The 46th chief justice retires on 17 November and has only 10 working days left
The big question doing the rounds is if will he be able to deliver the key judgments in seven pending cases
With just a fortnight left before Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi’s demits office, the big question doing the rounds is if will he be able to deliver the key judgments in seven pending cases on — Ram Janmabhoombi- Babri Masjid land dispute, review petition on Rafale fighter jets and Sabarimala, contempt petition against Rahul Gandhi, constitutional validity of Finance Act, applicability of the Right to Information Act to CJI’s office and right of women to enter a mosque.
The 46th chief justice retires on 17 November and has only 10 working days left to deliver the judgments, some of which have been pending for more than nine months. It would be interesting to witness his tenure of more than 12 months ending with a bang with a series of judgments surrounding government decisions, religious beliefs, political stand and applicability of law to his own office.
The first and the oldest of these cases is the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute, which had its first suit filed in January 1950. After a series of litigations and orders by the lower courts, the Supreme Court (SC) ordered in 2011 a status quo in the highly politically sensitive case in 2011. After failed efforts for mediation, a marathon hearing commenced on 6 August and concluded on 16 October. The five-judge constitutional bench headed by the CJI and comprising Justices Sharad Arvind Bopde, Dhananjaya Yeshwant Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and Abdul Nazeer reserved the final orders in the Ayodhya land dispute case.
The Ayodhya dispute has been a source of constant friction between Hindus and Muslims. Matters came to a head after supporters of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party brought down the Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992, triggering communal riots.
The second case pertains to purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France’s Dassault Aviation. A 14 December SC order had cleared the government of any wrongdoing in the acquisition of the jets. Former Union ministers Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha and activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan filed a review plea against the verdict, alleging the government had withheld certain documents from the court which proved procedural violation and favoritism in the Rafale deal process. The couments were leaked to the media.
On 10 April, the SC rejected the Centre’s preliminary objections to the review petition, allowing reopening of the case. The documents were held to be admissible on the grounds that the opposition never questioned the contents of the documents and the illegality in the obtaining the documents was irrelevant if the documents themselves are relevant. The court also held the documents were already in public domain on account of it being leaked to media.
The SC bench, headed by CJI and comprising Justices S.K. Kaul and K.M. Joseph reserved the verdict on 10 May, post hearing the arguments at length.
The third awaited decision is on the contempt petition filed against former Congress President Rahul Gandhi.
On 10 April, within few hours of the SC passing its verdict in the Rafale case, Gandhi had claimed moral victory and had spoken to the press in Amethi saying, “Supreme Court ne kaha hai ki, chowkidar hi chor hai" (The SC has said the security guard is a thief). Gandhi’s ‘chowkidar’ reference was directed at Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has often called himself ‘desh ka chowkidar’ (the nation’s security guard).
BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi had filed a contempt petition against Gandhi for incorrectly appropriating the judgment of the court to the media. The court had ordered for a response from Gandhi on 15 March and on not being satisfied with the response, had issued notice to Gandhi on 23 April. Finally on 8 May, Gandhi tendered his "unconditional apology" to the SC for attributing his 'chowkidar chor hai' remark to the apex court.
A three judge bench presided by CJI had on 10 May reserved the order in this case along with the Rafale case with which this case was tagged.
The fourth cases is a decision on 65 review petitions filed, challenging SC’s 28 September, 2018 decision, which granted women of all ages the right to enter Sabarimala temple, reversing the Kerala shrine’s tradition of barring girls and women of menstruating age.
The constitutional bench presided by CJI and comprising Justices R.F Nariman, A.M. Khanwilkar, D.Y. Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra had heard the arguments on review petition at length and reserved the case for orders on 6 February.
The review petitions state that the judgment was in violation of express constitutional provisions guaranteeing Ayyappa devotees’ liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship under Article 25 of the Constitution.
The fifth case relates to the top court reserving its verdict on 2 April for a batch of pleas challenging the constitutional validity of amendments introduced through Finance Act, 2017 which were passed as Money Bill and were claimed to be unconstitutional and in violation of the doctrine of separation of powers.
While the centre maintains its stand that it is a Money Bill since it has provisions which deals with salaries and allowance to be paid to members of tribunals from the consolidated funds of India. The petitioners have argued that a bill which says that salaries shall be paid to the members of tribunal does not in itself make it a money bill.
A five judge constitutional bench headed by CJI and comprising Justices N. V. Ramana, Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, shall pronounce the judgement by 17 November.
The sixth case holding significance relates to the application of the RTI Act, 2005 to CJI’s office. A five-judge constitutional bench had reserved orders on 4 April in the case against the Janaury 2010 judgement of Delhi High court which declared the CJI’s office as “public authority" under the definition clause of the Act.
Lastly, in the seventh case, the apex court bench headed by CJI and comprising justices S. A. Bobde and S. A. Nazeer have sought Centre's response by November 5 on a plea seeking entry of Muslim women in mosques across the country and claiming that such a restriction was "unconstitutional" and violative of fundamental rights to life, equality and gender justice.
Gogoi's decisions in the seven cases pronounced in the last few days before his reign as the CJI gets over would only answer the question, "will CJI Gogoi finish off with a flourish?"
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