The Supreme Court on Monday gave three weeks to the lawyers in the Sabarimala case to finalise matters and decide the course of arguments and what matters will be added, the Hindustan Times reported.
The nine-judge bench Constitution bench of the Supreme Court, which will hear petitions related to the entry of women into Kerala’s Sabarimala temple, directed the lawyers to convene a meeting between both parties so that the lawyers can discuss among themselves the matter they will argue on. Chief Justice of India SA Bobde cited the example of the Ayodhya case for this. “Senior Advocates Rajeev Dhavan and Vaidyanathan had done a great job of this in the Ayodhya matter and we must follow suit,” he said.
The court made it clear that it will not hear the more than 50 review petitions in the case but will only consider the seven questions referred to the larger bench. The nine-judge bench consists of Bobde and Justices R Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan, LN Rao, MM Shantanagoudar, SA Nazeer, RS Reddy, BR Gavai and Surya Kant.
After the lawyers’ conference on January 17, the parties will tell the court if any matter needs to be reframed or added.
Bobde said the court is considering listing all petitions, including the entry of Muslim and Parsi women into places of worship, and female genital cutting in the Dawoodi Bohra community. “All these matters will be heard by this bench after fine tuning of issues,” Bobde said.
On September 28, 2018, a five-judge Constitution bench, which included former Chief Justice Dipak Misra, had allowed women of all ages to enter the Ayyappa temple, leading to massive protests. Only a handful of women managed to enter the shrine.
On November 14, 2019, a five-judge Constitution bench ruled, in a 3:2 verdict, that a larger bench should consider the matter again.
The court was expected to examine several matters related to the verdict and petitions, including the interplay between freedom of religion granted under Articles 25 and 26 of Constitution and other provisions, especially in Article 14, that grant right to equality before the law and equal protection of the laws.
Article 25(1) makes freedom of religion subject to “public order, morality and health”, and the top court is likely to examine the extent to which it applies. The court was also expected to examine the meaning of “section of Hindus”, which is mentioned in Article 25(2)(b). The sub-section throws open “Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus”.
The court was also to check whether the “essential religious practices” of a religious denomination, or section, can be provided constitutional protection under Article 26.