Lucknow: For 60-year-old judge S.K. Yadav, who acquitted all 32 accused in the 28-year-old Babri Masjid demolition case Wednesday, life has come full circle.
Yadav began his professional career as a trial court judge from Ayodhya in 1990, and was present in the city when the Babri Masjid was demolished on 6 December 1992. And now, he has retired after pronouncing Wednesday’s judgment in the Ayodhya case.
Yadav, who has been hearing the case since 2015, was supposed to retire in 2019, but was given an extension three times by the Supreme Court to complete the trial and pronounce the verdict.
In an exclusive interview to ThePrint, judge Yadav said though he has heard many cases in his life and pronounced many judgments, this case was undoubtedly the biggest, most complex and tricky case of his judicial career.
“This case was not like other cases. It was much more complex with voluminous evidence, thousands of witnesses, and also a case of political colour. It was an extremely sensitive case and a highlight of my judicial career,” Yadav said.
“Each side, whether it is the prosecution or the defence, worked very hard in the case, but the verdict relied purely on evidence, or lack of it,” he said.
‘Went through evidence time and again, till the last minute’
Yadav, who took 30 days to write the judgment, said he spent sleepless nights going through the evidence over and over again, before coming to a conclusion at the last moment.
“A judge decides a case purely on the basis of evidence before him on the file. It does not matter what newspapers say or people think. We have to stick to what the law says and clinically look at all aspects, which was done in this case too,” judge Yadav said.
“Whatever may be the public opinion, I analysed all the evidence time and again, even till the last minute. I went through the statements of all the 351 witnesses minutely over and over again… so much so that I heard statements and evidence even in my sleep. There were days all these documents would come before my eyes,” he said.
“The case did give me some sleepless nights. When you are a judge, there is no scope for error.”
‘Sheer volume of evidence was most challenging’
Judge Yadav said the most challenging task was to consider the voluminous evidence in the case, during the trial as well as while writing the judgment.
“The sheer volume of evidence was extremely exhausting — including videos, audio files, pictures, newspaper clips, statements of witnesses, written arguments that ran into hundreds of pages by both the defence and the prosecution,” he said. “The biggest challenge was to analyse all of it objectively and arrive at a conclusion.”
Another challenge, he said, was to do all this with the deadlines set by the Supreme Court in mind.
“The Supreme Court asked us to do day-to-day hearings and complete the trial in 2017, and even after that it took us three years. Till last month, we were not sure if we would be able to wrap this up. To handle such a complicated case on a deadline becomes even more challenging,” he said.
‘Didn’t think I would be able to do it’
Judge Yadav said when he was handed the case, he did not think he would be able to deliver the judgment.
“It was a massive case with so many layers. It dated back to an incident that happened nearly three decades ago. I never thought I will be able to finish it and pronounce the judgment,” he said.
“I heard the case for 5 years and 36 days to be precise, and I am glad I could take it to its logical conclusion,” the judge added.