With a slew of important cases pending adjudication, 2019 will be a busy year for the Supreme Court. In 2018, a lot of judicial time was spent on dealing with Public Interest Litigation; the coming year could see justice dispensed to those who have been waiting for it for years. There will be more debates on the yet-to-be-finalised Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) for the appointment of judges of the higher judiciary — the Supreme Court Collegium and the government have been unrelenting on their positions on several aspects.
Ayodhya title dispute
The top court will take up the matter on January 4, and will subsequently fix the Bench and date for final hearing. Appeals against the September 30, 2010 decision of the Allahabad High Court — which ordered a three-way division of the disputed 2.77 acres, giving a third each to the Nirmohi Akhara sect, the Sunni Central Wakf Board, UP, and Ramlalla Virajman — have been pending since December of that year. The matter has huge political ramifications in an election year. The court has already rejected prayers to refer it to a Constitution Bench.
Alok Verma case
The Supreme Court has reserved its judgment on petitions challenging the government’s decision to divest CBI Director Alok Verma of his powers till allegations against him were inquired into. Verma and his co-petitioners have equated the order to a transfer, and emphasised the provision that says the CBI Director cannot be transferred without prior permission of the high-powered committee comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition and Chief Justice of India. The court will decide this yet-untouched area. A judgment is expected soon as Verma is due to retire February 1.
The court will hear on January 22 a bunch of review petitions against its 4-1 majority verdict that did away with the age restrictions on the entry of women into the hill shrine. The order, which led to widespread protests in Kerala, also rekindled the debate on the contours of the principle of Constitutional morality, which was relied upon by the court. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and the Attorney General have expressed concerns over its application in interpreting the Constitution.
Since taking over in October 2018, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has focused on clearing the huge backlog of cases by devoting more judicial time to pending cases by discouraging frivolous PILs, and by working towards filling over 5,000 vacancies in the subordinate judiciary. A Bench led by the CJI has been rigorously pursuing the recruitments, pulling up state governments as well as High Courts for sitting on the process and for failing to create additional infrastructure.
Challenge to J&K Act
The Supreme Court will take up a petition by the J&K National Panthers Party (JKNPP) questioning The Jammu and Kashmir Grant of Permit for Resettlement in (or Permanent Return to) the State Act, 1982, which allows “descendants” of those who moved to Pakistan between 1947 and 1957 to return to India if they so wished. The court stayed the Act in 2001. The petitioners say allowing the “descendants” to return would create a security nightmare.