Ayodhya case: Five-judge SC Bench to hear title dispute

Ayodhya case: Five-judge SC Bench to hear title dispute on January 10

The Supreme Court on Tuesday, January 8, 2019, set up a five-judge Constitution Bench to hear the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid Ayodhya land title dispute case. It will hear the matter on January 10. The Bench, headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, comprises Justices S.A. Bobde, N.V. Ramana, U.U. Lalit and D.Y. Chandrachud.

Ayodhya
Ayodhya

Allahabad High Court verdict

The Ayodhya appeals are against the September 30, 2010 decision of the Allahabad High Court to divide the disputed 2.77 acre area among Sunni Waqf Board, Nirmohi Akhara and the Ram Lalla.

The High Court had concluded that Lord Ram, son of King Dashrath, was born within the 1,482.5 square yards of the disputed Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid premises over 900,000 years ago during the Treta Yuga. One of the judges added that the “world knows” where Ram’s birthplace is while another said his findiRelated imageng was an “informed guess” based on “oral evidences of several Hindus and some Muslims” that the precise birthplace of Ram is under the central dome. The High Court had relied on Hindu faith, belief and folklore to reach this conclusion.

The Ayodhya appeals were previously heard by another three-judge Bench of then Chief Justice Dipak Misra (CJI Gogoi’s immediate predecessor), Justices Ashok Bhushan and S. Abdul Nazeer.

On September 27, the Misra Bench, in a majority opinion of 2:1, decided against referring a question of law – whether offering prayers in a mosque is an essential practice of Islam – which arose in the Ayodhya appeals’ hearings to a Constitution Bench.

The majority opinion of September 27, authored by Justice Bhushan and supported by Justice Misra, had ordered the Ayodhya appeals “which are awaiting consideration by this Court for quite a long period, to be now listed in week commencing 29th October, 2018 for hearing”.

Usually, this would entail the appeals returning  to the Bench comprising Justices Bhushan, Nazeer and a new third judge, replacing Justice Misra, who retired on October 2.

It was also found rather unusual for Justice Bhushan, a puisne judge on the Bench, to fix the date of hearing of the appeals as October 29. They say it should have been ideally left to Chief Justice Gogoi, as the master of roster, to decide the next course of hearing.

September 27 had also witnessed the stinging dissent penned by Justice Nazeer, who observed in a separate opinion that the question of what is essential or not in a religion cannot be hastily decided.

Justice Nazeer had held that the question raised on the essentiality of offering prayers in mosques should indeed be examined by a seven-judge Bench before the Ayodhya suit appeals are heard further. Justice Nazeer had concluded that questions raised during the Ayodhya appeals’ hearing about the comment made in the Ismail Faruqui judgment of 1994 require a “comprehensive examination” by a seven-judge Bench.

Speaking for himself and the Chief Justice, Justice Bhushan had objected that references cannot be made to a larger Bench merely because of “questionable observations” made in an earlier judgment.

Timeline: Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute

The first suit regarding the structure was filed in 1885, when the Faizabad Deputy Commissioner refused to let Mahant Raghubar Das build a temple on land adjoining the mosque. Das then filed a title suit in a Faizabad court against the Secretary of State for India, seeking permission to build a temple on the Chabutra on the outer courtyard of the Babri Masjid. The legal battle over the title has gone on for over a century.

The case timeline

1949: Idols of Ram Lalla are placed surreptitiously under the central dome.

1950: Gopal Simla Visharad files first suit in Faizabad civil court for rights to perform pooja to Ram Lalla.

1950: Paramahansa Ramachandra Das files a suit for continuation of pooja and keeping idols in the structure.

1959: Nirmohi Akhara files third suit, seeking direction to hand over charge of the disputed site. U.P. Sunni Central Wakf Board files fourth suit in 1961 for declaration and possession and fifth in 1989 in the name of Ram Lalla Virajman for declaration and possession.

1986: District judge orderes locks be removed. Site opened for Hindu worshippers.

1989: The four suits pending were transferred to the High Court.

1991: U.P. govt. acquires land around the structure for convenience of devotees who attend Ram Lalla darshan.

December 1992: Babri Masjid demolished by a frenzied mob of karsevaks.  Two FIRs filed in the Babri Masjid demolition case. Crime no. 197 deals with actual “demolition of the mosque by karsevaks.” Crime no. 198 named L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and others for ‘communal’ speeches before the demolition.

1993: Govt. takes over 67 acres of land around the area, seeks SC’s opinion on whether there existed a Hindu place of worship before the structure was built.

