The Covid-19 lockdown has affected the functioning of courts across the country. Most courts are only taking up extremely urgent cases (which directly and immediately impact liberty and livelihood of people) and these are heard through video conference.
The Supreme Court too has been functioning in a limited way since March 23. This has led to a delay in the hearing of crucial cases such as those listed below:
Citizenship (Amendment) Act
One of the most important cases before the Supreme Court that has been delayed is the challenge to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). More than 150 petitions on this issue are pending in the top court.
A bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde and justices BR Gavai and Surya Kant had issued notice to the central government on December 18, but refused to stay the operation of the law, a prayer the court said would be considered later.
The case was last heard on February 18, when the court granted time to the central government to file its response. The Centre, in its response on March 17, said the CAA is intended to tackle religious persecution in specific countries and won’t affect the rights of any Indian citizens.
Senior counsel and Congress leader Kapil Sibal mentioned the matter on March 5, requesting the court to hear arguments on an interim prayer to stay the law.
Bobde asked Sibal to mention the matter after the Holi vacation, which lasted from March 9 to 14. But the court didn’t function in a full-fledged manner after the vacation because of the Covid-19 crisis.
The case, according to the Supreme Court’s website, is scheduled to be listed on April 21. However, this in all likelihood may not happen due to the lockdown.
The challenge to the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution, related to the special status of Jammu and Kashmir is another case pending in the apex court.
The court is hearing at least 23 petitions challenging the Central government’s August 2019 decision to scrap Kashmir’s special status.
Article 370 stated the Constitution and laws made by the Parliament can be applied to Kashmir only with the concurrence of the government of Jammu and Kashmir.
After the scrapping of Article 370, Kashmir was divided into the two union territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir.
The hearing of the matter started on December 10 before a bench headed by justice NV Ramana and comprising justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, R Subhash Reddy, BR Gavai and Surya Kant.
The matter was last listed on March 2, when a five-judge Constitution bench, in a 42-page judgment, declined to refer the case to a larger bench of seven judges. It hasn’t been heard after that.
Rights vs Faith (Sabarimala case)
Another important case, slated for hearing in March, was the legal questions on the entry of women into Sabarimala temple in Kerala and other gender-related matters in Islam and Zoroastrianism.
Chief Justice Bobde said in open court on March 5 the matter would be heard by a nine-judge bench from March 16.
But the court functioned only in a restricted manner in the week of March 16 and the case wasn’t taken up. Subsequently, the nationwide lockdown was announced on March 24 and the court went into complete shutdown.
The review petitions challenging the Supreme Court’s 2018 judgment permitting entry of women into Sabarimala temple will be decided on the basis of the outcome of the case before the nine-judge bench.
Use of money bill route
The contentious issue of the government adopting the money bill route to get laws passed in Parliament too is pending in the Supreme Court.
This crucial case has to be heard by a bench of seven judges though there is no clarity on when it will be taken up.
A money bill originates in Lok Sabha, and once passed there by a simple majority, is sent to the Rajya Sabha for its recommendations. These recommendations on money bills aren’t binding on the Lok Sabha, which may choose to reject it.
The government, which doesn’t have a majority in Rajya Sabha, has used the money bill route on more than one occasion to pass contentious laws.
In a challenge to the Finance Act 2017, passed as a money bill, a five-judge bench of the court held on November 13, 2019 that its earlier judgment in the Aadhaar case approving the money bill route needs to be reconsidered. It, therefore, referred the issue to a bench of seven judges.
The decision in this case could impact several laws, including the Aadhaar Act passed by the Parliament as a money bill.
The “creamy layer” controversy is another case awaiting hearing by the top court.
The Central government has urged the Supreme Court to reconsider its 2018 judgment in the case of Jarnail Singh, in which the court ruled the principle of creamy layer, previously applicable to Other Backward Castes (OBCs), should be applied to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for reservation in promotions.
Creamy layer is the term used to describe better-off individuals among OBCs ineligible for reservations according to the Mandal Commission’s provisions. It is determined based on economic parameters.
For OBCs, the creamy layer is households with an annual income in excess of Rs 8 lakh a year.
The centre is against the application of this principle to SC and ST communities on the ground that they have been discriminated against for centuries and should get reservation benefits despite economic advancement.
The case is slated to be listed on April 21 according to the Supreme Court’s website, though that is unlikely to happen.