The Supreme Court Wednesday indicated that there would be no change in the bench which had heard the CBI’s criminal appeal in the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition case a fortnight ago when it observed that “something is peculiar about this case” and that “prima facie” the order exonerating BJP leader L K Advani and others was not correct.
A bench led by Justice P C Ghose observed that he would want to hear this case along with Justice Rohinton F Nariman, who had on the last date grilled the CBI over not pursuing criminal conspiracy charges against Advani and other BJP leaders that included Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti.
Justice Ghose, who was on Wednesday sharing the bench with Justice Deepak Gupta, adjourned the hearing to Thursday after observing: “The other problem is that my brother (Justice Nariman) is not with me today. This is a part-heard matter.”
The proceeding began as advocate M R Shamshad sought an adjournment for a week to file documents relating to the status of the cases before trial courts in Lucknow and Rae Bareli.
Shamshad was appearing for Haji Mahboob Ahmed, a petitioner in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suits.
When the bench was going to postpone the matter by a week, senior advocate K K Venugopal, representing Advani, intervened seeking a longer adjournment.
Venugopal argued that he was there before another bench of the apex court arguing a part-heard matter on a daily basis and hence it would be appropriate if this matter was adjourned for four weeks.
“That would take us to May. Are you seeking a date in May? So should it be taken up after the summer vacation?” Justice Ghose asked Venugopal. While the senior lawyer seemed to agree, Shamshad interfered, saying he would rather want this matter to be heard on Thursday if Venugopal was seeking a four-week adjournment.
“That can be done…. My brother (Justice Rohinton F Nariman) is also there tomorrow (sitting on the same bench). Let it come tomorrow then,” said Justice Ghose, fixing Thursday for the next hearing. Justice Ghose, a senior judge on the bench, retires on May 27.
Under the Supreme Court’s listing norms, this case is likely to be retained before a bench comprising Justice Rohinton Nariman after the senior judge’s demitting office. However, had the matter been posted after summer vacation without a hearing before this bench of Justices Ghose (who would retire during the vacation) and Nariman, it could go to any judge.
On March 6, Justice Nariman had expressed his willingness to pass an order for a joint trial of the two criminal cases in the matter after invoking criminal conspiracy charges on all accused, observing: “Prima facie, we don’t think they (BJP leaders) can be discharged.”
The counsel for the BJP leaders had then sought an opportunity to be be heard before the order. But Wednesday, this matter came up before a different bench.
The previous bench had on March 6 questioned the CBI’s conduct in prosecuting the matter against several party leaders, including Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti, and said their discharge on a technical ground was inappropriate. “Why didn’t you file a supplementary chargesheet against 13 accused in this case, the way you filed for eight other accused in another case?” the bench had questioned additional solicitor-general Neeraj K Kaul, appearing for the CBI.