Supreme Court stays order on title suit

Supreme Court stays order on title suit

New Delhi: The Supreme Court opened the door for a possible compromise on the title suit over the disputed site at Ayodhya after it temporarily stayed the judgement that was to have been delivered by the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court on Friday.

The apex court’s decision came when it admitted a petition seeking a deferment on the high court’s judgement. The matter will be heard by the Supreme Court on 28 September.

The decision brought relief to the authorities and the town of Ayodhya, the epicentre of the dispute where the 16th century Babri mosque was torn down by Hindu activists on 6 December 1992, triggering communal clashes across the country.

In view of the latest developments, the home ministry extended a ban on bulk SMS/MMS messages in all service areas till 29 September.

The two-judge bench was split over taking up the petition. It then followed precedence to admit it, which meant that the high court order would automatically be delayed until the petition was heard.

Justice H.L. Gokhale, one of the two apex court judges, was of the view that the parties should resolve the dispute out of court since there was more scope for an amicable settlement if the judgement was withheld.

“Tomorrow, if there are consequences, you will be the first people who will blame us. Now a request is being made to this court. All these years it was in the high court. Why are you so averse (to a settlement)? In a matter like this, do you expect a better attitude after the judgement?" justice Gokhale asked the lawyers who appeared for Ramchandra Paramahans and the Sunni Wakf Board.

Justice R.V. Raveendran, who headed Thursday’s bench, had wanted to dismiss the petition.

The plea for deferment, filed by Ramesh Chandra Tripathi, had been rejected by the Allahabad high court on 17 September.

The move, which has triggered expectations of a reconciliation between Hindu and Muslim groups over the ownership of the disputed land, may lead to further delay in the judicial process.

If the high court fails to deliver its judgement before 1 October, there is a chance of a retrial as one of the three judges on the special bench, justice Dharam Veer Sharma, is due to retire on 30 September. Normally, if any judge pulls out of a bench before a verdict, the entire case has to be tried again. However, Gokhale indicated that the apex court could possibly extend his tenure in consultation with the Union government.

In Lucknow, Tripathi’s lawyer Prashant Chandra argued that only conciliation and meetings could resolve the six-decade-old dispute. “No jurisdiction can resolve the dispute because it’s a conflict between mythology and history," he told reporters.

Zafaryab Geelani, counsel for the Sunni Wakf Board, one of the litigants in the title suit, ruled this out. “There is no chance of reconciliation. This is something which has not been happening for 19 years," he said.

Meanwhile, tension appeared to ease a little in Ayodhya, where the Uttar Pradesh government has deployed at least 50,000 men from the state police and the paramilitary forces.

However, the deferment has left local residents disappointed. “We were desperately looking for the judgement. We would have accepted any judgement. The postponement has increased further unease among people," said Vijay Gupta, a textile shop owner near the disputed site.

“For the past one week, we hardly had a few buyers. The economy of Ayodhya depends on devotees from outside. People will not come to Ayodhya till the court announces its judgement," he added.

Another businessman, Prabhu Yadav, feels that the judgement would have ended uncertainty.

“The policemen have turned entire Ayodhya into a fortress. No outsider wants to come here. We want livelihood not policemen here," he complained.

According to M.P. Aggarwal, district magistrate of Faizabad, the forces will remain deployed till the judgement comes. The forces are continuing flag marches in throughout Ayodhya.

Mohammed Hashim Ansari, one of the petitioners in the title suit and member of the Babri Masjid reconstruction committee, said it would have accepted the court’s decision. “In the past, there have been many attempts to find a middle way. But it has always failed. We just want a court order and no mediation or talks with any group. People want to take political advantage by getting the judgement postponed," he said.

While the ruling Congress welcomed the Supreme Court move, the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) avoided commenting. “We will wait for the high court verdict to come and then react to it," BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said.

Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said: “Congress always maintained that any problem should be solved either through dialogue, mutual understanding and in a cordial atmosphere. If it’s not possible, it should be decided by court and it should be accepted."

PTI contributed to this story.