December,26,2015: More than a year after the Supreme Court had a dedicated bench to decide cases requiring interpretation of the Constitution, the top court has decided to bring back the practice, having fixed two days in a week for hearing such matters in 2016.
A constitution bench consists of at least five judges who deliberate upon matters that warrant a substantial question of law. There are 29 such matters, including the question on the universality of the Aadhaar number and the legality of euthanasia.
Chief Justice TS Thakur set-up two constitution benches that shall hold a two-hour hearing every Monday and Friday. An administrative order issued by the SC registry has also listed 10 cases to be taken up.
“Our judges are free after 1:30 pm on Monday and Friday. I would consult them to have these benches on those two days,” he had told the Attorney General who welcomed the suggestion.
It was on Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi’s appeal for an urgent hearing on the Aadhaar issue that CJI explored the option of having regular sittings of the top bench.
“Rest assured that my brother judges will cooperate. But nothing can happen without the cooperation of the bar,” Thakur said.
The SC has restricted the use of Aadhaar numbers to certain schemes through its orders issued on August 11 and October15. These include the public distribution system, distribution of cooking gas and kerosene, the rural jobs guarantee scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, central and state government pensions, and the Employees’ Provident Fund Scheme.
The Aadhaar case is pending before the Supreme Court. It affects key government projects, including biometric attendance, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, digital certificates, pension payments and payments banks.
Through two orders, on 11 August and 15 October, the Supreme Court had restricted the use of Aadhaar unique identity numbers for schemes like public distribution system, distribution of cooking gas and kerosene, the rural jobs guarantee scheme, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, central and state government pensions, and the Employees’ Provident Fund Scheme.
While the present list does not include the Aadhaar case, the move to deal with pending cases was considered positive.
“It is good that the Supreme Court will start hearing cases referred to the constitution bench as that gives hope to Aadhaar. However, it is yet to be seen when the bench to hear this case is constituted as it has to be a larger bench. An early hearing will bring clarity on the issue in terms of using the unique identity for various schemes,” a Unique Identification Authority of India official said, requesting anonymity.
The controversy over the removal of UPA-appointed governors is also on the agenda of constitutional benches.