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Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019

Supreme Court to rule on Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit

The bench, comprising justices SA Bobde, DY Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and SA Nazeer, is expected to pronounce its judgment at 10.30am.

india Updated: Nov 09, 2019 10:05 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi/Lucknow/Ayodhya
A view of the banks of Sarayu River at Naya Ghat in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh
A view of the banks of Sarayu River at Naya Ghat in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh(Amal KS/HT PHOTO)
         

A five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, will deliver one of the most anticipated court verdicts on Saturday when it rules on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit in the judicial culmination of a tinderbox dispute that has for decades riven the nation on religious and political lines.

The bench, also comprising justices SA Bobde, DY Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and SA Nazeer, is expected to pronounce its judgment at 10.30am. A notice on the pronouncement of the judgment was put up on the official website of the Supreme Court late on Friday evening.

WATCH | Countdown to Ayodhya verdict: 7 preventive measures taken by government

The judges wrapped up a marathon, sometimes acrimonious, 40-day hearing on October 16 by reserving its judgment, which was expected to be delivered next week before Gogoi retires on November 17.

It was advanced to Saturday after Gogoi met top officials of the Uttar Pradesh government, including chief secretary Rajendra Kumar Tiwari and police chief, director general of police (DGP) Om Prakash Singh, in his chambers on Friday for an assessment of the situation in Ayodhya, where the disputed site is located, and elsewhere in India’s most populous state.

The pronouncement of the verdict on a non-working day, Saturday, by the Supreme Court took some members of the legal fraternity by surprise.

“In nearly 30 years of my practice at the top court, I do not recall the court delivering the verdict on a holiday. But I welcome the move by the court... according to me, the idea is to minimise the possible fallout of a verdict on such a sensitive issue,” said Sanjay Hegde, senior advocate at the Supreme Court.

Advocate Vishnu Jain of the Hindu Mahasabha, which is a party to the dispute, said it was a welcome move. “We were anyway waiting for the pronouncement of the judgment and we way waiting for the pronouncement of the judgment and we believe that this verdict will put to rest a 135- year-old dispute. I think this move to deliver the verdict on a holiday is because of security reasons. On a non- working day there are less advocates in the court and its easy to manage the crowd in the court room,” he said.

Another lawyer, MR Shamshad, who represented Muslim parties in the case, said it would have been better had the verdict been delayed, noting that over the next two days, processions would be taken out for Prophet Muhammad’s birthday at many places in the country.

“It would have been better if it had been pronounced two days later,” he said, adding: “I am sure that the administration will ensure law and order situation and the procession will go on as usual.”

In a tweet late on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for peace and harmony. “The verdict will not be someone’s loss or victory. I appeal to countrymen to ensure that the tradition peace, unity and harmony in the country is upheld,” he said.

The Constitution bench headed by CJI Gogoi has heard a batch of cross-appeals against a 2010 Allabahad high court judgment. The original verdict ordered the division of the disputed 2.77 acres of land in Ayodhya into three equal parts to be divided among the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara, a religious denomination; and the Ram Lalla Virajman, which represents the child deity.

A large section of Hindus believes that the disputed site marks the birthplace of the warrior-god Ram and that a temple that stood on the location was destroyed in the 16th century during the rule of Mughal emperor Babar and a mosque, the Babri Masjid, was constructed on its ruins. 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.

As night fell on Friday, a top security alert was in place nationwide to prevent violence on the day of the most anticipated court verdict in India ever in a case that both Hindu and Muslim community leaders have followed intently.

Security was reinforced at the residences of all five judges of the Supreme Court bench, a Delhi Police officer said on condition of anonymity. The Uttar Pradesh government ordered all schools, colleges and educational institutions to be shut till Monday. In Delhi, the government issued an advisory for schools to close as a precaution.

“Delhi Police is planning elaborate police arrangements and all precautionary measures will be taken. Necessary arrangements will be made to ensure the safety and security of religious places. Field formations will remain in contact with stakeholders and meetings will be conducted with ‘aman committees’ comprising the respectables from different communities,” Delhi Police said in a statement.

