On November 9th, the Supreme Court passed a unanimous verdict, finally bringing an end to the title of the disputed land of Ayodhya. The court allowed the Hindus to build a Ram temple while giving the Sunni Waqf Board five-acre land to build a mosque.
The land will be given “either by the Central Government out of the acquired land or by the Government of Uttar Pradesh within the city of Ayodhya”. The court also asked the Centre to set up a board to devise a plan and rules to construct the temple. The court said that there was enough evidence that Hindus worshipped in the outer courtyard but the claim of the Muslims over the inner courtyard was unsubstantiated.
18 review petitions had been filed against the verdict, but a 5-judge bench of the court rejected all of them. A lot of prominent members of the Muslim community have opposed the verdict calling it “judicially flawed”.
In September of 2018, the apex court had ended the centuries-old restriction on women, between age 10 to 50, entering the temple. With a 4-1 majority, with Justice Indu Malhotra’s dissent, the court called it “violative of constitutional values”. It led to a huge outcry, protests and many activists were forced to return when they tried entering the temple.
Thereafter, several review and writ petitions were filed against the verdict, but the Supreme Court had reserved its verdict. In November 2019, the court with a 3-2 majority, transferred the case to a seven-member bench, while refusing to put a stay on the verdict. Currently, women are still allowed to enter the shrine, until any further judgment by the larger bench.
A “public authority” is defined under Section 2(h) of the Right to Information Act, which provides for citizens to question the public authorities in matters of procedures and function. In November this year, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court held that even the office of ‘Chief Justice of India’ is a public authority, under the provisions of the Act.
The case, which had originally come to Delhi High Court, had been appealed against, in the apex court, in April 2019. The apex court, maintaining the Delhi High Court judgment, said that “independence and accountability go hand-in-hand and that independence of the judiciary cannot be ensured only by denying information”. The court has now agreed to share information on a case-to-case basis.
In 2016, the BJP government had decided to buy 36 ready-to-fly, fighter jets from the France airline, Dassault Aviation. The deal happened on the condition that Dassault would invest 20% of the money in local production in India, as the original plan was to buy a few jets from Dassault and put together the rest in India.
Further, another 30 % had to be invested in various military projects in India. Dassault had to choose a company to invest in and it chose Reliance. Congress then alleged lack of transparency, saying that the government was paying thrice the amount for the deal and that records should be made public.
Controversies sparked when the ex-French president said that the government had actually suggested Reliance’s name. Petitions were filed in the SC, who then asked the government to display the pricing in a “sealed cover”.
The confidentiality clause attracted a lot of flak but the Centre defended it. The court then dismissed the PIL in December 2018, finding nothing wrong with the deal. Review petitions were filed, which the Centre objected to, but the court rejected the Centre’s objections, allowing for a review. In November 2019, the court refused to overrule its December order and finally dismissed all review petitions putting the matter to rest.
The highest court has disappointed citizens in certain stances it has chosen to take in the latter part of this year. While it refused to hear any matter against Article 370 or Kashmir lockdown due to “paucity of time”, it readily heard matters against felling of trees in Aarey colony in Mumbai.
It also said that it won’t take cognisance of the Delhi protests, which constitute grave human rights violations until rioting stops. The court refused to see videos of the protests, saying that it won’t hear the matter if destruction of public properties continues.
The priorities of the highest Court have been dicey, even in times of a supreme violation of rights. It remains to be seen how the Court will deal with these issues in the wake of 2020.