Four days before petitions challenging the Allahabad High Court order on the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit were to come up, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi Friday reconstituted the Supreme Court bench that will hear the appeals.
Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer, who were on a three-judge bench last year with then CJI Dipak Misra when the Ayodhya matter was raised, are now on the five-judge bench along with CJI Gogoi and Justices.
Justices Bhushan and Nazeer were part of the three-member bench headed by former CJI Dipak Misra when the case came up last year. Both were excluded when CJI Gogoi expanded the bench to make it a five-member one with four judges, all in line to become Chief Justices. But the recusal of Justice U U Lalit cleared the way for a new bench and brought in Justices Bhushan and Nazeer.
They replace Justices N V Ramana and U U Lalit who were on the bench constituted by the CJI earlier this month. That bench sat on January 10 to fix a schedule for hearing but could not proceed after senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, representing one of the appellants, pointed out that Justice Lalit, while a lawyer, had appeared for BJP leader Kalyan Singh in a contempt matter related to the demolition of the Babri Masjid — Singh was Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh when the disputed structure was demolished.
Following this, Justice Lalit recused himself and the CJI adjourned the matter “to another date… to fix a date of hearing and to draw up a time schedule for hearing of the case”.
On Friday, the CJI reconstituted the bench which will meet at 10.30 am on January 29 to start hearing appeals challenging the September 30, 2010 verdict of the Allahabad High Court that ordered a three-way division of the disputed 2.77 acres in Ayodhya between the Nirmohi Akhara sect, the Sunni Central Wakf Board, Uttar Pradesh and Ramlalla Virajman.
Last year, Justices Bhushan and Nazeer were part of the bench with then CJI Misra but could not start hearing the main Ayodhya petition as it had to first rule on a plea by Dhavan to refer the Supreme Court’s 1994 ruling in the M Ismail Faruqui and Others vs Union of India case to a Constitution Bench. On September 27 last year, the bench, in a 2-1 verdict, rejected Dhavan’s plea. While CJI Misra and Justice Bhushan rejected the demand, Justice Nazeer dissented.