After a vacation of one-and-a-half months, the Supreme Court of India reopens on Monday. In the next few months, the court is set to deliver verdicts with profound constitutional and political implications. Some big decisions on the administrative side, which will impact the concept of separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary, are also expected.
Here are a few important matters before the court awaiting judgement:
The Aadhaar question
After a marathon hearing of 38 days, a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra reserved its judgement in the Aadhaar case on May 10. A batch of petitions have been filed in the court questioning the validity of India’s 12-digit, biometrics-based unique identification system and the 2016 law that backs it legislatively. The top court will decide whether the government can be allowed to use Aadhaar – which has been criticised by many as an intrusive instrument – in the name of furthering its welfare goals.
Primary arguments against Aadhaar have included the question of exclusion as it makes the delivery of subsidies and services conditional. In its current form, Aadhaar could also be used for surveillance and the profiling of individuals, which could lead to the violation of several rights, most importantly the right to privacy. In August, the Supreme Court had ruled that the right to privacy is an “intrinsic part of life and personal liberty”, which is guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution.
Powers of the lieutenant governor
The Delhi government came to a standstill in June when Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his cabinet colleagues performed a sit-in protest in the office of Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal against an alleged strike by civil servants and delays in the approval of key government policies.
This ties in closely with a batch of petitions filed in the Supreme Court questioning the functioning of the lieutenant governor. The court had reserved its judgement in the case in December. It is expected to deliver its verdict soon, which could once and for all settle disputes on the separation of powers between the chief minister, who heads an elected government, and the lieutenant governor, who acts as a representative of the Centre. The Delhi High Court had in 2016 upheld the primacy of the lieutenant governor as the administrator of the Union territory. This judgement was challenged by the Delhi government.
The Supreme Court will resume hearings in the Ayodhya Ram temple case with lawyers making arguments on whether the matter should be referred to a larger bench and if it involves constitutional questions.
The court is hearing petitions challenging the Allahabad High Court’s 2010 order for a three-way division of the land on which the Babri Masjid stood before it was demolished in 1992 by Hindu karsevaks so that a Ram temple could be built in its place. The High Court had ruled that the land be divided equally between the Sunni Waqf Board, the Hindu organisation Nirmohi Akhara, and the deity Ram Lalla (infant Ram), represented by the Hindu Mahasabha.
While the Supreme Court bench headed by the chief justice indicated in February that it wanted to deal with the case plainly as a land title suit, it nevertheless allowed arguments to be made on the question of referring the matter to a larger bench. The case has witnessed heated arguments, especially between senior lawyers Rajeev Dhavan and K Parasaran. It is expected to proceed quickly once the question of reference to a larger bench is settled.
Directions to speaker
Does the speaker of a legislative Assembly have immunity from the directions of a High Court? This is the question that a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court will take up in the coming months in SA Sampath Kumar versus Kale Yadaiah And Others. The apex court will decide whether a High Court can, exercising its extraordinary powers under Article 226 of the Constitution, direct the speaker to decide on disqualification petitions within a stipulated time. The matter has profound implications for states like Tamil Nadu, where ruling parties have been accused of misusing the anti-defection law.
Apart from the judicial matters mentioned above, the Supreme Court collegium – a body comprising the five senior-most judges of the apex court – will take up the question of elevating Uttarakhand High Court Chief Justice KM Joseph to the apex court. Earlier this year, the Centre had returned Joseph’s file to the collegium for reconsideration, arguing that there were judges more senior than him waiting for a spot in the Supreme Court. Many commentators linked this decision to Joseph’s role in striking down the Centre’s decision to impose President’s rule in Uttarakhand in March 2016.
In May, the Supreme Court collegium in-principle unanimously reiterated its decision to elevate Joseph, but did not make it official as decisions on the elevation of other names were still to be made. However, with the retirement of Justice Jasti Chelameswar in June, the composition of the collegium will now witness a change. Justice AK Sikri will replace Chelameswar and the newly-constituted collegium will have to once again reiterate its recommendation for Joseph’s elevation unanimously for it to be upheld.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court will on Monday hear a petition moved by the Madras Bar Association seeking a direction to the Centre to decide on judicial appointments within a time frame.
The Supreme Court will also reopen to a new roster for the allocation of cases – which was notified by the registry last week – following Chelameswar’s retirement.