The Supreme Court is all set to begin hearings on Tuesday on a clutch of petitions challenging criminalisation of consensual gay sex between two adults. On Monday, the apex court rejected the Centre’s plea seeking postponement of the proceedings.

A newly re-constituted five-judge constitution bench will hear the petitions challenging Section 377 of the IPC, which criminalises sex between two consenting male or female adults calling it “unnatural”.

On Monday, the new five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra refused to adjourn the matter when the Centre sought time to file its response to the petitions. The bench comprises Justice R F Nariman, Justice A M Khanwilkar, Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice Indu Malhotra apart from the CJI.

The court said the matter had been pending for some time and the Centre should have filed its response, adding: “We will go ahead with the scheduled hearing. We will not adjourn it. You file whatever you want during the hearing.”

Section 377 refers to ‘unnatural offences’ and says whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to pay a fine.

The apex court had in 2013 had restored the criminality of the sexual relationship between persons of the same sex, after the Delhi High Court decriminalised it in 2009, following which several review petitions were filed. On dismissal of the pleas, curative petitions were filed by the affected parties for re-examination of the original verdict.

On January 8, the top court said it would re-examine its verdict upholding Section 377, and observed that “a section of people or individuals who exercise their choice should never remain in a state of fear”.

The January 8 order came on a petition by Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Bharatnatyam dancer Navtej Singh Johar, celebrity chef Ritu Dalmia and others holding that Section 377 was “violative of fundamental rights under the Constitution’s Article 21 (right to life)”.

The Delhi High Court, on July 2, 2009, had legalised homosexual acts among consenting adults, holding that the 149-year-old law making it a criminal offence was violative of the fundamental rights.

(With agency inputs)