The Supreme Court on Tuesday suggested mediation to find a solution to the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, saying the court can only decide on property and what it was looking at was “a possibility of healing relationships”.
Senior counsel C S Vaidyanathan, appearing for Ramlalla Virajman, and senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, representing Mahant Suresh Das, opposed this saying that mediation had already been tried but had not worked, while Nirmohi Akhara backed the proposal. Senior counsel Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for appellant M Sadiq, too said they were ready to give it another shot “in larger interest”.
The bench deferred passing an order on its suggestion for mediation and said it would look into this when it meets again on March 6.
“You seriously think the entire dispute for so many years is only about property? We can decide only on property. Therefore we are considering a possibility of healing relations,” observed Justice S A Bobde, who was part of a five-judge Constitution bench that took up appeals against the September 30, 2010, verdict of the Allahabad High Court on Tuesday.
The HC had ordered three-way division of the disputed 2.77 acres of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site between the Nirmohi Akhara sect, Sunni Central Wakf Board, Uttar Pradesh, and Ramlalla Virajman.
“We have a perspective on the matter — it’s a dispute resolution mechanism,” Justice Bobde added. The bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi also comprised Justices D Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer.
CJI Gogoi initiated the suggestion of a court-monitored mediation under a court-appointed monitor, asking the parties what their opinion was if the court were to invoke Section 89 of the Civil Procedure Code, pending authentication of the translation of evidence done by the Uttar Pradesh government.
Section 89 says that “where it appears to the court that there exist elements of a settlement which may be acceptable to the parties, the court shall formulate the terms of settlement and give them to the parties for their observations and after receiving the observations of the parties, the court may reformulate the terms of a possible settlement and refer the same for a) arbitration; b) conciliation; c) judicial settlement including settlement through Lok Adalat; or d) mediation”.
The court also gave the parties eight weeks’ time to examine the authenticity of the translations of the oral evidence done by translators deputed by the UP government so that there is no dispute regarding this when hearing commences. Referring to the translations, the CJI said, “Parties have to say if official translations given by UP are acceptable to them so that there is no dispute later… If there is consensus that the translations available are acceptable, then we will proceed.”
Dhavan said “we have not examined the official translation by UP” and sought time for this.
Vaidyanathan and Kumar opposed this, and said the court had already gone into the matter in 2017 when the parties had agreed to sit together and sort out their differences over the translations. Accordingly, the parties had sorted matters, they added.
The CJI pointed out that the order referred to seemed to be in respect of the translated documents and not oral evidence. He said it may also have to be looked into whether all these records were relevant to the hearing so that those which are not can be avoided.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for a contesting party on the mosque side, agreed that lawyers on either side had sat together before the Registrar and discussed, but “we did not examine the authenticity of the translation”. The CJI then asked the parties, “suppose we give time (to authenticate translations), pending your response, what will be your response if we invoke section 89 CPC?”
“It’s something we are considering seriously… As there is no private property involved… We would like to give a chance to mediation, even if it’s one per cent success,” observed Justice Bobde. He said this will have to be confidential.
Vaidyanathan said mediation had been tried more than once but had not worked. When he referred to differences between the two sides over Ram’s birthplace, Justice Bobde said, “We don’t think that’s the best response to a proposal for mediation — to point out disputes.”