The Supreme Court on Tuesday said a nine-judge Constitution bench would take not more than 10 days to wrap up proceedings in the matter related to the entry of women into Kerala’s Sabarimala temple and discrimination at other religious places, PTI reported.
A bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde said the questions to be dealt in the cases will be purely legal in nature and that the court would not take more time in concluding the hearing.
“It cannot take more than 10 days,” the bench, which also comprised Justices BR Gavai and Surya Kant, said. “Even if someone wants more time, it cannot be given.”
On January 13, the top court had given three weeks to the lawyers in the case to reach a consensus on the specific legal questions that should be considered by the bench. However, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the bench on Tuesday that the lawyers could not reach a common ground during their meeting, and requested the court itself to frame the questions.
The court asked Mehta to furnish matters dealt with by the lawyers in their meeting.
Although the matter arose out of the Sabarimala case, the nine-judge Constitution bench was earlier tasked with considering seven bigger legal questions, which could be used to examine other related petitions too, such as the entry of Muslim and Parsi women into places of worship, and female genital cutting in the Dawoodi Bohra community.
Apart from Bobde, Gavai and Kant, the bench comprises Justices R Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan, LN Rao, MM Shantanagoudar, SA Nazeer and RS Reddy.
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.