The Supreme Court on Thursday made clear that the “final word” was yet to be spoken on the question of age restrictions on entry of women to the Sabarimala temple in Kerala and that the matter had been ordered to be referred to a larger Constitution bench.
Chief Justice of India S A Bobde conveyed this to Senior Advocate Indira Jaising when she brought up the case of activist Bindu Ammini who is seeking security to enter the shrine.
Jaising told the bench, also comprising Justices B R Gavai and Surya Kant, that Ammini had visited the shrine last year after a five-judge SC bench, in a 4:1 judgment on September 28, 2018, lifted the age restrictions. Though she wanted to travel to the temple this year too, the police was not cooperating, the counsel added.
Jaising contended that the five-judge Constitution bench which heard the review petitions against the 2018 judgment and delivered its verdict on November 15 this year had not stayed the earlier decision.
At this point, the CJI observed that the 2018 judgment was not the “final word” and that there was an order for a larger bench to look into the issue.
The bench said it will hear the matter after the upcoming vacation. Jaising, however, pointed out that the bench had agreed to hear a similar plea by another woman next week.
The CJI then said Ammini’s plea will also be heard with the other application.
The SC, in its November 14 decision, had by a 3:2 majority held that the Sabarimala judgment may impinge on the affairs of other religions too and required a more detailed examination. It decided to keep the review petitions pending till a larger bench took a call.
Those in favour of opening the shrine to women of all age groups had referred to the absence of a stay order in the November 14 judgment and said that it meant that the 2018 judgment was still in force and should be implemented.
Those defending the temple customs however, said the very fact that the SC had decided to examine the matter in detail before taking a final view on the review petitions meant that the court had doubts about the validity of the 2018 judgment and it would be improper to enforce it.