NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday directed counsels appearing for different parties in the Sabarimala review case to hold a meeting to finalise issues pertaining to the matter. The nine-judge bench said issues related to essential religious practices, interplay between fundamental rights and faith, judicial review and other aspects will be considered by the bench.
The constitutional bench comprises Chief Justice SA Bobde, Justices R Banumathi, S Abdul Nazeer, Ashok Bhushan, L Nageshwar Rao, BR Gavai, Surya Kant, R Subhash Reddy and Mohan M Shantangoudar. It said lawyers will conduct this meeting on 17 January and the Supreme Court secretary general will also attend the meeting.
Bobde added that the bench will not decide anything on the Sabarimala review petition but will deliberate on the larger issues pertaining to the matter. “We are not hearing the review petition. Only sticking to the larger issues," the chief justice was quoted by Livemint as saying.
The issues should be decided within three weeks. “The counsels will decide amongst themselves what issues to be argued by whom," said Bobde.
The SC had on November 14 asked a larger bench to re-examine various religious issues, including the entry of women into the Sabarimala Temple and mosques and the practice of female genital mutilation in the Dawoodi Bohra community.
While the five-judge bench unanimously agreed to refer religious issues to a larger bench, it gave a 3:2 split decision on petitions seeking a review of the apex court's September 2018 decision allowing women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala.
A majority verdict by then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices A M Khanwilkar and Indu Malhotra decided to keep pending pleas seeking a review of its decision regarding entry of women into the shrine, and said restrictions on women in religious places was not restricted to Sabarimala alone and was prevalent in other religions as well.
The minority verdict by Justices R F Nariman and D Y Chandrachud gave a dissenting view by dismissing all review pleas and directing compliance of its September 28 decision.
The issues likely to come up in this reference before this nine-Judge Bench, as enlisted by the Supreme Court in its November 14 judgment according to Bar & Bench, are:
(i) Interplay between the freedom of religion under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution and other provisions in Part III, particularly Article 14.
(ii) What is the sweep of expression ‘public order, morality and health’ occurring in Article 25(1) of the Constitution?
(iii) The expression ‘morality’ or ‘constitutional morality’ has not been defined in the Constitution. Is it over arching morality in reference to preamble or limited to religious beliefs or faith? There is need to delineate the contours of that expression, lest it becomes subjective.
(iv) The extent to which the court can enquire into the issue of a particular practice is an integral part of the religion or religious practice of a particular religious denomination or should that be left exclusively to be determined by the head of the section of the religious group.
(v) What is the meaning of the expression ‘sections of Hindus’ appearing in Article 25(2)(b) of the Constitution
(vi) Whether the “essential religious practices” of a religious denomination, or even a section thereof are afforded constitutional protection under Article 26?
(vii) What would be the permissible extent of judicial recognition to PILs in matters calling into question religious practices of a denomination or a section thereof at the instance of persons who do not belong to such religious denomination?