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Apex court reserves verdict on batch of Sabarimala pleas

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Wednesday reserved verdict on a batch of petitions seeking review of its September 28, 2018 judgement that allowed women of all age groups to enter the Sabarimala temple in Kerala.

The five-judge constitution bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Indu Malhotra heard submissions on behalf of parties including the Kerala government, Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), Nair Service Society and others and said that it would pronounce its order as to whether to review the judgment or not. The apex court was seized of as many as 64 petitions including review plea.

Meanwhile, in a U-turn, the Devaswom Board, managing the affairs of Lord Ayyappa's Sabarimala temple, on Wednesday joined Kerala government in support, saying that any practice has to be consistent with the dominant theme of the Constitution - "all persons are equally entitled".

The Devaswom Board spelt out its new position before the five-judge constitution bench as it opposed a batch of petitions seeking the review of the judgment permitting women of all age groups to enter the temple.

Senior counsel Rakesh Dwivedi appearing for the Devaswom Board focused on constitutional morality, which he said was not subjective but founded on Article 14, 15, 17, 21 and Article 25, and subject to other fundamental rights.

Pointing to human dignity, Dwivedi said: "Practices prevailing in our temples should conform with the constitutional morality."

At this, Justice Indu Malhotra, who had delivered a dissenting judgment favouring non-interference with the prevailing practice, asked Dwivedi: "There's a change in the stand of Devaswom Board. You had argued otherwise."

"Now the Board has decided to respect the judgment," Dwivedi replied.

Earlier during Wednesday's hearing, the Kerala government opposed the review petitions, saying that there was no need to review the judgment as unconstitutional practices could not be allowed to go on.

The state government's stand came with an assurance that "social peace would eventually prevail".

Senior advocate Jaideep Gupta appearing for the Kerala government told the bench that there was a consensus among the four judges who delivered the majority judgment on three aspects, i.e., Article 26, 25 (2) and rule 3 (b) of the Kerala Act.

Gupta said in none of the review petitions questions have been raised regarding these three points and therefore other aspects "raised in the review petition will make no difference".

The arguments by those who have filed the review petition that specific submissions were not considered in the judgment or were not advanced is not a ground for re-examining the verdict, the advocate. He said many of those who have sought a re-look of the judgment had not come out with valid legal points but have merely analysed the verdict by way of a review petition and the court should not entertain them.

Another senior advocate Vijay Hansaria, also appearing for the Kerala government said a case could not be allowed to be reopened.

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