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Ayodhya to Rafale, the 6 major verdicts CJI Gogoi will have to deliver in less than 10 days

Supreme Court reopens after its Diwali break today, leaving CJI Ranjan Gogoi, who is set to retire on 17 November, with just 9 working days.

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New Delhi: Today, when the Supreme Court reopens after its Diwali break, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi will be left with nine working days — he demits office on 17 November.

In those nine days, Gogoi, whose courtroom number 1 has a reputation of disposing of cases, has six verdicts to deliver, including four high-profile ones such as the Ayodhya verdict, and review petitions on the Rafale deal and the Sabarimala row.

With just a few days left for CJI Gogoi to retire and his successor S.A. Bobde to take office, ThePrint looks at some of the key judgments that will be delivered by benches led by the chief justice.


Also read: Losing govt’s grip to winning people’s trust – a lot is riding on CJI Gogoi’s last 4 cases  


Ayodhya verdict

In the list of pending verdicts, there is perhaps no other case that has far-reaching political and legal ramifications as the Ayodhya title dispute. A dispute between Hindus and Muslims over the 2.77 acres of land, where the Babri Masjid once stood in Ayodhya, has been cold storage in the Supreme Court for eight years.

Since August, however, it has been heard at length for 40 days by a five-judge constitution bench led by CJI Gogoi.

On 16 October, the CJI-led bench had reserved its verdict but had also said it would be a “miracle” if the court was able to deliver a verdict in a month.

The high-pitched hearings for the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land among Ram Lalla, Nirmohi Akhara and the Sunni Waqf Board are on an appeal against the Allahabad High Court verdict of 2010 in which the court had divided the land equally among the three parties.

The witness testimonies in the appeals alone run into 54 volumes consisting of 13,426 pages, which have been translated into English and filed by the Uttar Pradesh government. There are a total of 533 exhibits translated by various parties.


Also read: How final day mediation drama in Ayodhya case took hype away from Supreme Court 


Rafale review

The other high-profile case that could have political ramifications along with setting a legal precedent would be the review judgment in the Rafale case.

The petitioners in the case want a review of the Supreme Court judgment that had dismissed the plea challenging India’s agreement with France to procure 36 Rafale fighter jets. The review petition sought a probe into the Rafale deal on the basis of secret “stolen documents”.

Senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan had referred to the secrecy clause of the inter-governmental agreement between India and France and said that this matter pertains to defence deals and not to the award of contract for construction of flyover or dams. Attorney General K.K. Venugopal sought a dismissal of the review petitions.

In May, a bench headed by Chief Justice Gogoi reserved its verdict after Bhushan referred to various aspects, including alleged suppression of material facts from the court, and said that an FIR should have been lodged and a criminal investigation launched into the case.

The Rafale case was the Congress’ main election plank to attack Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.


Also read: On ‘secret’ Rafale files, transparency trumps privilege & there’s legal precedent 


Sabarimala review

Apart from Rafale, the other review verdict from a CJI-led bench is if the gates of the Sabarimala temple should be thrown open to women between the ages of 10 and 50 years. In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court had in September 2018 lifted the archaic ban on women’s entry into the Lord Ayyappa shrine.

As the review hearing neared an end, however, in an unprecedented move, the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which manages the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, took a U-turn and supported the court ruling allowing women into the temple. The Board told the court that is high time that a particular class not be discriminated on the grounds of “biological attributes”.

The Kerala government, which is in agreement with September 2018 ruling, urged the dismissal of petitions seeking review of the verdict. The Board was earlier against the entry of women as it had opposed the PIL by Indian Young Lawyers Association saying the celibate character of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala temple was a unique religious feature which was protected under the Constitution.

The Supreme Court was seized of as many as 65 petitions, including review pleas.


Also read: Recusal has become a selective call of morality for Supreme Court judges 


Contempt case against Rahul Gandhi

This case was also reserved on the same day as the Rafale review.

A bench headed by CJI Gogoi was hearing a criminal contempt plea filed by BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi against former Congress president Rahul Gandhi for attributing the “chowkidaar chor hai” remark to the Supreme Court.

Gandhi has, however, told the Supreme Court that he has already tendered an unconditional apology for “wrongly attributing” the remarks and called for the criminal contempt proceedings against him to be closed.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Lekhi, told the bench that the apology tendered by Gandhi should be rejected and action must be taken against him in accordance with the law. Rohatgi also argued that the court should urge Gandhi to publicly apologise for his remarks.

Constitutional validity of Finance Act 2017 passed as money bill

A CJI Gogoi-led bench in April reserved its verdict on a batch of petitions challenging the Constitutional validity of the Finance Act 2017 on the grounds that it was passed by Parliament as a money bill.

The pleas also included one challenging the Finance Act 2017 alleging that the government was taking over the powers to decide the terms and conditions of tribunal members, including their tenure.

The Centre justified the Finance Act 2017 as a money bill contending it had provisions that dealt with salaries and allowance to be paid to members of all tribunals from the Consolidated Fund of India.

Appearing for the petitioner, senior counsel Arvind Datar pointed to a Finance Act 2017 provision dealing with tribunals that gave the government powers to frame rules overriding the statutory provision relating to the terms and conditions of the members of the tribunals.


Also read: Is it a crime not to stand for the national anthem? Law is silent, Supreme Court ambiguous


Whether office of CJI should come under RTI

This case involves the Supreme Court in that if the CJI’s office should come under the ambit of the Right To Information (RTI) Act.

A five-judge Constitution bench presided by CJI Gogoi had heard the plea filed by the Supreme Court secretary-general against the January 2010 judgment of the Delhi High Court that had declared the CJI’s office a “public authority” within the meaning of Section 2(h) of the RTI Act, 2005.

Advocate Bhushan, appearing for Subhash Chandra Aggarwal, who had sought details under RTI, argued that the court has favoured transparency, through various judgments, even before the RTI Act came into force but when it comes to cases relating to transparency of the court itself, the “court has not been very forthcoming”.

During the hearing, CJI Gogoi told Bhushan that the Supreme Court secretary-general’s argument was that full disclosure could be counterproductive.

“Of late, we are experiencing good people, who have opted to become judges, withdrawing their consent. On interaction, the reason appears to be the possibility of the negative observations, whether rightly or wrongly, being brought into the public domain,” the CJI had observed. “ In such a case, not only does he not become a judge, but his reputation, his professional life, his family life are all adversely affected.”


Also read: Supreme Court is going back on promise of transparency, building case for Modi govt’s NJAC 


 

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1 COMMENT

  1. Brings to mind a childhood memory. We would get a pile of work from school for the summer vacation, which would lie unattended for almost two months. Then a last minute rush to get it over with. It may have been better for all these judgments – barring Ayodhya, where hearings have just concluded – to have been spaced out.

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