SC defers Babri Masjid land dispute hearing to Jan 29 after Justice Lalit exits

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NEW DELHI: The five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, formed to hear the politically sensitive case of Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land title dispute in Ayodhya, on Thursday clarified that there was going to be no hearing. Only the date and the schedule of the case would be fixed today, said the apex court.
Justice U U Lalit, who was part of the five-judge Constitution Bench, recused himself, prompting the Supreme Court to reschedule the hearing on January 29 by setting up a fresh bench.
No sooner than the bench assembled, senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for a Muslim party, told a bench headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi that Justice Lalit appeared for former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh in 1994.
Though Dhavan said he was not seeking recusal of Justice Lalit, the judge himself opted out the hearing the matter.
The bench will be headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and will comprise of Justices S A Bobde, N V Ramana, D Y Chandrachud and a yet-to-be-named judge in place of Justice Lalit.
Dhavan also drew the attention of the bench to the fact that the matter was earlier fixed for hearing before a three-judge bench but the CJI took a decision to list it before a five-judge Constitution Bench.
He further submitted that there was need for a judicial order to set up a five-judge Constitution bench.
The CJI, however, quoted Supreme Court rules mandating that any bench should comprise two judges and there was nothing wrong in constituting a five-judge Constitution bench.
In view of the the facts and circumstances of the matter and the voluminous records pertaining to it, this was a fit case for constituting a five-judge bench, he said.
In its order, the bench said the apex court registry will physically examine the records stored in 50 sealed trunks in the room, which has also been kept sealed.
The top court said the records pertaining to the matter are voluminous and some of the documents are in Sanskrit, Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Persian and Gurmukhi that need to be translated.
If required, the apex court registry can take the service of official translators, the bench said.
The apex court said in its order that 113 issues are likely to be perused during the hearing.
It also noted that 88 witnesses were examined and their statements recorded when the matter was before the Allahabad High Court.
It said the deposition of the witnesses runs into 2,886 pages and 257 documents were exhibited.
The apex court noted that the high court judgement itself is 4,304 pages; along with additional annexures it runs into 8,000 pages.
A three-judge bench of the top court had on September 27 last year, by 2:1 majority, refused to refer to a five-judge constitution bench for reconsideration of the observations in its 1994 judgement that a mosque was not integral to Islam.
The matter had arisen during the hearing of the Ayodhya land dispute.
When the matter was last taken up on January 4, there was no indication that the case would be referred to a constitution bench as the apex court had simply said that further orders in the matter would be passed on January 10 by “the appropriate bench, as may be constituted”.
–PTI

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