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SC refuses to fast-track Ayodhya title case

Apex court says it has its own priorities; BJP may not be able to use temple plank for elections
A delegation from Assam visits the Nirman Karyashala (Ramjanmabhoomi temple construction workshop) in Ayodhya on Monday.
A delegation from Assam visits the Nirman Karyashala (Ramjanmabhoomi temple construction workshop) in Ayodhya on Monday.
Prem Singh

R. Balaji   |   New Delhi   |   Published 29.10.18, 10:00 PM

The Supreme Court has said an appropriate bench will decide in January when the Ayodhya title case will be heard, which narrows the window for a pre-poll verdict that the BJP and other pro-temple groups are hoping for.

“We have our own priorities. Whether the matter will be heard in January, February or March, the appropriate bench will decide,” the court said.


The possibility of a verdict just before the general election, expected in April-May, is still technically possible but it is expected to be a close finish.

Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi on Monday rejected a request from solicitor-general Tushar Mehta, who was representing the Uttar Pradesh government, to list the matter “immediately” after the Diwali vacation, which falls early in November.

“We are listing the matter in January. It will come up in the first week of January — not for hearing but for fixing a date for the hearing. The hearing may be held in January, February, March or April…,” he said.

Several Muslim groups had requested a post-poll hearing, fearing the Sangh parivar would exploit the judgment whichever way it went, while several BJP leaders have been harping on Hindu “anger” at the delay over a verdict.

The hearing is likely to last at least a month as there are several petitions and applications from various claimants and groups.

In case the hearing starts in March or April, the verdict may come only in July, as the Supreme Court will close for summer vacation from mid-May till June 30.

But if the hearing starts in January or February, the verdict could come before or during the general election, likely in April-May because the next Lok Sabha has to be constituted by June 4.

Although the model code of conduct would be likely to have kicked in by then, making any promises about building a temple actionable, there would be no effective bar on parivar outfits whipping up passions.

Justice Gogoi’s reference to an “appropriate bench” suggests the present bench — which includes Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and K.M. Joseph — might not hear the matter, which means some time may be taken up in January in constituting another bench.

Further, some of the Muslim groups might possibly file review petitions against the apex court’s September 27 judgment refusing to refer the matter to a five-judge constitution bench, kicking off a process that too might consume some time.

Had the court sent the matter to a larger bench, the hearing of the land dispute would have been delayed.

Both Hindu and Muslim groups have challenged a 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment that trisected the disputed plot equally and distributed the shares among two Hindu claimants and a Muslim group.

For all the Sangh parivar’s avowed keenness on an early settlement of the land dispute, the Narendra Modi government has made no effort in four-and-a-half years to seek a speedy hearing, either through a request to the court or through a presidential reference.

The Muslim groups have argued that certain “questionable observations” by a five-judge bench in 1994 had influenced the Allahabad High Court verdict.

The 1994 judgment had said that shrines are not an “integral” or “essential” part of a religion unless a special significance attaches to any particular shrine or its location. The Muslims groups had wanted the matter referred to a constitution bench before the apex court heard the land dispute.

But the bench of then Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices Ashok Bhushan and Abdul Nazeer had last month declined the plea by a 2:1 majority verdict.

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