Report sought by July 18 to begin hearing from July 25
The Supreme Court on Thursday sought a report on the “progress of mediation” in the politically sensitive case of Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute in Ayodhya and said a day-to-day hearing may commence from July 25 if the court decides to conclude those proceedings.
A five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi requested former apex court judge Justice (Retd) FMI Kalifulla, chairperson of the three-member mediation panel, to apprise it by July 18 the progress of mediation till date and its present stage.
“It will be convenient to have the said report latest by July 18, on which date further orders will be passed by this court,” said the Bench, also comprising justices SA Bobde, DY Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and SA Nazeer.
“We also make it clear that if this court comes to a conclusion that, having regard to the report of Justice FMI Kalifulla, the mediation proceedings should be ordered to be concluded, the court will do so and order for commencement of the hearing of the appeals before it, tentatively, on and from July 25, which hearings, if required, will be conducted on day-to-day basis,” the bench said.
It passed the order while hearing an application filed by a legal heir of one of the original litigants, Gopal Singh Visharad, seeking a judicial decision on the dispute and conclusion of the mediation process, alleging that nothing much was happening there.
“Taking into account the earlier orders passed by this court; the fact that mediation was suggested by this court during the period of time which was otherwise required to make cases/appeals ready for hearing and the contents of I.A (interim appliction)..., we deem it proper to request Justice FMI Kalifulla to inform this court the progress of mediation till date and the stage at which the said process is presently at,” the court said and posted the matter for hearing on July 18 for passing appropriate orders.
The panel, also comprising spiritual guru and founder of the Art of Living foundation Sri Sri Ravishankar and senior advocate and renowned mediator Sriram Panchu, was granted time till August 15 by the apex court for completion of mediation after its earlier report had said that the mediators were “optimistic” about an amicable solution.
During the hearing on Thursday, senior advocate K Parasaran, appearing for the applicant, said it was probably very difficult to settle a dispute of this nature through mediation and sought judicial decision on the vexatious dispute.
“As the highest court, your lordships have the authority to dispose of the matter if you so intend,” Parasaran told the Bench. He was supported by senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, appearing for deity ‘Ram Lalla Virajman’, who said that they had earlier also opposed the reference of the matter to a mediation panel.
Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for a Muslim party, opposed the plea for annulment of mediation process, saying it should be allowed to continue and asked whether the fresh plea has been filed to “intimidate” them.
“I do not think it is fair at this point of the time to criticise the methodology of the committee,” he said, adding, “Our understanding is that the committee has met people jointly and then also individually.”
At this juncture, the bench said, “We will call for a report from the mediation committee”. To this, Dhavan said, “The court is suggesting it will pass an order on this application. In other words, it will be recall of the May 10 order.”
“Just because one party is fed-up of the mediation, they cannot come to you to override the entire process,” he said, adding that a “very serious” mediation was taking place.
“Please do not even issue a notice on this (application). What is the purpose of it? To intimidate us?,” he said.
However, the bench observed, “We have constituted the committee. We are entitled to get a report from the committee. We will go by our orders. Let our mediators speak.”
The SC noted that since it had granted eight weeks time to the parties to verify the accuracy or correctness of translations of records on February 26, the court had suggested mediation for an amicable solution during the interregnum.
It noted that on May 10, the court had asked the parties to intimate in writing their stand with regard to the accuracy or correctness of the translations records but “such stand of the parties has not been laid before the court till date.”
The top court had fixed the seat for the mediation process in Faizabad of Uttar Pradesh, around 7 km from Ayodhya, and said adequate arrangements, including those related to the venue of the mediation, place of stay of the mediators, their security and travel, should be arranged forthwith by the State Government so that the proceedings could commence immediately.
The Bench was earlier told by Hindu bodies, except the Nirmohi Akhara, and the Uttar Pradesh government that they were not in favour of the court’s suggestion for mediation. The Muslim bodies had supported the proposal.
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 be 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.