Supreme Court on Thursday deferred the Allahabad High Court verdict in the Babri Masjid title suit — that was due on Friday — by a week to give rival sides more time to settle out of court.
A larger, three-member bench will hear the matter on September 28. All litigants, as well Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati representing the Centre, have been told to be present that day.
The deferment opened up the possibility of a longer delay in delivering the verdict as Justice D.V. Sharma, one of three judges of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court that is hearing the title suit, retires on October 1. That bench had, on Monday, dismissed a plea to defer the judgment.
The Supreme Court order, in an appeal against that dismissal, brought relief to security forces, which already have their hands full battling insurgency in Kashmir and preparing for the controversy-hit Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
Common people in Ayodhya and across the country, apprehensive about possible riots in the aftermath of the verdict, also welcomed the order.
But the litigants expressed dismay. “The matter can’t be settled out of court,” said Mahant Bhaskar Das, fighting for the right to build a Ram temple at the disputed site.
His rival, Mohammad Hashim Ansari, agreed: “The case has been pending for 60 years because it could not be settled outside court.”
But senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, representing petitioner Ramesh Chand Tripathi, a retired bureaucrat, said: “We will urge the court to defer the matter further.”
If the Supreme Court is unable to arrive at a final verdict before October 1, the day Justice Sharma retires, he may have to be given an extension.
Alternatively, a new bench will have to hear the entire case afresh.
Earlier, the Supreme Court bench was divided over whether or not it should entertain the plea to defer the Babri verdict. Later, it decided to do so.
But given the difference of opinion, it proposed that the Chief Justice of India constitute a larger bench to hear the matter when it next comes up on Tuesday.
“If there is even a one per cent chance (of an out-of-court settlement), you have to give it,” said Justice H.L. Gokhale, one of the judges on the bench.