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Giving a new twist to the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute, the Sunni Waqf Board on Tuesday urged the Supreme Court to defer hearing in the Ayodhya title suit till July 2019 when the next Lok Sabha elections will be over, but the top court brushed aside the plea and fixed February 8, 2018 for commencing final hearing in the case.
As the bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice S. Abdul Nazeer began hearing the matter on Tuesday, senior counsel Kapil Sibal, Rajiv Dhavan and Dushyant Dave urged the court not to go ahead with the hearing which would have repercussions for the country's polity.
"The court should not hear the matter which has repercussions on the polity of the country," Sibal, who appeared for the Waqf Board, urged the court to have the hearing in July 2019, suggesting that it would have a bearing on 2019 general elections.
Senior counsel Harish Salve countered Sibal. He told the bench that whatever the repercussion outside the court was not the court's lookout. As far as the court was concerned, it was "just a case" like any other case before it, he stressed.
Urging the bench to commence hearings in December itself, Salve took exception that "it is being presumed which way the verdict will go... You have it (hearing) in December".
Salve appeared for one of the petitioners seeking an early hearing on the petitions challenging the 2010 Allahabad High Court verdict, which was stayed by the top court on May 9, 2011, which had described the High Court verdict that had divided the disputed Babri Masjid site between the Nirmohi Akhara, Lord Ram deity and the Sunni Waqf Board as "strange and surprising".
Referring to a statement by a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader that the matter would be listed and decided in three months, Sibal said that "justice should not only be done but also appear to have been done".
Dave, also seeking that the hearing takes place after the 2019 elections, wondered what was the "hurry". He told the bench that the government was keen that the Supreme Court heard the appeals early because Ram temple was part of the ruling party's manifesto. He urged the court not to fall into their trap, a point also reiterated by Sibal.
According to Dave, the issue tears into the secular, democratic fabric of the country. He joined senior counsel Rajeev Dhavan in urging the bench that the matter should be heard by a five-judge constitution bench.
Sibal also raised the issue of paucity of time in preparing the case that involves relying on more than 19,000 documents, a position also supported by Dhavan, who said the hearing would involve making their submissions and also "honestly" responding to the queries from the bench.
Telling the bench that hearing would take long and would not be completed till October next year when Chief Justice Misra retires, Dhavan along with Sibal pushed for deferring the hearing till July 2019.
Sibal wanted to know what was the urgency to hear the matter now.
As Justice Bhushan did not appreciate the submission that hearing would not be completed within the tenure of the Chief Justice Misra, Dhavan regretted his submission.
Having ordered that the hearing would commence on February 8, the court on Tuesday directed its registry to inform the bench by mid-January whether all the requirements of filing of pleading and documents had been completed for appropriate orders on the administrative side.
After rejecting the submission on postponing the hearing till 2019, including hearing by a constitution bench, the court asked senior counsel C.S. Vaidyanathan, appearing for deity Ram Lala, to give introduction of the dispute before the court.
At this point of time when Sibal, Dhavan and Dave sought to withdraw from the hearing, Salve took a dig at them while the court described the approach of three senior lawyers as "shocking and surprising".
Describing as "novel" the prayer that the matter be heard in 2019, the order rejected Dhavan's submission that he would require four months to "read, prepare and argue", saying it was "advanced with medieval passion and sans reason."
The court noted that the Advocates-on-Record appearing for the parties have assured that they will sit together, work in harmony and will see to it that the documents are filed within a time frame, if not already filed.
If the Registry finds that the matter is incomplete for some reason or the other, it shall place the matter before Chief Justice Misra for fixing a date for completion of the record, it said.
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