New Delhi: A Supreme Court judge today recused from hearing appeals pertaining to dropping of criminal conspiracy charge against L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and other BJP-VHP leaders in the Babri Masjid demolition case.
Justice V Gopala Gowda, who was heading the bench also comprising Justice Arun Mishra, recused himself from the hearing without citing any reason and said, "let the matter be placed before the Chief Justice" for its allocation to some other bench.
The appeals were filed by one Haji Mahboob Ahmad and the CBI against the dropping of conspiracy charges against senior BJP leaders Advani, Joshi and 16 others, for demolition of the disputed medieval structure in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992.
The pleas had sought setting aside of the Allahabad High Court's order of May 20, 2010, which had dropped section 120B (criminal conspiracy) under the IPC while upholding a special court's decision.
In September last year, the CBI had told the apex court that its decision-making was not influenced by anyone and the dropping of criminal conspiracy charge against senior BJP leaders in the case was not at its instance.
"The decision-making process of the CBI is completely independent. All decisions are taken based on correct facts in the light of the extant law. There is no question of any person, body or institution influencing the decision-making process of CBI or the manner in which it pursues its cases in courts," the agency had said in an affidavit.
The agency had said its decision-making process was carried out strictly in accordance with the provisions of CBI Crime Manual and there was a "hierarchic" mechanism that allowed officers at each level to take decisions and make reasoned recommendations in an independent manner.
Earlier, the apex court had sought responses of Advani, Joshi, union minister Uma Bharti and 16 others on Ahmad's plea.
Besides BJP leaders Advani, Joshi and Bharti, the court had also sought response from Himachal Pradesh Governor Kalyan Singh, among others.
Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray and VHP leader Acharya Giriraj Kishore were among the accused, who have since died.
The others against whom the charge was dropped included Vinay Katiyar and Vishnu Hari Dalmiya, Satish Pradhan, C R Bansal, Ashok Singhal, Giriraj Kishore (now deceased), Sadhvi Ritambhara, V H Dalmia, Mahant Avaidhynath, R V Vedanti, Paramhans Ram Chandra Das, Jagdish Muni Maharaj, B L Sharma, Nritya Gopal Das, Dharam Das, Satish Nagar and Moreshwar Save.
The Allahabad high court, while upholding dropping of criminal conspiracy charge, however, had at that time allowed CBI to proceed with other charges against Advani and others in a Rae Bareily court, under whose jurisdiction the case falls.
The May 2010 order of the high court had said there was no merit in CBI's revision petition against the May 4, 2001 order of the special court which had directed dropping of criminal conspiracy charge against them.
There are two sets of cases -- one against Advani and others who were on the dais at Ram Katha Kunj in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 when the Babri Masjid was demolished, while the other case was against lakhs of unknown 'karsevaks' who were in and around the disputed structure.
CBI had chargesheeted Advani and 20 others under sections 153A (promoting enmity between classes), 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 505 (false statements, rumours etc circulated with the intent to cause mutiny or disturb public peace) of the IPC.
It had subsequently invoked charges under section 120B (criminal conspiracy) of IPC which was quashed by the special court whose decision was upheld by the high court.
While upholding the special court's order, the high court had said CBI at no point of time, either during the trial at Rae Bareily or in its revision petition, ever stated that there was offence of criminal conspiracy against the leaders.