77 acre of disputed land between the three parties: the Sunni Waqf Board, Nirmohi Arena and Ram Lalla Virajman.

2. Sabarimala case heard by CJI-led bench, too

Another Constitution bench of five judges, headed by the CJI, will pronounce its verdict on a review of the judgment of the apex court allowing women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. The apex court had on 6 February reserved its decision on 65 petitions, including one of allowing the court to review the 28 September 2018 decision that permitted women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala temple.

The petitioners had argued that since Lord Ayyappa was a celibate in Sabarimala as per the faith of the sect that reveres the god, the court should not interfere in the tradition of prohibiting the entry of menstruating women (roughly 10–50 years old).

The hill temple will open for the annual festival on 16 November this year. Kerala witnessed high drama last year during an almost three-month-long annual pilgrimage that prevented about a dozen women, aged 10–50 years, from entering the Sabarimala temple. Devotees protested after the apex court’s decision opened the doors of the shrine to all women.

3. Rafale deal

Another high-voltage case is pending before a three-judge bench headed by the CJI. Review petitions were filed, challenging the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision, giving a clean chit to the Narendra Modi government over the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.

The court had, on 10 May, reserved its decision on the petitions filed by BJP rebels and AB Vajpayee-era Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, along with advocate Prashant Bhushan seeking a CBI probe into alleged corruption and irregularities in the deal.

4. Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ included

Then Congress president Rahul Gandhi had mocked Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s fashioning of himself as a chowkidar (watchman) by alleging ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai (the watchman is a thief)’ and attributing the allegation to the Supreme Court that had merely agreed to hear the aforementioned case of Sinha, Shourie and Bhushan. Gandhi was slapped with a ‘contempt of court’ case as a result. This case awaits a verdict, too.

In May this year, Gandhi had tendered an unconditional apology in the Supreme Court and demanded the closure of the criminal contempt proceedings against him on a petition by BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi. However, the CJI upheld the petition and decided to continue with the contempt proceedings.

5. Will CJI office come under RTI Act?

The judgment is expected also on the appeals filed in 2010 by the Supreme Court general secretary and the central public information officer of the Supreme Court against the Delhi High Court order that the CJI’s office falls under the purview of the RTI Act.

The five-judge CJI-led Constitution bench had on 4 April reserved its decision on the appeals filed by its registry challenging the Delhi High Court order, which said the CJI’s office was a “public authority” within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005.

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