The Courts and the Constitution

The Supreme Court Observer reports from a conference hosted by the NALSAR University of Law

On the weekend of Republic Day 2020, the Supreme Court Observer team attended The Courts and the Constitution – 2019 in Review, hosted by NALSAR University of Law. The conference reviewed key cases and legal controversies from the last calendar year. In doing so, it sought to broadly analyse the ‘past, present and future’ of Indian constitutionalism.

The two-day conference was jointly organized by Law and Other Things, NALSAR University of Law and the School for Policy and Governance, Azim Premji University. It was the second rendition of the annual conference.

The panelists were drawn from diverse backgrounds, including academia, the bar, the judiciary, the press and civil society. The audience consisted of a cross-section of students, lawyers and scholars.

The conference began with an inaugural session in honor of the late Dr. N.R. Madhava Menon, considered the father of modern Indian legal education. Dr. Faizan Mustafa, Vice-Chancellor of NALSAR, introduced the conference and recalled some of the key constitutional issues from 2019, focusing on citizenship, religion and the administration of justice. Following which, Dr. Sitharaman Kakarala discussed Dr. Menon’s major contributions to reforming legal education in India. He ended by proposing that a new set of reforms were required to tackle the current ‘crisis’, in particular with aim of standardizing Master’s and Ph.D. coursework.

Following the inaugural session, there were sessions on federalism and institutional developments in the judiciary. Issues pertaining to Kashmir’s federal status arose, as Advocate and Ph.D. candidate Malavika Prasad explained the challenge to the abrogation of Article 370 and the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019. Then, in the session on institutional developments, the speakers focused on problems facing the Supreme Court of India on the administrative side. Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy Co-Founder Arghya Sengupta analysed the causes for the Supreme Court’s lack of transparency and public accountability in appointments and transfers of judges to the higher judiciary.

The first day concluded with a session for emerging scholars to present their work, in honour of late Professor Shamnad Basheer. Assistant Professor Kanika Gauba and Ph.D. candidate Manav Kapur discussed their work at the intersection of law and history. Following which, Chintan Chandrachud took the audience through his research on the misuse of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987.

The second day of The Courts and the Constitution began with a panel on citizenship. Reflecting on the proposed nation-wide CAA-NRC exercise, Assistant Professor Mohsin Alam predicted the humanitarian costs on the nation, by analysing the implementation of the NRC in Assam. Focusing more on the law, Advocate Nizam Pasha and Ph.D. candidate Aymen Mohammed dissected the key Supreme Court cases pertaining to citizenship issues.

In the panel on religion, Dr. Faizan Mustafa and Adv. Suhrith Parthasarathy analyzed the court’s recent judgments in the Sabarimala review and Ayodhya petitions respectively. Dr. Mustafa recognized the practical value of the relief offered in the Ayodhya title dispute, but argued that the reasoning in the judgment suffered from certain shortcomings. In particular, he posited that the Court placed an unequal burden on the U.P. Sunni Waqf Board to prove ownership of the disputed site. Following Dr. Mustafa, Adv. Suhrith Parthasarathy offered a critique of the Sabarimala review judgment. He argued that it entailed a gross expansion of the Court’s review jurisdiction and expressed concern over the precedent it set.

The conference concluded with sessions on developments in equality jurisprudence and tribunal reform. Asst. Prof. Anup Surendranath, Adv. Arundhati Katju and policy analyst Alok Prasanna Kumar discussed the Supreme Court’s evolving equality jurisprudence in matters of reservation and gender. In the tribunal reform panel, Prof. Arun Thiruvengadam and T. Prsahant Reddy wrapped things up by analysing critical issues facing tribunals.

Notably, the ‘Q&A’ sessions at the end of each panel were highly engaging. Roughly the last fifteen minutes of every panel was reserved for questions from the audience. The resulting discussions allowed for engagement with a diverse set of views from across the legal and political spectrum.

We look forward to next year’s conference!