On the first day of final hearing in the long-standing Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute, the Supreme Court on Tuesday decided to hear the 13 appeals filed against the 2010 judgement of the Allahabad High Court in four civil suits on February 8, 2018, confirming that the hearing will not be deferred any further.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice S. Abdul Nazeer directed that all the Advocates on Record of appeals to sit together and ensure that all the requisite documents are translated, filed and numbered before the apex court Registry.
The final hearing commenced on a day before the 25th anniversary of the demolition of the 16th-century Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.
On a day filled with heated arguments, the Sunni Waqf Board sought the hearing to be deferred to after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections – a request turned down by the top court, saying it was “shocked”.
Appearing for the Sunni Waqf Board, senior lawyer Kapil Sibal said that the 'pleadings are not complete', asserting that he and other petitioners have not been served relevant documents of pleadings.
Sibal told the court that whenever this matter is heard, there are serious repercussions outside court and to preserve the decorum of law and order, the lawyer personally requested the court to take this matter up on July 15, 2019, once all the pleadings are complete.
On the other hand, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Tushar Mehta, representing the State of Uttar Pradesh, rebutted all the allegations made by Kapil Sibal. Mehta told the apex court that all the related documents and requisite translation copies are on record.
Sibal confronted the government's contention that all relevant documents had been presented and that there was no reason for the matter to be delayed. Sibal said that there were over 90,000 relevant documents that had to be translated and over 700 documents pertaining to the judgment that were yet to be presented. "All this is yet to be done," Sibal said.
Kapil Sibal, Rajeev Dhawan and Dushyant Dave argued for Sunni Waqf Board and said that the matter reached the heart of secular fabric in India. "SC should not send a wrong message but rather constitute a larger bench as this is not an ordinary suit or litigation".
"Construction of Ram Temple is part of BJP manifesto in 2014, court should not fall into the trap", Sibal added.
Addressing the media after the day’s hearing in the apex court, Wasim Rizvi, Shia Waqf Board Chairman said that he was satisfied that the court had taken the formula proposed by them on record. The Shia Central Waqf Board came up with a new solution to the ongoing Ayodhya and proposed a Ram Temple in Ayodhya and a mosque in Lucknow.
“Good news is that the Supreme Court has taken the formula proposed by us on record,” he said.
However, Harish Salve, appearing for Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, opposed the constitution of a larger bench and said that the Supreme Court should not be concerned with the politics outside the court.
In its 2010 judgement, the Allahabad High Court had ruled a three-way division of the disputed 2.77 acre area at Ayodhya among the parties – the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and the Lord Ram Lalla.
A sect of Muslims, under the banner of Shia Central Waqf Board of Uttar Pradesh, had earlier approached the court offering a solution that a mosque could be built in a Muslim- dominated area at a "reasonable distance" from the disputed site in Ayodhya.
However, its intervention was opposed by the All India Sunni Waqf Board which had claimed that judicial adjudication between the two sects had already been done in 1946 by declaring the mosque, which was demolished on December 6, 1992, as one which belongs to the Sunnis.
Recently a group of civil rights activists also moved the apex court seeking intervention in the Ayodhya dispute and urged it to consider the issue saying it is not just a dispute over property but has several other aspects which would have far-reaching effects on the "secular fabric of the country".
In pursuance to the apex court's earlier direction, the Yogi Adityanath government has submitted English translation of exhibits and documents likely to be relied upon, as these were in eight different languages.
The top court had on August 11 asked the UP government to complete within 10 weeks the translation of the evidence recorded for adjudication of the title dispute in the high court. It had said it would not allow the matter to take any shape other than the civil appeals and would adopt the same procedure as was done by the high court.
BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, an intervenor in the matter, had attempted to raise the issue of fundamental right of religion of the Hindus under Article 25 of the Constitution.
Many of the original plantiffs and defendants in the matter including Mohd Hashim, who was the first person to take the matter to the apex court, have died.