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Verdict on a Saturday, addendum, judges’ dinner — How SC’s Ayodhya judgment saw many firsts

Supreme Court’s historic verdict on 9 November 2019 paved the way for the Ram temple in Ayodhya and demolition of the existing Babri Masjid structure.

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New Delhi: The Ram Temple ground-breaking ceremony in Ayodhya Wednesday is coming months after the Supreme Court paved the way for the temple’s construction and demolition of the existing Babri Masjid structure after it adjudicated a 162-year-old land-title suit between Hindus and Muslims.

In its unanimous verdict on 9 November 2019, a five-judge constitution bench led by the then chief justice of India (CJI), Ranjan Gogoi, held that the 2.77-acre disputed site belonged to Hindus because evidence presented before it through travelogues established their continuous possession of the land.

The court ordered the site to be handed over to a trust, which the government was directed to constitute within three months.

The historic verdict, which settled the decades-old politically and communally sensitive land-title dispute, had many firsts.

Here is a look at the striking features of the hearing and the verdict.


Also read: 10 milestones on the centuries-long road to the Ram Janmabhoomi temple in Ayodhya


Constitution bench heard a civil dispute

In a first, a constitution bench of five-judges ruled on a civil dispute. Normally, a litigation of civil nature is brought before a two-judge bench. However, if there is disagreement on a legal issue between two benches of the same strength then the case is referred to a larger bench, usually of three judges.

Announced on 8 January 2019, the Gogoi-led bench comprised four future CJIs: Justices S.A. Bobde, N.V. Ramana, U.U. Lalit and D.Y. Chandrachud. Days later, the bench was reconstituted after Lalit and Ramana recused themselves.

Lalit’s decision to withdraw was known — the Muslim side objected to his presence on the bench because he had appeared for former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh in a related case. However, Ramana’s reasons for recusal were not revealed.

Justices S. Abdul Nazeer and Ashok Bhushan replaced the two on the bench.

On the first day of hearing, 10 January 2019, Gogoi explained that he constituted a larger bench under the Supreme Court rules, which extend plenary administrative power to the CJI to refer a matter to a two-judge, or three-judge, or five-judge or an even larger bench depending on the importance of the issue involved in a case.

The case proceedings before the Allahabad High Court were also first of its kind. Unlike Calcutta and Delhi High Courts, the Allahabad High Court does not have an original jurisdiction where civil cases of a particular monetary value are heard. There, all civil disputes start from trial court. But in this case, the matter was withdrawn from a Faizabad court in 1989 and transferred to the HC — not before a single-judge bench, as is the practice, but a three-judge bench.


Also read: Whose Ram Rajya does Ayodhya temple bring — Gandhi’s or Modi’s? Ambedkar can answer


Judgment delivered on a Saturday

CJI Ranjan Gogoi chose a Saturday to release the judgment, making the Ayodhya verdict the first to be pronounced on a holiday.

Judges hold court five days a week, from Monday to Friday. In extraordinary circumstances, benches have assembled to hear cases on holidays or in early morning hours.

“It was rare to have such an important judgment delivered on Saturday. I do not remember any other judgment being delivered on a non-working day,” an officer of the court who worked with Gogoi’s office told ThePrint.

The officer did recall an instance when the then CJI M. Venkatachaliah held a special sitting pursuant to the demolition of the mosque on 6 December 1992 during which the bench had conveyed its anguish to then CM Kalyan Singh for failing in his promise to protect the 16th-century domed structure.

Briefing from UP chief secretary and DGP

A day before the pronouncement, CJI Ranjan Gogoi and two other bench members, Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and S. Abdul Nazeer, received an unprecedented briefing from the Uttar Pradesh chief secretary and director general of police on steps taken to ensure law and order in Ayodhya.

In a closed-door meeting that lasted an hour, the two high-ranking officials briefed the judges on how 4,000 central paramilitary personnel were rushed to UP to ramp up the security. Seventy eight hotspots were identified in the state to position the Rapid Action Force (RAF) to keep a strict vigil.

The judges were also briefed on the arrangements made for the Karthik Purnima Snan (bath) in Ayodhya on 11 November.


Also read: Let Ayodhya Ram Mandir be a reminder: Indian ancestors died for it, up to us to rebuild


Judge who authored verdict not named, addendum added for first time

The verdict was a departure from the norms practised in the Supreme Court for 70 years.

Firstly, the unanimous verdict did not carry the name of the authors. Secondly, it was read out in the open court by the CJI and not the lead author. Thirdly, the 929-page verdict was accompanied by a 116-page unsigned “addendum”.

The main judgment was divided into 17 chapters — from A to Q.

A Supreme Court official, who didn’t wish to be identified, said the judges were keen to speak in one voice to the nation on such an important issue and decided not to disclose the names.

A 116-page addendum to the judgment also didn’t bear the name of the writer. And even though it could have been passed off as a separate, concurring judgment, with different reasons to arrive at a consensus, the judges chose to present it as an addendum — a new concept in the court’s history.

The addendum weighed in faith and belief of the Hindus to decide in their favour.

Judges went out for dinner after pronouncement of order

Almost ten years after the matter reached SC, the five judges took 63 days to end the decades-old property litigation. After hearing the matter for 40 days, they wrote the verdict at a breakneck speed in 23 days, scanning documents running into 30,000 pages.

Not just statements of witnesses, the judges also went through historic texts that were translated into English from 16 languages, including Hindi, Punjabi (Gurmukhi), Urdu, Persian and Arabic.

Relieved of the daunting task, the five judges treated themselves to a dinner at a five-star hotel. The five had a private enclosure for themselves where they were served Chinese.

92-year-old flew from Chennai to argue case

Given his mastery over Hindu scriptures, 92-year-old senior advocate K. Parasaran was chosen to represent Ram Lalla, the infant deity, in the case.

Parasaran had taken a backseat from active practice in 2016 and had moved back to Chennai, his hometown. However, two cases brought him back to Delhi — Sabarimala and Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute. Despite his age and CJI Ranjan Gogoi’s suggestion to sit and argue the case, Parasaran preferred court etiquettes.

“It’s okay. Your Lordships are too kind. The tradition of the Bar has been to stand and argue, and I am concerned about the tradition,” the lawyer said.

When senior advocate Rajeev Dhawan opposed the court’s order to hold daily hearings, Parasaran said: “My last wish before I die is to finish this case.”


Also read: Idea of India wasn’t demolished at Ayodhya. That happened in our ‘liberal’ homes


 

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1 COMMENT

  1. Judgement without signatures ? Who authored it ??? Is this precedence to settle a title suits ??Constructing Ram temple is welcome
    But constructing on masjid ,may be originally it was rammandir but 500 years masjid was there , may not augur well for religious sanctity.

    ???

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