New Delhi: Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde has clarified that the nine-judge bench, constituted to review the Sabarimala case, will not just decide whether women of all ages can enter the hill shrine in Kerala but will go on to look into other religious practices that are in conflict with the law to settle broader questions on faith versus fundamental rights.
The CJI Monday said the nine-judge bench will also decide questions of law on women’s entry to mosques and temples, genital mutilation by Dawoodi Bohras, entry of Parsi women who marry outside their community into the community’s fire temples.
In its November 2019 verdict, the five-judge bench adjudicating the Sabarimala review petitions, had kept the question of women’s entry into the shrine pending and had formed other questions to be decided by a larger bench that could settle possible conflicts between law and faith.
Some of the questions were “What was the Interplay between the freedom of religion under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution and other provisions in Part III, particularly Article 14?”, “What is the sweep of expression ‘public order, morality and health’ occurring in Article 25(1) of the Constitution?”
The questions also included how morality should be perceived and to what extent can courts interfere in areas of faith.
However, parties before the nine-judge bench Monday argued that most of the issues were extremely broad-based.
Senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi said some of the questions framed by the five-judge bench could have ramifications for verdicts dating to 1950 onwards. Senior advocate Indira Jaisingh argued that no other questions could be answered unless the bench decides on the Sabarimala case.
“The rightness or wrongness of the Sabarimala case is a precondition to answer these questions. No competent court has declared the Sabarimala judgment bad in law,” Jaisingh said.
CJI says faith vs law more important than CAA
When discussions about a possible next date of hearing in the Sabarimala review cropped up, the court mentioned 22 January.
Senior counsel Indira Jaisingh requested the court to change the date as it could impact the 22 January hearing on the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Senior lawyer Rajeev Dhavan also pointed out that constitution bench hearing abrogation of Article 370 was also listed on that date and hence the court should “specify the order of hearing”.
The Chief Justice then stated that the “court would go (through the cases) chronologically” as these “century-old disputes (faith vs law) needed to be decided first”.
The CJI thus gave more credence to the faith vs law dispute than the CAA.
Regular hearing in Sabarimala review only after lawyers meet
CJI Bobde has also ordered that regular hearing of the Sabarimala case will only begin after the issues are fine tuned by a joint meeting of parties involved.
“January 17, 2020, Secretary General of the Supreme Court will convene a meeting of all parties to decide the issues. The matter to be heard after three weeks,” the apex court has ordered.
The CJI has also ordered that at the next date of hearing, all writ petitions relating to women’s entry into mosques, Parsi temples, Dawoodi Bohras, Jain community would be listed along with the Sabarimala review case.
Lawyers of all the parties would now meet to not only rework the issues but also decide time to be taken by each party while arguing the case.
The case will now be next heard in the first week of February.