Justice UU Lalit was on Saturday administered oath as the 49th Chief Justice of India by President Droupadi Murmu in a ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. He succeeds Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, who demitted office on Friday. His appointment was recommended by then CJI Ramana on August 4, which was confirmed by President Droupadi Murmu on August 10.
Under CJI Lalit’s tenure, which will end on November 8 this year as he turns 65, the Supreme Court is expected to take up some important issues pending before it. Prominent among these are the 25 matters that have been referred to the Constitution bench and will be taken up for hearing starting Monday, August 29, the first working day for the new CJI.
Important cases before the Supreme Court as CJI Lalit takes over:
Demonetisation (Vivek Narayan Sharma vs Union of India): On November 8, 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a shock announcement, banned Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes. Following his announcement, several petitions were filed challenging the constitutional validity of the move, which were then referred to a Constitution bench in December 2016. The case would determine the scope of judicial review in matters relating to finance and economic policy of the government and whether political parties can raise such issues before the apex court.
Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) Reservations (Janhit Abhiyan v Union of India): In 2019, the Supreme Court admitted a plea challenging the (One hundred and third amendment) Act, 2019 which provided for reservation to Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) of society. The Act enabled the state to make reservations in higher education and matters of public employment on the basis of economic criteria alone. Over 20 petitions have been filed challenging its constitutional validity, arguing that the amendment violates the fundamental Right to Equality under Article 14. The matter was referred to a five-judge bench in 2020.
In a related case, the court will also decide whether the Union government’s Rs 8 lakh annual income criteria for determining EWS status for reservations in National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET) admission is legal.
Citizenship Amendment Act: The Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, which amended the Citizenship Act, 1955 so as to grant citizenship to migrants if they belong to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan. It only applies to migrants who entered India on or before December 31, 2014.
Immediately after the Bill was passed, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) filed a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution challenging the constitutionality of the CAA, saying it discriminates on grounds of religion.
MLA bribery case (Sita Soren vs Union of India): This case relates to Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) member Sita Soren who was accused of accepting a bribe to vote for a particular candidate in the 2012 Rajya Sabha elections. The CBI had filed a charge-sheet, following which she moved the Jharkhand HC claiming that she enjoyed immunity under Article 194(2) of the Constitution. The provision states that no member of the Legislature of a state shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in the Legislature or any committee thereof. The case was then appealed before the SC. In 2019, a Bench headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi referred the matter to a larger bench.
Article 370: The challenge to the abrogation of Article 370, a constitutional provision that granted special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, is an issue that is still pending before the Supreme Court. After its scrapping in 2019, J&K was stripped of its statehood and divided into two Union Territories — J&K and Ladakh. Over 20 petitions have been filed before the SC to determine the constitutional validity of the abrogation.
Jallikattu (Animal Welfare Board of India vs Union of India): In 2006, the Madras HC banned the bull-taming sport Jallikattu from Tamil Nadu, and in 2009, the Tamil Nadu government through the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Jallikattu Act, 2009 allowed the sport and laid down specific guidelines. In 2014, the SC banned the sport and struck down Tamil Nadu’s 2009 Act. In 2017, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Act, 2017 stated that the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, would not apply to Jallikattu. However, the Animal Welfare Board of India and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) challenged the 2017 Act. The matter was referred to a five-judge bench in 2016.
Assam Accord: In 1985, the Assam Accord was signed between the government and leaders of the Assam agitation. Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955—introduced in 1985—was the legislative enactment of the Assam Accord, which provided a framework for regularising or expelling migrants, based on their date of migration. Several organisations had challenged the constitutional validity of Section 6A in 2012. In 2017, a five-judge bench was constituted. However, all the judges, except Justice Chandrachud have since retired without hearing the case.
Sikh reservations in Punjab (Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee v Shail Mittal): In 2010, the SC referred the matter to a five-judge bench. The Court has to look into the questions of Sikh identity and the definition of minority.
Among other important cases pending before the Supreme Court are considerations of remission policies, extent of the court’s powers to directly hear cases, euthanasia and the right to die with dignity, state responsibility and the freedom of speech and expression, the validity of state legislation declaring all members of the Muslim Community in Andhra Pradesh as part of the Backward Classes.
Who is CJI UU Lalit?
Born on November 9, 1957, in Maharshtra’s Solapur, Justice Lalit joined the bar in June 1983, was designated as a senior advocate in 2004, and elevated as a judge in August 2014. Justice Lalit is only the second CJI to be directly elevated to the apex court bench from the Bar. Prior to this, Justice SM Sikri, who became the 13th CJI in January 1971, was the first lawyer to be elevated directly to the top court bench in March 1964.
Through his illustruous career, Justice Lalit has been part of several landmark judgments, including the controversial triple talaq case, where the practice of divorce through instant ‘triple talaq’ was declared “void”, “illegal” and “unconstitutional”, by a five-judge Constitution bench of the top court.
A bench headed by Justice Lalit had also ruled in the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple case that the erstwhile royal family of Travancore has the management right over the historic temple in Kerala.
In other case, a bench headed by Justice Lalit ruled that touching sexual parts of a child’s body or any act involving physical contact with ‘sexual intent’ amounts to ‘sexual assault’ under section 7 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, quashing a controversial Bombay High Court judgment.