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As Ayodhya – Babri masjid title suit hearing begins, Muslims may seek a larger Bench

Babri masjid demolition case: The appeal, which was last heard on December 5, 2017, is before a three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, and also comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer.

Written by Seema Chishti | New Delhi |
Updated: February 8, 2018 10:33:21 am
Ayodhya hearing in SC today One of the parties to the case outside the Supreme Court on December 5, the day it was last heard. (Express Photo/Tashi Tobgyal/Archive)

The Supreme Court will resume hearing on Thursday cross-appeals against the Allahabad High Court order of September 30, 2010, which partitioned the disputed Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya three ways. The appeal, which was last heard on December 5, 2017, is before a three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, and also comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer.

Among those arguing the case for the Babri Masjid, the view is firming up that the matter should be heard by a larger Bench. While nothing is being said publicly yet, the side arguing for Hashim Ansari (deceased, now being represented by his son Iqbal Ansari) may argue that since the courts have earlier spoken of larger Benches in matters of national and Constitutional importance, this appeal must be heard by a Bench of “at least seven judges”.

This issue was raised on December 5 last year and recorded in the order that was passed — but was kept open for consideration at a later stage. At least three earlier cases in the Ayodhya matter have been decided by a larger Bench of the Supreme Court when the suits for title were pending in the High Court.

The importance of the matter was stated in the High Court judgment, as well as in earlier judgments by larger Benches of the Supreme Court. Even the original suits for title were heard by three judges of the High Court, contrary to the general practice of such matters being heard by a single judge of the district court.

Also Read | Babri demolition 25 years later: How High Court saw answer in split verdict

The December hearing had been dramatic, with senior counsel threatening to walk away from the proceedings if the matter was not postponed and all documents not made available to the appellants. Now, sources say, a lot of the material has been made available to the parties, with translations and photocopying having been nearly completed.

Title suits over the land on which the Babri Masjid once stood were filed between 1950 and 1984.

On December 6, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told an election rally in Gujarat: “Kapil Sibal advocated the cause of the Muslim community. He has the right to do it and we do not have any problem with it. You can present your argument quoting all facts and laws… But you dare say that the case should not be heard till the 2019 elections? You want to stop the hearing of the Ram Temple (issue) in the name of elections?”

Sibal, a Congress MP who appeared for Iqbal Ansari, had asked that the matter be heard after the 2019 general elections.

Advocate Shakeel Syed, counsel for the Sunni Waqf Board, when contacted, said, “We are confident and prepared for the hearing, and we will argue our case.” Advocate M R Shamshad, counsel for Iqbal Ansari, said, “You will come to know what we have to say when we argue.”

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