SC defers Ayodhya case hearing after Justice Lalit recuses himself from the bench

The Supreme Court on Thursday fixed January 29 as the next date of hearing in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute after Justice UU Lalit recused himself from the case.

After the announcement pro-mandir protests broke out in front of the apex court and several protestors have been detained.

Justice UU Lalit recused himself after advocate Rajeev Dhavan pointed out that Justice Lalit had appeared for Kalyan Singh government in 1997. Now, a new bench will be constituted.

The five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, and comprised Justice SA Bobde, Justice NV Ramana, Justice UU Lalit and Justice DY Chandrachud, was expected to decide the frequency of hearings in the case that has been pending in the apex court for the last eight years.

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This was significant because parties in the case and various right-wing organisations have been asking for an early or day-to-day hearing for a long time.

When the matter came up for hearing last year the top court had refused to grant an urgent hearing, saying the court had ‘other priorities’ and posted the matter for hearing in the first week of January this year before the ‘appropriate bench.’

Chief Justice Gogoi setup a Constitution bench to hear the Ayodhya matter earlier this week. Former Chief Justice Dipak Misra had refused to refer the matter to the Constitution Bench and had said that the apex court would hear the issue purely as a ‘land dispute.’

The new Constitution bench not only comprises the incumbent Chief Justice, but other four judges are also in line to be the Chief Justice of India in the future. After Chief Justice Gogoi’s retirement, Justice Bobde will be the next Chief Justice followed by Justices Ramana, Lalit, and Chandrachud.

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“The Ayodhya issue should be heard quickly so that the whole controversy is set to rest. People should let the court decide. I believe if the court is beginning the hearing on January 10, then it should look forward to concluding the matter or make its judgement by March,” former Attorney General of India Soli Sorabjee told ANI.

There are as many as 14 appeals pending in the apex court against the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgement, delivered in four civil suits. The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court in its September 30, 2010, verdict ordered that the disputed site be divided into three parts-one for deity (Ramlala Virajmaan), another for Nirmohi Akhara-a Hindu sect, and third to the original litigant in the case for the Muslims.

Zafaryab Jilani, convener, Babri Masjid Action Committee, told ANI, “So far as the day-to-day hearing is concerned, it is the prerogative of the court. We have been saying since 1986 that the case should be decided within six months. In 1989 again we moved an application before the High Court that it should be decided by day-to-day hearing, but our application was not accepted.”

Alok Kumar of Vishwa Hindu Parishad is also hopeful that ‘substantial progress’ will be made in the matter from now onwards. “I hope that the court will pronounce its judgement soon. We have our fingers crossed,” Kumar said.

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) Indresh Kumar expressed similar views.

“The five judges of the Constitutional Bench are the most qualified ones. The whole country wishes that the Bench should hear the matter and give its verdict as soon as possible. We also pray to God that the time comes when the whole nation wins and nobody loses because this case is not a conflict between religions or parties,” Indresh Kumar told ANI.

Congress leader Harish Rawat said that Ram Temple should be made in Ayodhya through “mutual support.” Shia Waqf Board chief Waseem Rizvi, on the other hand, said that the five judges will not hear the matter on the basis of their respective religion. “They will make a fair decision in the matter,” he added.

Congress leader Tariq Anwar told ANI, “I believe that no pressure is put on the Supreme Court regarding this matter. The Constitutional Bench is impartial and will decide what is right for all. The court will hopefully pronounce its verdict soon in the matter.”

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Despite pressure from the NDA ally Shiv Sena and various other groups, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his interview with ANI last week, had said that the Central government is waiting for a legal resolution in the matter.

Bharatiya Janata Party leader Vinay Katiyar said that the people trust the five judges of the top court and will abide by their decision. However, he added that the matter ‘is not going to close in one or two hearings. It will take time.’

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