SC refers Sabarimala review pleas to 7-judge bench

Devotees in Sabarimala. (PTI Photo)

The Supreme Court on Thursday referred to a seven-judge bench for deciding questions arising out of a plea for entry of women into Kerala's Sabarimala temple. The court said similar questions pending related to Muslim women's right to enter 'dargah' and mosque and permission to Parsi women married to a non-Parsi into the holy fire place of an 'Agyari' and practice of female genital mutilation among Dawoodi Bohar community would require authoritative determinations.

A five-judge bench presided over by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi by a majority view of 3:2 said it was essential to adhere to judicial discipline and propriety when more than one petition was pending on the same, similar or overlapping issues, for which all cases must proceed together.

“Indubitably, a decision by a larger bench will also pave the way to instil public confidence,” the majority view said, after noting that the issues involved here related to the interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution touching upon the right to profess, practise and propagate its own religion, among others.

“A larger bench would ensure an authoritative pronouncement and also reflect the plurality of views of the judges converging into one opinion. That may also ensure consistency in approach for the posterity,” the judgement authored by the CJI, along with Justices A M Khanwilkar and Indu Malhotra, said.

Justices R F Nariman and D Y Chandrachud, however, dissented to the order passed by the majority judges on a batch of review petitions as well as writ petitions filed questioning the validity of the five-judge bench's judgement of September 28, 2018 verdict passed by a majority of 4:1 that allowing entry of women between 10 and 50 years of age into the Sabarimala temple.

Justice Nariman, who authored the minority judgement, said, “Organised acts of resistance to thwart the implementation of this judgment must be put down firmly.”

He directed the Kerala government take steps to secure the confidence of the community and have broad-based consultations with representatives of all affected interests so that the modalities devised for implementing the judgment of the court meet the genuine concerns of all.

"Yet in devising modalities for compliance, a solution which provides lasting peace, while at the same time reaffirming human dignity as a fundamental constitutional value, should be adopted. Consistent with the duties inhering in it, we expect the State government to ensure that the rule of law is preserved,” he wrote in his separate judgement.

The majority judgement, for its part, framed questions for determination by a larger bench. 

This included what would be the permissible extent of judicial recognition to PILs in matters calling into question religious practices of a denomination or its section at the instance of persons who do not belong to such religious denomination and whether the “essential religious practices” of a religious denomination or even its section are afforded constitutional protection under Article 26 (right to practice religion) of the Constitution.

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