Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad A. Bobde on Thursday said the nine-judge Bench set to examine the scope of judicial review when religious faith and women's equality are at odds, like in the Sabarimala case, will assemble on February 3.
The CJI was reacting to a mentioning made by several senior advocates involved in the case that they were unable to reach a consensus among themselves about the “larger issues” to be placed before the nine-judge Bench for a final pronouncement.
On January 28, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the CJI about this lack of consensus among lawyers.
On Thursday, Chief Justice Bobde expressed his disappointment at the lack of consensus and said the nine-judge Bench would sit on February 3 to fix timelines and other modalities for hearing the case. The CJI recently said arguments should be over in 10 days. He made it clear that the larger issues involved in the case would not be allowed to be too broad-based and final arguments in the case should be made pointedly without digressions.
When the nine-judge Bench assembled on January 13, the CJI asked the lawyers involved in the case to hold a conference on January 17 to reframe/add issues to be examined by the nine-judge Bench. The court then posted the case for hearing after three weeks.
The nine-judge Bench had clarified that it would not be restricted to the Sabarimala women entry case but examine “larger issues” of law arising from practices such as the prohibition of women from entering mosques and temples, female genital mutilation among the Dawoodi Bohras and the ban on Parsi women who married inter-faith from entering the fire temple.
Chief Justice Bobde had explained that the basis of the Bench’s judicial enquiry would be seven questions referred to a larger Bench by a five-judge Bench on November 14 last. He said the nine-judge Bench was only examining propositions of law raised about religious practices believed to be essential to various religions. It would not go into the individual facts of the various petitions before it.
“We will decide questions of law on women’s entry to mosques/temples, genital mutilation by Dawoodi Bohras, entry of Parsi women who marry outside their community into fire temple. We will not decide individual facts of each case,” Chief Justice Bobde told lawyers in the courtroom on January 13.
On November 14 last, a five-judge Bench led by then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, instead of deciding the Sabarimala review entrusted to it, sought an “authoritative pronouncement” on the Court’s power to decide the essentiality of religious practices. Framing seven questions, it referred them to a seven-judge Bench. These referral questions included whether “essential religious practices” be afforded constitutional protection under Article 26 (freedom to manage religious affairs).
Chief Justice Bobde, who succeeded Justice Gogoi, formed a Bench of nine rather than seven judges to examine these questions that concern multiple faiths.