Two constitution benches will start work in the Supreme Court from Monday in an attempt to clear the backlog of constitutional matters as varied as euthanasia and privacy concerns surrounding Aadhaar.
The two benches, assigned five cases each to start with, will assemble post-lunch every Monday and Friday as judges get free by 1-1.30pm on these two days. While Chief Justice of India TS Thakur heads the first bench, justice AR Dave will lead the second.
More than 30 million cases are pending across the country at various stages with judiciary battling shortage of judges.
Unlike the US and many other countries where the supreme court takes up mostly matters involving interpretation of the constitution, India’s top court is flooded with more than 40 types of cases ranging from divorce, child custody to river water disputes between states. In the process, constitutional matters — which involve a substantial question of law — often take a back seat.
CJI Thakur’s move to give the much-needed priority to constitutional matters is aimed at correcting this anomaly. Last year, only four such cases were decided. In 2002, 33 judgments were given — the highest in the last 15 years, while only one case was decided in 2009. Since 2000, the Supreme Court has decided 196 constitution bench matters.
“I always had a firm view that there should be a dedicated bench devoted to complex legal issues. After all what’s a Supreme Court without a constitution bench? This is a good initiative,” former CJI RM Lodha said, welcoming the initiative.
Justice Lodha, however, said it remained to be seen if the arrangement would work. “…I feel it is necessary to have continuous hearings. In this attempt there will be a break of three days. But it’s a good start,” he said.
This is the first time that SC judges will hear constitutional matters after finishing routine work.
A ruling by constitution bench, which has to have at least five judges, can lead to disposal of hundreds or thousands of cases involving the same question of law in trial and high courts.
There are at least 29 important constitutional matters pending with the apex court, sources said. The oldest one is being heard since 1983.
These include Aadhaar scheme challenged on the ground of violation of right to privacy, a terminally ill person’s right to die with dignity (euthanasia), degree of control that the government can exercise on private medical colleges and the Centre’s power to remove a governor.
The CJI has also decided to set up four three-judge benches that will take up around 100 cases referred to larger benches. The oldest one in this category is pending since 1992.
The three-judge benches are headed by justices JS Khehar, Dipak Misra, J Chelameswar and Ranjan Gogoi.