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Monday, Nov 18, 2019

‘Enough is enough’: SC reserves verdict, prepares way for judicial settlement of Ayodhya dispute

A verdict will be delivered before the CJI retires on November 17.

india Updated: Oct 17, 2019 00:45 IST
Bhadra Sinha
Bhadra Sinha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The Supreme Court wrapped up a marathon, sometimes acrimonious 40-day hearing on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit on Wednesday .
The Supreme Court wrapped up a marathon, sometimes acrimonious 40-day hearing on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit on Wednesday .(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)

The Supreme Court wrapped up a marathon, sometimes acrimonious 40-day hearing on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit on Wednesday by reserving its verdict, preparing the way for a judicial settlement of the decades-old dispute centred on 2.77 acres of land in the ancient city of Ayodhya.

A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi completed hearing the suit at 4pm, an hour earlier than the deadline set earlier in the day by Gogoi, who declined to accept an intervention application in the last leg of the case. A verdict will be delivered before the CJI retires on November 17.

“By 5pm, this matter is going to be over. Enough is enough,” said Gogoi, who heads the bench also comprising justices SA Bobde, DY Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and SA Nazeer.

Ahead of the verdict, the Uttar Pradesh state government strengthened security across the state and cancelled until November 30 the leave of all field officers, including the police and administration, posted in all 75 districts, additional chief secretary Mukul Singhal said in an order on Wednesday. A senior state government officer said the measures were taken in view of the Supreme Court’s likely verdict on the Ayodhya land dispute as well as coming festivals.

The final day of hearing didn’t lack for drama. Advocate Rajeev Dhavan, representing the Muslim parties, tore up a map showing the purported birthplace of Lord Ram, handed to him by a lawyer for the Hindu Mahasabha, one of the parties to the case. When Gogoi remarked that Dhavan could shred the papers some more, the lawyer proceeded to do so, prompting the CJI to say the judges would be forced to walk out and call for decorum in the courtroom.

The scene was triggered when senior counsel Vikas Singh handed over some pages consisting of pictorial maps and other pages by relying on the book Ayodhya Revisited.

Also on Wednesday, the Sunni Central Waqf Board downplayed reports that it was withdrawing its claim to the site. “Any application for withdrawal will be given in the court; so far no such application has been filed,” Zafaryab Jilani, advocate for the Board, said.

People familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity that some parties from both the Hindu and Muslim sides, including the Sunni Central Waqf Board, on Wednesday told the Supreme Court through a mediation panel that they could agree to a settlement in which a temple would be built on the disputed site in lieu of certain safeguards for mosques across the country.

The people said that the proposal, submitted to the top court by the mediators – retired SC judge justice FMI Kalifulla, senior advocate Sriram Panchu and spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar – effectively offers a possible road map for the court as it prepares to deliver a verdict.

The case before the Supreme Court, lasting 180 hours and 40 days spread over two months, entailed the second-longest oral hearing in history by a constitution bench of the Supreme Court. The longest remains the 1972 Kesavananda Bharati case in which a bench of 13 judges ruled on the powers of Parliament. That hearing was spread over 68 days.

The bench led by Gogoi heard 14 appeals filed in the top court against the September 30, 2010 Allahabad high court judgment delivered in four civil suits. The high court ruled that the disputed 2.77-acre land in Ayodhya be partitioned equally among three parties — the Sunni Central Waqf Board; the Nirmohi Akhara, a religious denomination; and an organisation representing Ram Lalla (the deity).

A large section of Hindus believes the 16th century mosque, Babri Masjid, was built during the rule of Mughal emperor Babur on the ruins of a temple dedicated to Ram on site they claim marks the birthplace of the warrior-god. On December 6, 1992,Hindu activists campaigning for the construction of a Ram temple on the site demolished the mosque, triggering a cycle of violence and riots across the country.

The top court earlier this year explored the possibility of mediation for an amicable settlement to the dispute. A three-member mediation panel led by retired judge justice FM Ibrahim Kalifulla and comprising Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and senior advocate Sriram Panchu tried to work for a resolution, but failed to bridge differences between all parties. The Constitution bench has subsequently held daily hearings starting on August 6, through the mediation process resumed alongside in September.

On Wednesday, CS Vaidyanathan, a lawyer for Ram Lalla Virajman, representing the infant deity Ram, told the court meanwhile that the Sunni Waqf Board and other Muslim litigants failed to prove that Mughal emperor Babur constructed the mosque at the disputed Ram Janmbhoomi-Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya.

Vaidyanathan said it was the case of the Muslim parties that the mosque in question was built by the state (Babur) on land belonging to the state, but it had not been proved by them. He was responding to a 1961 lawsuit filed by Sunni Waqf Board and other Muslim individuals seeking title over the entire 2.77 acres of disputed land in Ayodhya.

Vaidyanathan said that if the Muslim side claimed title over the disputed land under the doctrine of adverse possession, then it will have to accept that the deity, Ram, or the temple was the previous real owner. Adverse possession is a legal tenet under which a person who does not have legal title to a piece of property acquires ownership based on continuous possession or occupation of the property.

“They cannot claim benefit of adverse possession. If they claim so then they will have to show the ouster of the prior owner -- that is temple or the deity in this case,” Vaidyanathan said The Muslims may have several places for offering prayers in Ayodhya, but for Hindus the place of birth of Lord Ram remains the same and it cannot be changed, he argued.

Another senior lawyer, Ranjit Kumar, appearing for Hindu devotee Gopal Singh Visharad, said the Muslims failed to prove their case and the lawsuit filed by the Sunnni Waqf Board and others ought to be dismissed as Visharad and other Hindu devotee had “pre-existing rights to worship” at the site.

The character of the disputed site cannot be decided on the basis of the faith of the Muslims, he said.

Senior advocate Dhavan, appearing for the Muslim side, reiterated the claims of the community to the disputed land, saying the Hindus had no title to the site, but only a prescriptive right to pray. “My plea is only for the title. There are other aspects to it also. The Hindu side has not shown use [of the disputed site], except through the travelogues of ancient travellers,” said Dhavan.

The Hindu side took over 15 days to make out its case and the Muslim parties argued their case for 20 days. The remaining five days were used for rebuttal of the claims on either side. The SC bench sat beyond its normal working hours, until 5pm, to complete the hearing speedily.