CJI-headed Constitution Bench to hear petitions on reservation from September 13

The Supreme Court will resume hearing Constitution Bench matters starting September 13. A five-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) U U Lalit Tuesday decided that it will start with two matters that raise questions on the reservation.

Another Constitution Bench headed by Justice Indira Banerjee, which also met Tuesday, fixed the second week of October to take up for hearing petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the practice of polygamy and ‘Nikah Halala’ permitted by Muslim personal law.

The CJI bench said it would hear the matter for 2.5 hours on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday and try to complete hearing one case in a week’s time.

While one of the petitions before the CJI bench challenges the constitutional validity of the 103rd Amendment Act, 2019 which introduced a provision for a 10 percent quota for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS), the other, which has been pending since 2005, pertains to the reservation given to Muslims in Andhra Pradesh as a Socially and Economically Backward Class (SEBC) and raises questions of religion-based reservation.

“The unanimity among us is…1 (Muslims as SEBC) and 4 (EWS quota), everybody is agreeable that these are perhaps interlinked matters. Therefore, regarding the kind of submissions, there may be a bit of overlap. So we will take up 1 and 4 together,” said CJI Lalit after consulting the other judges on the bench – Justices Dinesh Maheshwari, S Ravindra Bhat, Bela M Trivedi, and J B Pardiwala.

The bench initially planned to hear it from September 6. Senior advocate Kapil Sibal said, “These are very contentious and complicated matters and speaking for myself, I have not applied by time, my mind fully,” and sought more time.

The Bench then agreed that it will list the matter for September 6 for directions “Every one of you will be aware as to how much and where does he or she stand and then we can list the matter a week thereafter,” it said.

Attorney General K K Venugopal said the EWS quota matter “is very important”, while Solicitor General Tushar Mehta urged the court to consider taking it up first. The Bench agreed to the request.

In an interview with The Indian Express on August 14, CJI Lalit in response to a query on cases not being heard said that he would try to have at least one Constitution bench sitting throughout the year. “What you touched upon is that some matters don’t get listed. That is something, which at the institutional level, we will have to find a solution to (in a way that) there won’t be any room for such criticism,” he said. He said that “one idea for an institutional response” is “to have Constitution benches sit all year. There must be avenues where these matters can immediately be taken up”.

The SC, on Monday, notified the setting up of two Constitution benches, one headed by the CJI and the other by Justice Banerjee and comprising Justices Hemant Gupta, Surya Kant, M M Sundresh, and Sudhanshu Dhulia.

The Bench headed by Justice Indira Banerjee issued notices to the National Human Rights Commission, National Commission for Women, and the National Commission for Minorities on the plea filed by some Muslim women and others challenging the practices.

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