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In an anti-climactic turn of events, the Supreme Court today declined to give its final word on the review petitions filed challenging the 2018 Constitution Bench judgement that had declared that women of any age can be allowed entry into the Sabarimala temple.
The majority Bench, comprising of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices AM Khanwilkar and Indu Malhotra decided to keep the matter pending in view of the possibility of other questions touching upon other religious practices which could be later decided by a Constitution Bench.
However, Justices Rohinton Nariman and DY Chandrachud were blunt in their minority opinion that the petitions filed to review the Sabarimala judgment ought to be dismissed for lack of any error apparent on the face of the record. The minority opinion authored by Justice Nariman concludes,
“Given the consensus … by the four majority judgments, we find that no ground for review of the majority judgments has been made out. The review petitions are hence dismissed. Equally, all writ petitions filed under Article 32 of the Constitution, that have been filed directly attacking the majority judgments dated 28.09.2018, are dismissed as not being maintainable in view of Naresh Shridhar Mirajkar v. State of Maharashtra, (1966) 3 SCR 744, as followed in Rupa Ashok Hurra v. Ashok Hurra, (2002) 4 SCC 388.”
While doing so, the Bench also highlighted that once the Sabarimala issue has been conclusively decided by a Constitution Bench, an obligation to comply with the judgment follows. On this aspect, the dissenting judgment states, inter alia,
“The Constitution places a non-negotiable obligation on all authorities to enforce the judgments of this Court. The duty to do so arises because it is necessary to preserve the rule of law. If those whose duty it is to comply were to have a discretion on whether or not to abide by a decision of the court, the rule of law would be set at naught … When the process is complete and a decision is pronounced, it is the decision of the Supreme Court and binds everyone. Compliance is not a matter of option. If it were to be so, the authority of the court could be diluted at the option of those who are bound to comply with its verdicts.”
What future Benches may or may not do is not under consideration before the present Bench
At the outset, the minority Bench disagreed with the decision to keep the matter pending on grounds that other cases touching on religion may be referred to a larger Bench in the future. As stated in the minority judgment,