There were significant developments in the Supreme Court in the month of March. Despite the court being on vacation for a week, substantial hearings were held in important cases including the Rafale Review petitions and the Ayodhya Title Dispute. Further a Constitution Bench was constituted to hear 5 cases pertaining to a range of issues.
Rafale Fighter Jet: In March, the Supreme Court reserved order in the review of the Rafale judgment on the question of the admissiability of leaked documents. Earlier in December 2018, a 3 Judge bench of the Supreme Court delivered its unanimous verdict, dismissing the plea for a court monitored probe into the Rafale Fighter Jet deal. Subsequently review petitions were filed before the Court on the grounds that the Court had relied on factually incorrect information to arrive at its judgment. The Bench of CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, and Justice K M Joseph heard the review petitions for two days before reserving order.
Ayodhya Title Dispute : In a significant development in the case pertaining to the Babri dispute, the Supreme Court ordered that the case be referred to mediation. It order the mediation to take place during the 8 week interim period that it granted to the parties to to complete all pleadings and verfiy all translated copies of documents. On 26th February, the Bench expressed that mediation had yet to be explored as a means of resolving the land dispute. It proposed a Court appointed and Court monitored mediation process. The Court accordingly heard the arguments of the parties on the question of referring the case for mediation before reserving its order on the issue.
Assam's National Register for Citizens: The Division Bench comprising CJI Ranjan Gogoi (then Justice) and Justice Rohinton Nariman is monitoring the National Register of Citizens (NRC) under the Citizenship Act 1955 and Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Card Rules) 2003. The Bench had previously requested the State of Assam to deploy an adequate number of State Government officials, as indicated by the NRC Coordinator so that the NRC updating process may be completed before the deadline of 31st July and that no delays are caused by the upcoming general election. The Court heard the case on March 13th and expressed satisfaction with the steps taken by both the State of Assam and the Central Government. The Bench will take up the case next at 2 PM on 10th April, 2019, by which date Mr. Hajela, the coordinator of the NRC will submit his report on the work that has been undertaken in the relevant period.
Legality of SC/ST Act Amendment: The Supreme Court is assessing the constitutionality of Parliament's amendment to the The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (PoA Act). In 2018, Parliament amended the PoA Act in order to undo the Supreme Court's Kashinath Mahajan judgment. In Kashinath Mahajan, the Supreme Court had introduced safeguards, in order to prevent the misuse of the PoA Act. The safeguards effectively made it more difficult for SC/ST individuals to file criminal charges under the Act. The Bench comprising Justice UU Lalit & Justice Indu Malhotra was scheduled to hear the case for final arguments over the course of 3 days starting March 26th. However, upon request of the parties, the case has been adjourned for hearing on April 30th when the Court will hear final arguments on the issue.
EWS Reservations: The Supreme Court is hearing a challenge to Parliament's 103rd Amendment to the Constitution. The Bench comprises CJI Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Sanjiv Khanna had issued notice in a total of 24 petitions challenging the Amendment that introduced 10% reservation in matters of higher education and public employment for persons belonging to the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS). The same Bench heard the case on 11th March and declined to stay the operation of the Amendment Act. However, on a plea being made by Dr. Rajeev Dhawan on behalf of the petitioners, the Bench had agreed to consider whether the case must be referred to a larger Bench, given the decisions in M Nagaraj & Ors. vs Union of India and the recent decision of the Court in Jarnail Singh v. Lacchmi Narain Gupta which had upheld the 50% cap on reservation. The tagged cases were subsequently listed before a Bench of Justice SA Bobde and Justice S Abdul Nazeer on 28th March. The case was however adjourned to April 8th and the question of referral to a larger Bench will be decided on the said date.
Tribunals & Finance Act: On 15th March, the Supreme Court notified the listing of 5 cases that would be heard by a Constitution Bench of 5 Judges from Wednesday March 27th onwards. The hearing in the first of these cases Madras Bar Association v. Union of India began on March 27th. The Bench comprises CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justice NV Ramana, Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Sanjiv Khanna. They are assessing the functioning of central tribunals. Over the course of two days, the Bench heard both the petitioners and the respondents on the implementation of earlier directions, requiring a nodal agency under the Ministry of Law and Justice to oversee the functioning of all central tribunals. Hearings will resume on Tuesday April 2nd.
Along with the Madras Bar Association case, the Supreme Court will hear the following other 4 Constitution Bench matters in April: