SC to deliver verdict on Sabarimala, Rafale review petitions tomorrow

New Delhi: Thursday is set to be an action-packed day as the Supreme Court will deliver verdicts in the Sabarimala and Rafale review petitions. After the historic verdict on the Ayodhya land dispute matter, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi-headed bench of the Supreme Court was left with four other important judgments that have to be delivered within a week before he demits office on November 17.

The apex court, by a majority verdict of 4:1, on September 28, 2018, had lifted the ban that prevented women and girls between the age of 10 and 50 from entering the famous Ayyappa shrine in Kerala and had held that this centuries-old Hindu religious practice was illegal and unconstitutional.

The five-judge constitution had heard the pleas in an open court and reserved its decision after hearing the parties, including Nair Service Society, Thantry of the temple, the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) and the state government, in favour and against the review plea.

Sixty-five petitions — including 56 review petitions and four fresh writ petitions and five transfer pleas — were filed, asking the apex court to ensure that traditions and culture of the famed temple are protected. The verdict will come just two days ahead of the Sabarimala Temple reopening for the two-month-long ‘mandalam’ season from November 16.

Keeping in mind the verdict, around 2,500 policemen and women will be posted in and around the temple complex for two weeks. State Minister for Devasoms (the body that looks after temple affairs) Kadakampally Surendran is also reviewing the arrangements on a daily basis and by now various facilities like 40 drinking water counters, over 800 drinking water taps, five emergency medical centres, oxygen parlours besides 1,500 washrooms have also been set up in and around the temple complex.

Situated in the mountain ranges of the Western Ghats at an altitude of 914 metres above sea level, Sabarimala temple is four kilometres uphill from Pamba in Pathanamthitta district, which is around 100 kms from the capital city.

The temple is dedicated to the Hindu celibate deity Ayyappan, also known as Dharma Sastha, who according to belief is the son of Shiva and Mohini, the feminine incarnation of Vishnu.

Devout pilgrims observe celibacy for 41 days before going to Sabarimala. Every pilgrim carries with him a kit (‘Alrumudi’ – which contains coconuts which are broken just before climbing the 18 steps) on his head during the pilgrimage and without it none are allowed to go up the holy 18 steps at the ‘Sannidhanam’.

At the same time, the bench will also pronounce its verdict in another politically sensitive case in which a review has been sought of the December 14, 2018, judgment by which the Narendra Modi-government was given a clean chit in the procurement of Rafale fighter jets.

The review pleas in the Rafale case were filed by advocate Prashant Bhushan and former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, among others. The court had reserved its verdict on May 10.

Bhushan had referred to various aspects, including alleged suppression of material facts from the court, and said an FIR should have been lodged and a criminal investigation launched into the case. He also referred to the documents relating to alleged parallel negotiations being undertaken by the PMO and said that three members of the Indian Negotiation Team had objected to the parallel negotiations.

He said that a prima facie cognisable offence has been committed and it warranted registration of the FIR.

Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, objected to the review petition and said the basic grounds for seeking review of the verdict are the same as they were in the main petition. The petitioners are seeking review of the judgment on the basis of “secret documents”. He also referred to the secrecy clause of the inter-governmental agreement between India and France and said the matter pertains to defence deals and not the award of contract for construction of flyover or dams. Venugopal sought dismissal of the review petitions.