The Supreme Court returns

After heavy Constitution Bench activity in the first half of 2024, a rested court returns from a seven-week vacation. What can we expect?

The Supreme Court’s annual vacation began on 20 May as temperatures soared in Delhi. The Chief Justice of India reportedly walked the court grounds and oversaw the setting up of water and food bowls for birds, and Vacation Benches asked the Delhi government to think about enhancing the city’s green cover. 

Over the seven weeks of holiday, Vacation Benches also heard pleas on burning issues. Making it to the top of the highlight reel is Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s plea against the Delhi High Court’s “unusual” use of interim orders to stay a trial court’s bail in his favour. Undergraduate NEET aspirants knocked on the Supreme Court’s doors, claiming that question papers were leaked. The new criminal laws came into force on 1 July, prompting concerned citizens to ask the Court to stay the laws and examine their viability. 

Few judges also travelled abroad during the break, attending conferences and other events in countries like The Philippines, Brazil, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Ireland. Back home, 20 Vacation Benches were constituted, with three benches hearing cases every day to “ensure no plea goes unheard.” 

The Court’s administrative team also used the vacation time to work on installing new WiFi routers, and developing and testing AI systems designed to generate quick summaries and key points of judgements. The Court also had plans for 27 renovation and infrastructure projects, including the setting up of an additional creche and the installation of digital boards to display real-time numbers on institution, disposal and pendency.

Monday will be the Court’s first day back after the vacation. Its work is clearly cut out—July opened with a whopping 84,280 pending cases, and 32 out of a sanctioned strength of 34 judges. The Court will warm up with a miscellaneous week, hearing fresh cases to either admit them and issue notice or to dismiss them. Usually, the court hears miscellaneous matters only on Mondays and Fridays. 

While the Court’s schedule in the third week of July depends on what it puts in its causelist, some big Constitution Bench judgments can be expected soon. In the introduction to the June edition of the Court’s newsletter, the Chief noted that the vacation gives judges “time to write judgements ready to be pronounced immediately after the vacation.” 

Almost a year ago, a five-judge Bench reserved judgement on whether the rules of the selection process for a public post can be changed after the process has kicked-off. As 2023 closed, another five-judge Bench heard arguments on the constitutionality of the framework to identify migrants in Assam as Indian citizens. 

Through the Spring and Summer sessions of the Court in 2024, two seven-judge benches heard the question of Aligarh Muslim University’s minority status, and the power of states to create sub-classifications in reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Nine-judge benches heard challenges to states’ power to tax mines and mineral-rich land, to acquire private property in service of a ‘common good’, and to regulate industrial alcohol. As the Monsoon session begins, we wait with bated breath for verdicts in these cases that impact revenue, centre-state relations and citizens’ rights. 

Kejriwal will return to Court to hear the verdict on the legality of his arrest under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002. He’s also likely to file a fresh petition against the Delhi High Court’s stay on his bail. 

The Court is scheduled to hear two more Constitution Bench cases in the coming months. Five judges will likely hear arguments on whether a person who is ineligible to be an arbitrator can nominate another arbitrator. The private sector will be watching closely, especially after some quarters were disappointed by the Court’s judgement in the DMRC matter. Further, nine judges will sit to determine the scope of the term “industry” under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, which could have an impact on the scope of application of labour laws. 

It’s a new session for the Court but our goal at the SCO remains the same—untangling the complex happenings in the courtroom in a simple, accessible way. We’ll also continue publishing articles commemorating the 75th year of the Supreme Court. Do visit and keep watching this space for more!

This article was first featured in SCO’s Weekly newsletter. Sign up now!