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SC asks parties to Ayodhya dispute to explore mediation even if there is 1 per cent chance of success


Press Trust of India New Delhi
The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the contending parties in the politically sensitive Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute in Ayodhya to seriously consider mediation for a permanent solution even if there is "one per cent chance" of success.
Observing it was looking at the possibility of "healing relations" between the parties, a five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi also said it would pass an order on March 6 on whether to refer the dispute to a court-appointed mediator.
The suggestion for another round of mediation, however, drew a mixed response from the parties to the decades-old dispute.
The proposal was mooted by one of the judges, Justice S A Bobde, during the hearing when both the Hindu and the Muslim litigants were sparring over the veracity of documents related to the case which were translated by the Uttar Pradesh government and filed with the apex court registry.
"We are considering it (mediation) very seriously. You all (parties) have used the word that this matter is not adversarial. We would like to give a chance to mediation even if there is one per cent chance," said the bench, also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S A Nazeer.
"We would like to know your (both parties) views on it. We do not want any third party to make a comment to jeopardise the entire process."

"This, we have done keeping in mind that the period of eight weeks that we have allowed to the parties to go through the translations of the oral and documentary evidence could be effectively utilised to try and resolve the issues in the manner indicated above," the bench said.
"We have suggested to the parties that during the interregnum a court appointed and court monitored mediation with utmost confidentiality could be initiated to bring a permanent solution to the issues raised in the cases," it observed.
The bench noted in its order that lawyers representing the legal heirs of original litigants M Siddiq and Mohd Hashim and Nirmohi Akhara are "in broad agreement" with the suggestion of the court about mediation while counsel appearing for Sri Ram Lalla Virajman, Mahant Suresh Das and Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha have "not concurred" with it.
"Do you seriously think that the entire dispute for so many years is for property? We can only decide property rights but we are considering the possibility of healing relations," it said.
"Keeping in mind that the mediation suggested by the court is in terms of the mandate under section 89 of the CPC and in an appropriate case it will always be open for the court to invoke its power, we deem it proper to observe that the mediation suggested is only to effectively utilize the time of eight weeks that would be taken to make the cases ready for hearing," the bench said in its written order.
Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for M Siddiq, said they were agreeable to the "very important suggestion" of mediation but said the court should fix a time frame for mediation as the dispute was a "knotty issue".
"We will also have to fix the time frame after talking to the mediator," the bench said.
Senior advocate C S Vaidyanathan, appearing for Ram Lalla Virajman, said they did not agree for "another round of mediation" as such attempts have failed in the past.
"In the earlier mediation, it was accepted that Lord Rama was born in Ayodhya but not at this (disputed) site. Mediation has been tried not once but several times," he said.
Senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, appearing for one of the parties, said things have not worked during earlier round of mediation and "everybody wants that the matter should be decided by the Supreme Court".
"Mediation is not possible so this court should decide the matter," Kumar said.
Dhavan referred to the mediation held between 1991-93 and said, "In the larger interest, this court is saying do it (mediation) again. From our side, we are agreeable".
At the outset, the apex court said it can proceed with the hearing if there is consensus among the parties with regard to the veracity of the translated documents.
The bench referred to a report filed by the secretary general of the apex court on the status of documents pertaining to the case which said that "the record consists of 38,147 pages of which 12,814 pages are in Hindi, 18,607 pages are in English, 501 pages are in Urdu, 97 pages are in Gurmukhi, 21 pages are in Sanskrit, 86 pages are in other language scripts, 14 pages contain images and 1,729 pages are in combination of more than one language script".
The report, which was shared with the parties in the court, said 11,479 pages were required to be translated and if all eight official translators of the apex court are asked to do the job, it is likely to take about 120 working days to make the case ready for hearing.
Vaidyanathan, however, said the exercise of translation has already been conducted and the parties had raised no objections with regard to their veracity earlier.
He said it was "not appropriate" for the other side to now raise this issue as translated documents were verified and accepted by all parties in December 2017.
Dhavan said they have not examined the translated copies of the documents filed by the Uttar Pradesh government and they have a right to examine its veracity.
"I am insisting on my right to examine it (documents)," he said, adding, "This kind of accusation (from the other side) that we do not want to argue the case is not right. We do want to argue the case. Apart from authenticity, we will also examine the documents for its relevance".
However, the bench said, "So dispute is arising between the parties about the authenticity of translated documents. We are not going to waste our time if the parties have dispute over this."

The bench said that after the hearing commences in the matter, it does not want a situation where any of the parties raises objection about veracity of the documents.
"....we are of the view that to proceed with the hearing of the cases it is necessary to have on record translation of the depositions as well as the Exhibits on which no controversy can be raised at a later point of time to derail the hearing once the same commences."

Fourteen appeals have been filed in the apex court against the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment, delivered in four civil suits, that the 2.77-acre land in Ayodhya be partitioned equally among the three parties -- the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla.

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First Published: Feb 26 2019 | 7:40 PM IST

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