This month, the Supreme Court had heard certain key cases, such as the Sabarimala Temple Entry case, the Rafale Fighter Jet Deal and the CBI Dispute, adjourning many of them to 2019. The month began quietly, owing to the Diwali Break. However, there were significant developments in a series of high-profile cases once the Court resumed work on the 13th November.
1.Sabarimala Temple Entry: 49 parties filed for a review of the Supreme Court’s judgment, where it held that the Temple’s custom of excluding menstruating women is unconstitutional. The Temple defines menstruating women as women between the ages of 10 and 50 years of age. A 5-judge Bench considered the review petitions in an in-chambers proceeding. The Bench comprised CJI Ranjan Gogoi and the four Justices from the Bench that delivered the 28th September judgment: Justice AM Khanwilkar, Justice R Nariman, Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice I Malhotra. Upon considering the review petitions, the Bench agreed to hear all review petitions in open court on 22nd January 2018. Note the Bench has not admitted the review petitions.
2. Rafale Fighter Jet Deal: In a substantial hearing which spanned the course of an entire day, the 3 Judge Bench of CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justice S K Kaul and Justice K M Joseph considered the petitions seeking a judicial probe into the Rafale Fighter Jet Deal. In the 14th November hearing, the Bench heard arguments from both the petitioners and the Union of India. It took note of the pricing and other details provided by the Central Government to the Court in sealed cover. It reserved the case for judgment.
3. CBI Dispute: The Court heard the two petitions challenging the Central Government’s order divesting CBI Director Alok Verma of his powers on 4 separate occasions in November. The Bench comprises CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justice SK Kaul, Justice KM Joseph. On 12thNovember, the Central Vigilance Commission submitted its report in sealed cover in compliance with a previous order of Court. However, owing to the delay on part of the CVC, the case could not be heard substantially and was adjourned.
In the next hearing, 16th November, having considered the report of the CVC, the Court granted Mr. Fali Nariman, counsel for Mr. Alok Verma 3 days time to respond the report, a copy of which would be supplied to him in sealed cover. The Court further directed that Mr. Nariman would also file his response in a sealed cover to maintain confidentiality.
Though Mr. Nariman filed his response in time before the next date of hearing, the Court adjourned the case as certain aspects of his reply had been leaked in the press.
The Court heard the case next on 29th of November. The petitioners relied on the Delhi Special Police Establishments (DSPE) Act to argue that the Central Government ought to have consulted the Selection Committee prior to transferring Director Verma. In response, the Union of India argued that, firstly, the Government had not transferred Director Verma, but merely divested him of his power. Secondly, it argued that that even if this constituted a transfer, the DSPE Act vests the power to transfer Directors with the Central Government.
The Court stated that it will not evaluate the CVC’s report until it has decied whether the Central Government acted in accordance with the DSPE Act and legal precedent. Oral arguments will continue in December.
4. Judicial Vacancies in Lower Courts: On 22nd October 2018, a 3-judge Bench headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi took suo moto cognizance of the high number of judicial vacancies in the District and Subordinate Courts across States and ordered all High Courts and State governments to submit information pertaining to how they are filling judicial vacancies under their jurisdiction before 1st November 2018.
On 1st November, taking note of the submissions made by the respective High Courts and State Governments, the Bench decided to monitor the filling up of vacancies in 4 phases. The Court first dealt with the States of Maharashtra, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and the North Eastern States in two separate hearings on 15th November and 29th November. The Bench was satisfied with the progress being made in all States barring those of West Bengal and Delhi and expressed its concern regarding the inaction on part of the State functionaries, despite the Supreme Court’s directions.
5. Legality of the SC/ST (Amendment) Act, 2018: A 3-judge Bench of the Supreme Court heard the arguments of the Central Government in favour of Parliament’s 2018 Amendment to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. On 20th November 2018, Attorney General KK Venugopal made his submissions justifying the decision of the Central Government to amend the 1989 legislation.
Justice Kurian Joseph Retires
On 29th November, Justice Kurian Joseph retired. Notably, he was one of the four Justices who held the 2017 press conference to criticize Retired Chief Justice Dipak Misra’s administering of the roster.
Justice Kurian Joseph has authored more judgments than any sitting Supreme Court Justice. Currently, he has authored the 10th most judgment among all Supreme Court Justices, both sitting and retired.
CJI Gogoi has taken further steps to increase the administrative efficiency of the Supreme Court. On 1st November 2018 Chief Justice Gogoi redefined the role and function of the Centre for Research and Planning (CRP) to an in-house think tank, whose aim is to strengthen the ‘knowledge infrastructure’ of the Supreme Court. CRP will aim to assist the Supreme Court in systematizing the processes and methods used for "acquiring, generating and managing legal and inter-disciplinary knowledge needed by the courts".