SC reserves order on referring Sabarimala row to constitution bench

SC reserves order on referring Sabarimala row to constitution bench New Delhi : The Supreme Court indicated that it may refer a plea for allowing the entry of women aged between 10 to 50 years in Kerala's Sabarimala temple to a five-judge constitution bench.

The bench of Justice Dipak Misra, Justice R. Banumathi and Justice Ashok Bhushan reserved its verdict on the plea seeking the reference of the issue to a constitution bench as it involved important questions of law and the interpretation of the constitution.

It gave both sides -- the petitioner Indian Young Lawyers Association for the opening of the temple gates to women in the age group of 10 to 50 years and Travancore Davaswom Board and others opposing the plea -- a week's time to file their written submissions.

The top court had in July 11, 2016 hearing indicated that it may refer the question whether the constitutional right to equality of a woman could be raised to "interfere" with the religious beliefs and customs denying entry to women in Sabarimala temple to its constitution bench.

The question was whether women's right to equality before law guaranteed under Article 14 could be invoked in the face of the freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion guaranteed under Article 25 and Freedom to manage religious affairs guaranteed under Article 26 of the constitution.

At the outset of the hearing today, senior counsel K.K. Venugopal appearing for the Travancore Davaswom Board, which manages the Sabarimala temple, reiterated his earlier plea that since the issue before the court involved substantial question of law and the interpretation of the constitution, it should be referred to a constitution bench.

The court also indicated that it may refer the question whether with the change in the political party in power, could there be a change in the position taken by the state before the court.

During July 11, 2016 hearing senior counsel Jaideep Gupta appearing for the Kerala government had told the court that State government was of the view that women of all ages should be permitted entry into the temple and worship the deity.

However, Venugopal had said that the stand or stance cannot be altered at the convenience of a party in power.

This assumes significance as after coming to power, the CPM-led Left Front government has favoured the entry of women of all ages into Sabarimala temple -- a position that is divergent from the one earlier taken by the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government.

The CPM-led Left Front government in 2007 had filed an affidavit saying that it favoured entry of women in the temple but this position was reversed in an affidavit filed by the Congress-led UDF government in February 2016.

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