Ayodhya Title Dispute: How the Case Unfolded in the Supreme Court

The apex court on Wednesday reserved its judgment after 40 days of hearings.

New Delhi: On Wednesday, the Supreme Court reserved its judgment in the Ayodhya land dispute case after 40 days of hearings. Early on Wednesday, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi said the hearings would conclude on the day while dismissing an intervention application filed by a Hindu group. He said, “This matter is going to be finished today by 5 PM. Enough is enough.”

News also broke that the Sunni Waqf board dropped its claim to the land and submitted a settlement proposal instead.

The day was also marked by drama as senior counsel Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for the Muslim parties, tore up certain documents handed over to him by the Hindu parties.

According to Bar & Bench, Dhavan shred pages of the book Ayodhya Revisited in the court. However, during the post-lunch session, the senior counsel said he I tore up the documents with the permission of the court, and CJI Gogoi agreed.

The judgment in the case is expected to arrive before November 17, when CJI Gogoi will retire.

Here’s a look at how the case unfolded in the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court began hearing the case in December 2017, when the 2010 Allahabad high court decision to split the land three ways was appealed.

This case is separate from the criminal case against senior Bharatiya Janata Party and Sangh parivar leaders for their role in the demolition of the 460-year-old mosque on December 6, 1992. That case has been languishing at a trial court in Lucknow despite the Supreme Court ordering speedy proceedings.

In the last week of September 2018, the Supreme Court refused to refer to a five-judge Constitution bench a 24-year-old case – the Ismail Faruqui judgment – that said offering prayers in a mosque is not an “essential feature” of Islam. Justice Ashok Bhushan authored the majority judgment, for himself and then Chief Justice Dipak Misra. Justice S.A. Nazeer was the dissenting judge.

In October 2018, the Supreme Court decided that the land dispute case would only be listed before an “appropriate bench” in January 2019. In what was seen as a setback to the BJP leaders pressing for speedy disposal of the title suit, a bench consisting Chief Justice Gogoi and Justices S.K. Kaul and K.M. Joseph said “the appropriate bench will fix the schedule with regard to the hearing of appeals in the case”.

In an analytical piece, The Wire reported why the title suit can wait and that the Supreme Court must hear it in its natural course. “The Supreme Court is not and cannot be anxious about fast-tracking a case merely because it has been pending for so many years without resolution, or that its outcome is likely to influence the results of a general election.”

On January 4, 2019, the Supreme Court deferred hearing a bunch of petitions in the Ayodhya title dispute case till January 10. “Further orders will be passed by an appropriate bench on January 10 for fixing the date of hearing the matter,” a bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice S.K. Kaul said.

On January 8, the Supreme Court set up a five-judge constitution bench to hear the land dispute case, comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S.A. Bobde, N.V. Ramana, D.Y. Chandrachud and U.U. Lalit. Justice Lalit recused himself days later.

On January 25, the constitution bench was reconstituted, with Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S.A. Bobde, D.Y. Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S.A. Nazeer.

On March 8, the apex court decided to refer the matter to a mediation committee headed by Justice (retd) F.M.I. Khalifullah and comprising the respected advocate Sriram Panchu and the Art of Living founder Venkatratnam Ravishankar Ramanayakanpet (also known as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar). Two months later, on May 10, the committee submitted its report to the court.

On August 5, the court granted the mediators more time but also began day-to-day hearings on August 6.

In a surprise development, it was revealed on the morning of October 16 that the Sunni Waqf Board dropped its claim to the land. The Board’s settlement proposal was apparently submitted via the three-member mediation panel.