Ayodhya dispute: SC to begin hearing from July 25 if panel says talks are not working

A Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on July 11 decided to commence hearing the Ayodhya title dispute appeals from July 25 if the mediation committee gives the word that talks with Hindu and Muslim parties to heal minds and hearts are not working.

The Bench asked Justice (retired) F.M.I. Kalifulla, who heads the Supreme Court-appointed mediation committee, to submit a report on the progress made in the Ayodhya dispute mediation by July 18.

The court added that if Justice Kalifulla, on behalf of the committee, concluded there was no reason to continue with the mediation, the Constitution Bench would commence hearing the cross-appeals from July 25.

The court’s order to seek a progress report from the committee in a way jump-starts the case as the panel was earlier given time till August 15 to engage in talks with the parties for an amicable settlement to heals hearts and minds.

The immediate trigger for the July 11 hearing is an urgent plea made by a claimant to the disputed Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land that the mediation proceedings were making no headway whatsoever.

The committee is in the thick of its second round of talks. It finished the initial round and filed a interim status report dated May 7 in the Supreme Court, successfully seeking more time from it.

On July 9, however, Rajendra Singh, survivor of Gopal Singh Visharad, an original claimant to the dispute who filed a title suit way back in 1950, said the mediation was making no headway. He asked the CJI to stop mediation and start adjudication on the appeals pending since the past eight years in the Supreme Court.

Mr. Singh said “he is entitled to offer worship without any obstruction according to the rites and tenets of his religion at the birthplace of Lord Shri Ram Chandra”.

He said not much progress had been made by the panel, including former Supreme Court judge Justice Kalifulla, spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and senior advocate Sriram Panchu, a pioneer in alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in the country.

Senior advocate K. Parasaran, for Mr. Singh, said it was “difficult to settle disputes like this and the Supreme Court should authoritatively decide the matter”.

“The suit was filed in 1950, even before the Constitution came into existence. Sixty-nine years have passed since,” Mr. Parasaran submitted, highlighting the supposed futility of efforts to settle the dispute.

‘Serious talks going on’
Countering this, senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, for the Muslim appellants, questioned the purpose of the application filed by Mr. Singh. “This is just to intimidate us. Very serious mediation is going on. This application (Mr. Singh’s) should have ideally asked the court to direct the mediation committee for a status report, instead it wants the court to entirely scrap the mediation process. Unhappy parties like them want to scrap the mediation efforts,” Mr. Dhavan submitted.

To this, the CJI said since the court had constituted the mediation panel, the court itself would ask the committee for a report.

“We are entitled to know what is happening,” Justice Gogoi addressed Mr. Dhavan.

Justice Kalifulla has been asked to detail the progress made so far and the stage at which the mediation is currently in.

The Bench had sent the Ayodhya dispute for mediation on March 8. It had given the panel an initial deadline of eight weeks.

The eight weeks was the time given to the Muslim parties to examine the accuracy and relevance of the Uttar Pradesh government’s official translation of thousands of pages of oral depositions and exhibits in the Ayodhya title suit appeals pending since 2010 in the Supreme Court.

The committee has already held several rounds of mediation with stakeholders in Faizabad district in Uttar Pradesh of which the disputed area in Ayodhya is a part of.

The CJI had expressed hope that mediation may spell a peaceful end to the volatile dispute between the members of the two religious faiths. The court had pushed for a possible out-of-court settlement despite objections raised by some Hindu parties that their faith in Lord Ram’s birthplace was “non-negotiable”.

The Bench had explained that the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case “is not about the 1500 sq. ft. of disputed land, but about religious sentiments. We know its impact on public sentiment, on body politic. We are looking at minds, hearts and healing if possible”.