NEW DELHI : A five-judge Constitution bench on Thursday directed the mediation panel, which was set up to settle the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, to submit a status report by 18 July.

The three-member mediation panel is headed by retired Supreme Court judge, Justice F.M.I. Kalifulla.

“We deem it proper to request Justice (Retd) F.M.I. Kalifulla to inform us about the progress of mediation till date and the stage at which the said process is presently at," the Constitution bench said.

The SC said that if mediation does not work, the case will be heard on a day-to-day basis from 25 July.

Gopal Singh Visharad, one of the original plaintiffs in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case, had sought a judicial decision on the dispute and annulment of the ongoing mediation process, complaining nothing much was happening. Visharad then sought an early hearing of the case. The matter will be heard on 15 August. Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for Sunni Central Waqf Board, opposed the plea. “Is this plea to scare us? This plea needs to be rejected right away. We have strong objections to the manner in which this application has been drafted. This is not the time to criticize the mediation committee," he said.

However, the bench told Dhavan that as the apex court had constituted the mediation panel, it was entitled to get the status report.

Appearing for the applicant, senior advocate K.S. Parasaran said that it was probably very difficult to settle a dispute of this nature through mediation. It would be better if the apex court decided the dispute judicially, he said. However, Dhavan said: “I do not think it is fair at this point in time to criticize the methodology of the committee". In response, CJI Gogoi said: “We will call for a report from the mediation panel." However, Dhawan was quick to point out that “it was simply not fair. They (applicant) do not ask for a recall of the order of 10 May. They are simply asking to scrap the mediation panel."Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan said, adding, “Serious mediation is taking place there."

Stopping the mediation midway would be akin to a recall of the 10 May order by which the apex court had extended the time till 15 August for the committee to conclude the process, he reiterated.

The Supreme Court on 10 May had granted additional time to the three-member mediation committee to arrive at a mutually agreeable solution to the Ayodhya land title dispute case. The panel, which submitted an interim report in a sealed cover on 7 May, was given time till 15 August to work out “an amicable solution" to the dispute. The panel chairman had sought more time to find an amicable solution.

The court had directed the panel to hold in-camera mediation proceedings in Faizabad, near Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh.

The apex court had also directed that “utmost confidentiality" be maintained and barred both print and electronic media from reporting the mediation proceedings.

Fourteen appeals have so far been filed before the Supreme Court against the 2010 Allahabad high court judgement which said that the 22.7 acres in Ayodhya be equally partitioned among the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla. In light of Friday’s order, the hearings of these cases are deferred until the final report of the mediation committee is submitted.

PTI has contributed to this story.