NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday spelled out the batting order of lawyers for a decisive battle to determine the scope and ambit of ‘right to religion’ but the promise of an exciting day’s play on the sensitive issue was disrupted with the sudden indisposition of one of the nine judges.
The bench comprising Chief Justice S A Bobde, R Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan, L N Rao, M M Shantanagoudar, S A Nazeer, B S Reddy, B R Gavai and Surya Kant accepted former attorney general K Parasaran’s guidance in fixing a time schedule for the lawyers and said solicitor general Tushar Mehta would take first strike, prompting senior advocate Dushyant Dave to quip, “Mehta is a star opener”.
But Parasaran had to apologise profusely when senior advocate Kapil Sibal frowned at being left out of the playing eleven. “No problem, I can come in at number 15, or whenever the court wants me to argue. Whatever be my batting position, it is all right,” he said.
Senior advocate Indira Jaising was a worried player, finding star batsmen Sibal and Rajeev Dhavan switching to the opposition team. “We thought Sibal is on this side (those arguing for testing of religious customs on constitutional touchstone of equality). But he says he is not. Dhavan was here but he has gone to the other side,” she said. Sibal suggested opening of arguments by Parasaran followed by Fali Nariman and himself but the bench decided to stick to the batting order suggested by Parasaran.
Mehta opened the innings by listing out earlier googlies of judgments bowled by the SC on right to enter a temple and whether a person who does not belong to a religious denomination could file a PIL challenging any custom or practice of that particular denomination.
He said it would be important for the court to define ‘religious denomination’. “Even religious sub-sect following a particular order could have distinct food, dress and ritual codes. Someone outside that sub-sect could not be permitted to challenge their customs and practices unless these violated public order, morality and health,” he said
Mehta said “economic, financial, political and other religious activities” connected with religious institutions could be regulated by law.
As the game was interestingly poised, CJI Bobde suddenly said the bench would break for 10 minutes. But the break continued till after lunch and at 2 pm, it was announced that one of the judges on the bench (Justice Nazeer) had become indisposed and that play would resume on Tuesday at 10.30 am.


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