The lowdown on cases before new CJI

Over 54,000 cases are pending in the Supreme Court. But only a few grab public attention, and they become the litmus test for the court. Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who assumes office as the Chief Justice of India on October 3, has a slew of keenly watched cases. Some of the most anticipated among them is the monitoring of the preparation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) of Assam, which happens to be Justice Gogoi’s native State. A Bench, led by Justice Gogoi, recently agreed to monitor the setting up and functioning of special courts to try cases against sitting Members of Parliament and the Assemblies.

Justice Gogoi will head the Supreme Court through a politically-decisive term. He will assume office just months ahead of the 2019 general election. The fate of the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid appeals lies in the balance in the court. The incumbent Chief Justice, Dipak Misra, is scheduled to pronounce a judgment this month on whether or not the appeals should be referred to a Constitution Bench. Whatever be the verdict, the next and decisive step would lie with Justice Gogoi. The case of the release of seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case may bounce back to the court. The State government has requested the Tamil Nadu Governor to release the convicts. If a challenge comes to the court against the Governor’s decision, whatever it may be, the court has limited power of judicial review of the Governor’s constitutional discretion under Article 161. One of the biggest challenges for Justice Gogoi would be the pending petitions against Article 35A, which provides special status, rights and privileges to Jammu and Kashmir. The hearing is scheduled for the second week of January 2019, after the panchayat elections in the State.

Courting The People–Public Interest Litigation in Post Emergency India
, Anuj Bhuwania said that with public interest litigation or PIL, “a new kind of judicial process had emerged, entirely court-led and managed, sometimes even initiated and implemented by its own machinery. The court appointed its own lawyers and instrumentalities.” Many of the closely followed cases in the court are PIL petitions, which are filed by third parties against injustices in society. A Justice Gogoi-led Bench is hearing a contempt petition over the government’s delay in appointing the anti-corruption ombudsman, Lokpal. A series of orders from the Special Bench of Justices Gogoi and Nariman has seen the government publish its second and final draft of the NRC in Assam. Now the court is examining a draft standard procedure to receive the objections and claims of over 40 lakh people left out of the draft NRC. The court is also hearing petitions on the fate of Rohingya refugees. In the recent years, the court has heard challenges against customs and personal law practices. It has adjudicated a series of religious issues from triple talaq to a temple ban on women of a certain age to the right to pray of Parsi women, who marry outside their faith, in the Tower of Silence. A batch of petitions challenging
nikah halala
— which involves a female divorcee marrying someone else, consummating the marriage and then getting a divorce in order to make it allowable to remarry her previous husband — awaits Justice Gogoi’s attention.

Justice Gogoi’s term will see four retirements from the court. Three would be that of his present Collegium colleagues: Justices Madan B. Lokur, Kurian Joseph and A.K. Sikri. Justice A.M. Sapre would retire a few months ahead of Justice Gogoi himself. It is to be seen whether the new Collegium would function with a “spirit of collegiality” (as senior advocate Fali Nariman puts it) after a tumultuous first half of 2018. It is also to be seen whether Justice Gogoi would decide positively issues like live-streaming of court proceedings and continue with the publication of Collegium resolutions on the court website.

Krishnadas Rajagopal

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