October, 1993: CBI files a composite charge sheet and accuses Advani and other leaders of ‘conspiracy’

1994: Case goes back to Lucknow Bench of HC, suits heard again from 1996.

May 4, 2001: Special Judge S.K. Shukla drops conspiracy charge against 13 accused, including Mr. Advani and Kalyan Singh. Bifurcates Crimes 197 and 198.

May 20, 2010: Advani, others absolved of conspiracy charges

Allahabad HC upholds May 4, 2001 special court order, dismisses the CBI’s revision petition for a direction to proceed with the conspiracy charge against Mr. Advani and others.

September 30, 2010: Allahabad HC awards two-thirds of Ayodhya site to Hindu parties, one-third to Waqf Board.

February, 2011: CBI moves Supreme Court. Argues that “the actual demolition of the Babri Masjid and the continuous assault on media persons form a single connected transaction and can well be a concerted conspiracy”.

May 9, 2011: Supreme Court stays Allahabad High Court verdict on Ayodhya dispute.

December 25, 2014: Oldest litigant in Babri Masjid case passes away

Mohammad Farooq, a resident of Ayodhya, was one of the seven main litigants from Muslim side in the 1949 Babri Masjid case.

March 6, 2017: SC indicates it may revive conspiracy charge and order a joint trial of crimes 197 and 198.

March 21, 2017: Suggesting an out-of-court rapprochement among rival parties in the 68-year-old Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute, Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar advised peace negotiations instead of a pitched court battle, even offering help to settle the fight amicably.

March 23, 2017: A Supreme Court Bench of Justices P.C. Ghose and Rohinton Nariman posted for detailed hearing the CBI appeal against the dropping of the criminal conspiracy charge against veteran BJP leader L.K. Advani and other top party leaders after two weeks.

April 6, 2017: The Supreme Court indicated that it will use its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to transfer the Babri Masjid demolition related trial in Rae Bareilly against top BJP leaders L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi to Lucknow, where a CBI court is hearing conspiracy and other serious criminal charges against “lakhs of unknown kar sevaks” for the actual act of razing down the 15th century mosque.

April 19, 2017: The Supreme Court revived conspiracy charges against L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and 13 others in the 25-year-old Babri Masjid demolition cases.

May 30, 2017: L.K. Advani Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and Vinay Katiyar charged with criminal conspiracy in the Babri Masjid demolition case.

August 8, 2017: Uttar Pradesh Shia Central Waqf Board tells Supreme Court that they would settle for a masjid located in a “Muslim-dominated area at a reasonable distance from the most revered place of birth of Maryada Purushottam Sri Ram.” They tell the Court that the Babri Masjid was a Shia waqf (endowment) and their Sunni counterpart, who have been at the frontline of the 70-year-old title dispute, were mere interlopers led by “hardliners, fanatics and non-believers” who do not want an amicable settlement with the Hindu sects involved.

August 11, 2017: Supreme Court schedules hearing of 13 appeals in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute on December 5, 2017, the eve of the 25th anniversary of the demolition of the 15th century mosque.

December 5, 2017: The Supreme Court refuses requests by appellant parties belonging to the minority community to defer the hearing in the Ramjanmabhoomi–Babri Masjid land dispute till after July 15, 2019 — that is, post the next general elections.

February 8, 2018: The Supreme Court conveys its clinical approach to the 70-year-old dispute, exhorting the parties on either side of the fence to treat it merely as a “land issue”.

March 23, 2018: Almost 24 years after the Supreme Court said a mosque has no “unique or special status” and is not an essential part of the practice of Islam and namaz, Muslim parties involved in the Ramjanmabhoomi title dispute wants the apex court to first re-consider its stand before going ahead with the hearing in the Babri Masjid case. In 1994, the Supreme Court observed that “Muslims can offer prayer anywhere, even in open”.

July 6, 2018: Uttar Pradesh government accuses Muslim appellants of trying to “delay” the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute hearing in the Supreme Court, saying religious sentiments of a large population are involved in the case.

September 27, 2018: A three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court, in a majority opinion of 2:1, declines to refer the question if a “mosque as a place of prayer is an essential part of Islam” in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid appeals to a seven-judge Bench.

October 29, 2018: A three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, orders the Ayodhya dispute appeals to be listed in January 2019 before an appropriate Bench to fix a date for hearing. When parties sought an early hearing, the court says the decision when to start hearing the appeals would be in the realm of discretion of the “appropriate Bench” before which the matter would come up in January.

January 4, 2019: The Supreme Court says that an appropriate bench constituted by it will pass an order on January 10 for fixing the date of hearing in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute title case at Ayodhya.

-MICROSTAT, NEW DELHI , JANUARY 08, 2019