Ayodhya was sealed by security forces who warned residents to stay indoors and shops to be shut. Security was reinforced by the Government Railway Police (GRP) force at the Ayodhya railway junction, where quick response teams were in position, said Saumitra Yadav, superintendent of police of the GRP in Lucknow.

Over 90 companies of armed police, or around 9,500 men, including troopers from 37 UP Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) and central paramilitary forces, had already been deployed in Ayodhya district ahead of the Supreme Court verdict.

Chief minister Yogi Adityanath asked officers to station helicopters in Ayodhya and Lucknow for patrolling and transportation of security personnel. An aircraft would be also stationed in Lucknow, Adityanath said while reviewing security preparedness in all districts through a video conference on Thursday.

Additional director general (ADG) of police Ashutosh Pandey, who is in-charge of security arrangements in Ayodhya, said, “We have deployed forces as per the requirement. Our officers are holding meetings with locals, leaders to maintain peace. Drone cameras were successfully tested to keep a watch on every activity in the region.”

Across Uttar Pradesh, Section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code -- which prohibits the gathering of more than three people at a time, was imposed, news agency ANI reported.

More than 200 schools near Ayodhya have been chosen to accommodate the forces and for setting up temporary jails, if such a need arises, said a district administration official. Across Uttar Pradesh, the police has been conducting mock drills, flag marches and drone surveillance to prepare for any possible fallout of the judgment.

In Agra, the Uttar Pradesh DGP said the police had been in touch with the army and air force, and had identified 10,000 potential troublemakers among people with a criminal history and 1,600 who had posted inflammatory comments on social media. The police made 600 potential troublemakers promise in writing that they will not engage in hate mongering. The police have also met around 5,500 religious leaders across the state in the run-up to the verdict to ensure peace, Singh said in Agra, where he was on a visit to review security on his return from New Delhi.

The police chief said internet services could be blocked if the situation requires. He said that temporary jails had been set up in districts and security reinforced in communally sensitive districts.

The governments at both the Centre and Uttar Pradesh have been working over the last few days and weeks to maintain law-and-order after the verdict is delivered.

There have been appeals from leaders of both communities to keep the peace and honour the verdict, irrespective of which way the court rules. PM Modi and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath have also ordered party leaders not to issue provocative statements.

Anxiety has prevailed In Ayodhya as the court verdict approached. Iqbal Ansari, one of the litigants in the Ram Janmabhoomi–Babri Masjid dispute, said he was anxious but not worried. “Anxiety and apprehension is normal for any Muslim living in Ayodhya when the Supreme Court is about to deliver a verdict in the Ayodhya case. But I am confident that Ayodhya will remain peaceful. Both the Centre and the state government have ensured complete safety for the Muslims this time,” said Ansari.

Litigants on both sides called for peace and harmony in the town.

“Let us all accept the court’s verdict and maintain peace and harmony in larger interests of the nation,” said Ansari.

“We have been eagerly waiting for the court’s verdict. Now the day has come. Hindus and Muslims must accept the court’s verdict and maintain peace and harmony,” Mahant Dhinendra Das, head of the Nirmohi Akhara, said.

The Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, which has spearheaded the campaign for the construction of a Ram temple on the disputed site in Ayodhya, has given a call to all its members to be present in Ayodhya on the day the Supreme Court delivers its verdict.

Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, head of the Nyas, has sent out the message to all members of the Nyas to ensure their presence in Ayodhya on the verdict day, said Kamal Nayan Das, senior member and heir to Mahant Das.

Kamal Nayan Das said he was confident of a favourable Supreme Court verdict. “We have made all preparations for (construction of) Ram Mandir. The Nyas is ready to start construction of Ram Mandir anytime. Now, it is high-time that Ram Lalla, presiding deity at the makeshift Ram temple in Ayodhya, moves out of a tent to a magnificent temple,” asserted Das.