The upcoming year is one of major changes in the Supreme Court. The top court will have to work even harder this year as eight judges—including the incumbent Chief Justice of India—will retire amidst the ongoing pandemic.
In 2021 the top court gradually opened its doors to partly physical hearings, however, if the threat of the Omicron variant of COVID 19 persists then it may have to revert to virtual hearings again.
The year ahead is crucial for junior resident doctors—who have been on strike for more than 20 days now—since a pending issue before the Supreme Court has resulted in the delay of the NEET-PG counselling. The top court must also consider the constitutional validity of electoral bonds issue in light of assembly elections scheduled in several states in the coming months.
BOOM looks at what to expect in the Supreme Court in 2022.
Two new Chief Justices and retirement of eight judges
In the coming year, eight Supreme Court judges will retire. Incumbent Chief Justice of India NV Ramana will retire in August and if the convention holds then Justice UU Lalit will assume charge. However, Justice Lalit will be the top judge for less than three months before handing the baton to Justice DY Chandrachud in November later in the year.
Justices R Subhash Reddy (January 4), Vineet Saran (May 10), L Nageswara Rao (June 7), AM Khanwilkar (July 29), Indira Banerjee (September 23), Hemant Gupta (October 16) and UU Lalit (November 8 as CJI) will retire when they turn 65 years of age respectively.
Currently, with 34 judges the Supreme Court is just one short of full strength. If all the above-mentioned judges retire without the appointment of new judges, then there will be nine vacancies in the top court.
Also Read: Explained: The Big Legal Questions Of 2021
Pendency of cases and cases of political importance
Even though the Supreme Court worked full throttle in 2021, there was an uptick in the number of pending cases. According to the Supreme Court's website, as on December 6, 2021 there were 69,855 cases pending against the 64,426 cases that were pending in December 2020.
This year, the court-appointed committee will submit its report on the Pegasus snooping scandal. The status report on the October 4 Lakhimpur Kheri incident where a jeep ploughed eight people will also be submitted.
Challenges to sedition; Centre's response to the election process for OBC-reserved seats in the Madhya Pradesh local body elections arguments on the relevance of adopting a OBC creamy layer criteria in reservations under the economic weaker section (EWS) quota are some of the key issues that will be heard in the coming year.
In 2022, the top court will also give its verdict on the issue of reservation in promotion for SC/ST in government jobs.
Stalled Constitution Bench matters
In 2021, the Supreme Court heard only three constitutional bench matters one of which was the Aadhar review plea. Except for cases pertaining to Maratha Reservations—which was struck down—almost no constitution bench (benches comprising a minimum of five judges) matters were taken up.
Statistics state that there are 422 (38 main, 234 connected matters) cases pending before the Constitution Bench. Five-judge benches will have to hear 272 matters, even as there are 15 matters pending before a seven-judge bench and 135 before a nine-judge bench.
At reopening (on January 6), the Supreme Court will hear issues arising from the challenge to the Centre's other Backward Class (OBC) and Economically Weaker Section (EWS) reservation in the All India Quota (AIQ) in medical colleges. The three-member committee constituted to review the Centre's Rs 8 lakh annual income criteria for eligibility of 10% reservation under the economically weaker sections (EWS) quota will submit a 90-page report.
Constitutional Bench cases have been stalled due to the challenges faced by the pandemic and the hybrid functioning of courts. Challenges to the Citizenship Amendment Act, National Register of Citizens, abrogation of Article 370, which were triggers for widespread violence are still to be heard.
The top court will also have to decide on the Electoral Bonds issue—challenged in 2017—ahead of the various state assembly elections scheduled for this year
Challenges to RTI amendments; faith versus constitutional rights; personal guarantors' clause in the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code among others are also pending before constitutional benches.
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