New Delhi, Jan 10 : The Supreme Court on Thursday deferred the Ayodhya title dispute hearing to January 29, saying the five-judge bench to hear the case will be reconstituted as Justice U.U. Lalit has recused himself.
The batch of cross petitions are rooted in the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgement trifurcating the disputed site giving one each to Lord Lalla, Nirmohi Akhara and original Muslim litigant.
The apex court decision came after senior counsel Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for one of the Muslim litigants, told the bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi that Justice Lalit in 1997 appeared for former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh in one of the matters connected to the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute.
Singh is currently the Rajasthan Governor.
While telling the bench that personally he had no objection to the presence of Justice Lalit on the bench hearing the challenge to the 2010 Allahabad High Court verdict, he left it Justice Lalit to take a call.
Justice Lalit conveyed to Chief Justice Gogoi and other members of the bench — Justice S.A. Bobde, Justice N.V. Ramana, Justice D.Y. Chandrchud about his reluctance to continue on the bench and recused himself.
Noting that Dhavan said that he had no objection to Justice Lalit hearing the matter and had left it to him (Justice Lalit) to take the call, the court in its order today adjourned the hearing as Justice Lalit “expressed his disinclination to participate in the hearing any further.”
Addressing the “speculation”, also pointed out by Dhavan, over the matter being referred to the five-judge bench and not three-judge bench as was directed on September 27, 2018, by a bench headed by then Chief Justice Dipak Misra, the order today referred to the Supreme Court rules that say that the “very cause, appeal or matter shall be heard by a bench consisting of not less than two judges nominated by the Chief Justice.”
The court in its order today said, “It is always open for the Chief Justice to decide, having regard to the various relevant facts and circumstances, which cannot be exhaustively laid down, to constitute benches of such strength that the Chief Justice deems it proper”.
The court thereafter directed its registry to go through all the records relating to the Ayodhya case which are available with it and submit a report on January 29 as to how much time it would require for translating the documents and the case material which are in Persian, Arabic, Urdu and Gurmukhi languages.
Referring to the report by the top court secretary general (SG), the order said that in “four suits, out of which these appeals have arisen, in all, 120 issues have been framed for trial.”
The order, referring to SG’s report, noted that a total of 88 witnesses were examined. The depositions of the witnesses run into 13,886 pages. A total of 257 documents were exhibited (according to Dr Rajeev Dhavan the number of Exhibits is 533 including 3 archaeological reports). The judgement runs into 4,304 printed pages (according to the Registry, 8,533 typed pages).
The court further noted that its August 10, 2015 order says that “though the learned counsels for the parties had attempted to submit some translated version of the evidence, there is a dispute with regard to the correctness of the translations made.”
Having noted the magnitude of the paper work that requires to be done, the court today directed its registry to “physically inspect the records which are lying under lock and key; make an assessment of the time that will be taken to make the cases ready for hearing by engaging, if required, official translators of the requisite number and give a report thereof to the court.”
The court asked its registry to submit the report on January 29 when the reconstituted bench will assemble once again to take up the matter for further orders “fixing a date of hearing and for drawing up a time schedule for hearing of the cases.”
However, when senior counsel Harish Salve, appearing for one of the Hindu litigants, offered to assist the registry in handling of the papers and their translations, Chief Justice Gogoi said he will rely entirely on his own registry to do the job.