October 2018 was CJI Ranjan Gogoi’s first month in charge. CJI Gogoi has signalled that his main aim is to improve the administrative efficiency of the judiciary. In his first week as Chief Justice, he announced he aimed to fill judicial vacancies within the first three to four months of his reign. He stated that a major cause of the pendency issue is the high number of judicial vacancies. He also immediately did away with the custom of mentionings, a process whereby a litigant can request to have their case heard urgently. CJI Gogoi declared that the custom is often misused and, hence, wastes a lot of the Court’s time. He said mentionings would only be entertained in extra-ordinary circumstances.
CJI Gogoi signalled that he would hear fewer high-profile Public Interest Litigations. Generally, landmark Public Interest Litigations take up a high percentage of the Court’s time. Given that CJI Gogoi has prioritized administrative efficiency, it appeared that it would be a rather quiet October for the Supreme Court with regards to high-profile Public Interest Litigation. Further, the Court was not in session the week of the 15th, due to Dussehra Holidays.
Nevertheless, a number of hearings drew a large amount of public interest in October. The Court was perhaps more in the public eye than CJI Gogoi had expected. The Court heard a series of high-profile Public Interest Litigations (PILs).
Rohingya Deportation - On 1st October, a petitioner in the Rohingya Deportation PIL filed an Intervention Application, requesting the Court to pass an order preventing the Union from deporting 7 Rohingya Refugees. The Court decided to hear the Intervention Application because the deportation of 7 Rohingyas in question was scheduled to take place on 4th October. On 4th October, the Court dismissed the Intervention Application. A Bench comprising CJI R Gogoi, Justice SK Kaul and Justice KM Joseph dismissed the application on the grounds that the concerned refugees were illegal immigrants.
Independent of this Intervention Application, the Court will continue to hear the petition filed in September 2017, seeking to prevent the Union from deporting Rohingya Refugees.
Rafale Deal - On 10th October, a three-judge Bench comprising CJI Gogoi, SK Kaul and KM Joseph heard a petition requesting the Court to place a stay on the Rafale fighter jet deal. The deal pertains to the Unions purchasing of 36 French-manufactured Rafale fighter jets. The fighter jets are manufactured by the French Dassault Aviation in partnership with the Indian Reliance Defense. The petitioners claim the deal suffers from discrepancies, notably that it was not ratified with Parliament under Article 253.
In the 10th October hearing, the Court ordered the Central Government to submit to the Court the “details of the steps in the decision making process leading to the award [of] the defense equipment in question” by 29th October. On 28th October, the Centre submitted the relevant information in a sealed file.
CBI dispute - On 26th October, the Court heard petitions filed by Common Cause and CBI Director Alok Verma. The petitioners were challenging the manner in which the Central Government had divested CBI Director Verma of his powers. The Centre was attempting to resolve the public feud between Director Verma and Special Director R Asthana. However in doing so, it might have violated the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act.
Interestingly, the petitions were filed on 24th October and the Bench accepted the matter the same day and held a hearing merely two days later.
In the 26th October hearing, the Bench ordered the following:
Ayodhya Title Dispute - On 29th October, the Court heard the Ayodhya Title Dispute. It listed the matter for the first week of January 2019. In the next hearing the Court will fix the composition of the Bench and fix the date for oral arguments. The Ayodhya Title Dispute will unlikely be resolved before next year’s general elections.
The 29th October hearing marked the first since the Court delivered its 27th September judgment. In its September judgment, the Court ruled that the matter will not be heard by a Constitution Bench. In doing so, it held that Ismail Faruqui, 1994 does not need reconsideration. Ismail Faruqui validated the State’s acquisition of the Babri Masjid land on the grounds that mosques are not an essential feature of Islam. The Court will now hear the Ayodhya Title Dispute as a land dispute and not re-visit questions pertaining to religious significance of the sight for both Muslims and Hindus.
Bhima Koregaon - On 29th October, the Supreme Court placed a stay order on a Bombay HC judgment delivered on 24th October. The Bombay HC judgments had deemed a Pune Special Judge’s order, which granted a 90-day extension to the Maharashtra Police to file the charge-sheet against Surendra Gadling. Surendra Gadling was one of the arrested activists in the Bhima Koreagaon raids. The Bombay HC judgment effectively allowed Mr. Gadling to apply for bail.
The Bombay HC held that the Pune order violated the UAPA, under which Mr. Gadling had been charged. The Bombay HC placed a stay on its order until 1st November, upon the request of the Maharashtra governmet. Presumably, the Maharashtra government put in this request so that they would have time to file a Special Leave Petition before the Supreme Court prior to the order taking effect.t
Sabarimala Temple Entry - On 27th September the Supreme Court delivered its judgment in Sabarimala Temple Entry. It ruled that the custom of excluding women in their "menstruating years" is unconstitutional, violating Articles 14, 15, 21 and 25. This month 19 review petitions have been filed, calling for a review of the judgment. The review petitions will be heard on 13th November at 3pm.
While these above hearings make it appear as if CJI Ranjan Gogoi is going back on his declaration of doing away with mentionings, these hearing should be viewed as exceptions rather than the norm. CJI Gogoi has taken the issue of administrative efficiency (or lack thereof) very seriously. This is perhaps best captured by the fact that he took suo motu cognisance of judicial vacancies in the lower courts.
In Suo Motu Writ Petition (Civil) No. 2 of 2018, a Bench led by CJI Gogoi ordered all High Courts and relevant State authorities to report on the state of judicial vacancies in their respective lower courts. Currently 23% of the total 22,036 lower judicial posts are vacant. The Bench ordered the High Courts and relevant authorities to report on whether the guidelines issued in PIL Malik Mazhar Sultan, regarding appointing judges, were being executed.
Focusing his attention to Supreme Court vacancies, on 30th October, the collegium headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi recommended names of four High Court Chief Justices - MR Shah, Hemant Gupta, Ajay Rastogi and R. Subhash Reddy to the Centre for elevation to Supreme Court. The four were elevated to Supreme Court on 2nd November.