The Supreme Court on Tuesday commenced hearing in the politically sensitive case of Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute in Ayodhya after the efforts to arrive at an amicable settlement through mediation failed.
“Let us begin the hearing,” said a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi.
The bench, also comprising Justices S A Bobde, D Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S A Nazeer, had on August 2 taken note of the report of the three-member mediation panel, headed by former apex court judge FMI Kalifulla, that the mediation proceedings, which went on for about four months have not resulted in any final settlement.
“The hearing which will be on a day-to-day basis until the arguments are concluded will start with the appeals arising out of the two suits. The learned counsel(s)…in the appeals arising out of the aforesaid suits may, for the convenience of the court, indicate the pleadings and the evidence on which they propose to rely, so that the officials of the Registry can keep the said documents ready for perusal of the court,” the bench had said in its order.
The top court had on July 18, asked the mediation panel to inform the court about the outcome of their proceedings as on July 31.
The mediation panel, also comprising spiritual guru and founder of the Art of Living Foundation Sri Sri Ravishankar and senior advocate and renowned mediator Sriram Panchu, had said in its report submitted on Thursday that the Hindu and the Muslim parties have not been able to find a solution to the vexatious dispute.
The apex court, which on March 8 referred the matter for mediation, had asked for in-camera proceedings to be completed within eight weeks, but later granted time till August 15 after the panel’s earlier report said that the mediators were “optimistic” about an amicable solution.
After the bench on August 2 passed the order, senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for a Muslim party had raised several technical issues and said he will need 20 days to argue the various issues arising in the matter in detail and there should not be any curtailment on the hearing.
While he was raising different aspects of the matter and how the appeals have to be heard, the bench had told him “don’t remind us what we have to do”.
“We know there are many aspects and we will deal with all these aspects. Let the hearing start,” it had said.
Dhavan also raised the issue of the pending writ petition filed by senior BJP leader Subramanian Swamy and the application filed by a Muslim body.
The court which had perused a report about the progress of the mediation process till July 18, had said that its contents will remain confidential as per its earlier order.
Fourteen appeals have been filed in the apex court against the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment, delivered in four civil suits, that the 2.77-acre land in Ayodhya is partitioned equally among the three parties — the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla.
On December 6, 1992, the Babri Masjid, constructed at the disputed site in the 16th century by Shia Muslim Mir Baqi, was demolished.
The central government on January 29 this year moved the apex court seeking its nod to return the 67-acre undisputed acquired land around the disputed site to original owners.
The 0.313-acre plot, on which the disputed structure stood before it was demolished by ‘kar sevaks’ on December 6, 1992, was within the 2.77-acre disputed premises., the plea said.
The government had then acquired 67.703 acres, including the 2.77-acre plot, through legislation in 1993. The Ram Janambhoomi Nyas (RJN) is the owner of as much as 42 acres of the acquired non-disputed land.
The Centre’s plea said that the RJN (a trust to promote the construction of Ram Temple) had also sought the return of excess land acquired to original owners.
The Centre claimed that only 0.313 acres of land was disputed on which the structure stood before it was demolished by ‘kar sevaks’ on December 6, 1992.
A week later, another petition was filed challenging the constitutional validity of 1993 Central law on land acquisition in Ayodhya near the disputed site, contending that Parliament has no legislative competence to acquire land belonging to the state.
Seven individuals, including two Lucknow-based lawyers claiming to be devotees of Ram Lalla, said state legislature has exclusive power to make provisions on management of religious affairs inside its territory.
The plea said the Acquisition of Certain Areas of Ayodhya Act, 1993 Act infringes right to religion of Hindus guaranteed and protected by Article 25 of the Constitution of India.
(With inputs from agencies)