5-judge SC bench to hear Article 370 pleas

Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has constituted another five-judge bench, headed by Justice N V Ramana, to hear petitions challenging the validity of the Centre’s decision on Article 370, leading to abrogation of special status to J&K.

The bench, also comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, R Subhash Reddy, Bhushan Ramkrishna Gavai and Surya Kant, is scheduled to hear from October 1 over two dozen petitions, including those by Sitaram Yechury and Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Among the petitions to be taken up are those filed by National Conference leader Mohd Akbar Lone, People’s Conference leader Sajjad Lone, journalist Anuradha Bhasin, retired district judge Muzzafar Iqbal Khan and several advocates, including M L Sharma (known to file PILs).

A five-judge bench led by CJI Ranjan Gogoi is currently engaged in adjudication of ‘the Ayodhya land dispute’. Given the sheer number of top politician petitioners and their capability to engage the best of the renowned constitutional lawyers to put across their grievances against abrogation of special status to J&K and scrapping of Article 35A that gave exclusive rights to Kashmiris, the length of arguments could well match the period taken by the Ayodhya dispute, which completed 33 hearing days and still continuing.

The CJI has also decided to set up three more special benches. One three-judge bench will exclusively hear pending appeals challenging death penalties imposed on persons convicted in heinous crimes. All these cases, in which the SC stayed HC orders either upholding or awarding death penalties to the accused, have been pending.

CJI Gogoi also earmarked two 2-judge benches to exclusively deal with the tax matters from October 1. CBITC informed the SC that it has “initiated several steps to reduce litigation, most notable of which is by increasing the monetary limit of filing appeals in the SC to Rs two crore, with effect from August 22, 2019”.

Setting up two Constitution benches of five judges each is rare in the SC, which for years has been struggling with spiralling cases, mostly mundane appeals, that had made it difficult for it to give priority to adjudication of cases involving important constitutional questions and interpretation of law.

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