Contentious January awaits CJI Gogoi

Series of politically sensitive cases are scheduled for hearing

All eyes will be on Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi at the head of the Supreme Court Bench which is scheduled to hear a series of politically sensitive cases, including the Ramjanma- bhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute appeals on January 4, and a flood of review petitions in the Sabarimala temple case. In the Ayodhya matter, the CJI-led Bench would fix the date for hearing the appeals. It is to be seen whether the court would fix a date after the Lok Sabha election or earlier. The case is considered a political hot potato with many Hindutva leaders urging an early hearing and decision from the court.

Sabarimala issue

The Sabarimala review petitions, meanwhile, go to the very core of the majority judgment delivered by a Constitution Bench, striking down a law which banned women of menstrual age from entering or praying at the famed hill temple in Kerala.

The petitions have challenged the authority of the Supreme Court to “reform” a religious practice out of existence on the basis of PIL petitions filed by third parties who are not co-religionists. In an exceptional move, a five-judge Review Bench is set to hear the petitioners in open court.

In another significant case, scheduled for hearing on January 9, former Supreme Court judge, Justice H.S. Bedi, is expected to file his response to an objection raised by the Gujarat government that he had “unilaterally” prepared the final report on 21 police encounters which occurred in the State between 2003 and 2006 when Mr. Narendra Modi was Chief Minister.

The State government had submitted before a Bench led by Chief Justice Gogoi that Justice Bedi did not share the views of the other members of the apex court-appointed monitoring authority before submitting the final and 11th report on the police encounters in the Supreme Court on January 26, 2018.

Rumblings in CBI

The Bench led by Chief Justice Gogoi is also expected to pronounce its decision in a petition filed by exiled CBI Director Alok Verma, who has challenged his “overnight” divestment from the top post at the country’s premier investigative agency. Mr. Verma has alleged political interference in the functioning of the CBI. Meanwhile, the government may seek an early hearing of its eight-page “correction” application in which it has blamed the Supreme Court for “misinterpreting” the English tenses in its December 14 judgment which said that the CAG has prepared a report on the 36 Rafale jets’ deal, which has already been examined by the Parliamentary Accounts Committee.

Activists’ murders

The first week of January would also see the CBI come back to the Supreme Court Bench, led by Justice U.U. Lalit, with its response to the court’s suggestion to have a single investigative agency probe the murders of journalist Gauri Lankesh, activists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare and littérateur M.M. Kalburgi. The court had flagged the possibility of a “common thread” running through the four killings, which which had sent shock waves across the nation and were considered in some quarters as part of a concerted effort to silence dissenting voices. The first month of the year may also see the Supreme Court Bench, led by Justice N.V. Ramana, begin its hearing of appeals filed by the CBI and accused persons in the SNC Lavalin corruption case. The CBI has contended that Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan should face trial in the corruption case.

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