A nine-judge Supreme Court Bench will on February 3 hear and examine the matter related to the entry of women into Kerala’s Sabarimala temple and discrimination at other religious places, ANI reported. Chief Justice SA Bobde said the top court will begin to hear the legal questions on the matter and other religious practices.

Bobde said that the top court will decide how to “crystallise the issues and then take a decision on the schedule of the proceedings”, reported Bar and Bench. A senior counsel should argue one point due to lack of time, Bobde said.

Advocate Indira Jaising said it should be specified which lawyer was arguing for “which proposition and for which party”. To this, Bobde said that each lawyer would have to inform the proposition s/he is arguing to avoid duplication.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court set a 10-day timeline for the bench to conclude proceedings in the case. Bobde had then 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.

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 consensus during their meeting and requested the court itself to frame the questions.

Apart from Bobde, the bench comprises Justices BR Gavai, Surya Kant, R Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan, LN Rao, MM Shantanagoudar, SA Nazeer and RS Reddy.

Sabarimala case

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.