Week Ahead: Supreme Court, Feb 25-March 1, 2019

The Court is expected to hear the Ayodhya dispute, review petitions in the Rafale case, and monitor judicial vacancies in lower courts.

What lies ahead this week in the Supreme Court?

Ayodhya Title Dispute:

The Court is hearing an appeal against  the Allahabad High Court judgment on the title to the disputed Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi site. On September 27th 2018, the Supreme Court decided that the matter will be heard by a 3 judge bench as a property dispute. On January 8th 2019, CJI Gogoi reassigned the dispute to a 5 judge Constitution Bench. On the said date, one of the Justice of the Constitution Bench, Justice U U Lalit, recused himself from the matter. Subsequently, CJI Gogoi constituted fresh bench and scheduled to hear the case on January 29th.

The new Constitution Bench comprised CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justice S A Bobde, Justice D Y Chandrachud, Justice Ashok Bhushan, and Justice S Abdul Nazeer. On January 29th, owing to Justice Bobde’s leave of absence on that day, the case could not be taken up and the matter was listed for Tuesday, February 26th. Prior to tomorrow’s hearing, the Registry is supposed to have engaged official translators and submit a report regarding the correctness of the translated submissions from the Allahabad High Court hearings (recall that the current Supreme Court case is an appeal of a 2011 Allahabad High Court judgment), as per the Court’s previous directions.

Rafale Fighter Jet Deal:

On February 26th, the Court will hear the matter in chambers on the question of whether to admit the recently filed review petitions. Several parties are seeking a review of the Court’s December 14th 2018 judgement, wherein it ruled against ordering a court monitored investigation of the Rafale deal. The Court held that the Government was able to justify the alleged irregularities with the deal: (i) the decision making process (ii) price variation and (iii) the Indian Offset Partner (IOP).

The review petitions have challenged the judgement on various grounds. Notably, the review petitioners contend that the judgment commits the following errors apparent:

  1. The judgment does deal with the petitioner’s prayer for the registration of an FIR and an investigation by the CBI. Instead it assess the contract prematurely without the benefit of any investigation or inquiry into disputed questions of facts
  2. The judgment falsely states that the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had audited the contract and finalized a report.
  3. The judgment confuses Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries with Anil Ambani’s Reliance Infrastructure

Judicial Vacancies in Lower Courts:

The Supreme Court is currently monitoring the steps taken by the High Courts and State Governments to fill all vacant judicial posts in the District and Subordinate Courts. On the previous date of hearing, the Bench headed by the CJI heard Mr Gaurav Agarwal who is assisting the court as Amicus for the States of Rajasthan, Sikkim, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tripura and Uttarakhand. Mr Agarwal made his submissions with regards to the filling vacant posts and making available appropriate judicial infrastructure.

The Court has issued certain directions with respect to these States and will hear the matter after a period of three months. However, the Court will hear Mr. Vijay Hansaria, who has earlier assisted the court as Amicus Curiae for the State of Madhya Pradesh and the High Courts of Madras, Odisha, Patna and Punjab and Haryana  on Tuesday, February 26th, regarding funding for infrastructure of the subordinate judiciary by the Central Government and the State Governments.