THE Supreme Court on Tuesday set up a five-judge Constitution Bench to hear the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land title dispute case. Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi will head the bench, which will also comprise Justices S A Bobde, N V Ramana, U U Lalit and D Y Chandrachud.
A notice issued by the Court said the Bench will take up the matter for hearing at 10.30 am on January 10. It is hearing appeals against the Allahabad High Court verdict of September 30, 2010, ordering a three-way division of the disputed 2.77 acres at the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site, giving a third each to the Nirmohi Akhara sect, the Sunni Central Wakf Board, Uttar Pradesh, and Ramlalla Virajman.
On January 4, the top court had said that further orders in the matter would be passed on January 10 by “the appropriate bench, as may be constituted”.
The apex court is hearing 14 appeals against the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment. On October 29 last year, the court had fixed the matter for hearing in the first week of January. An application for an urgent hearing by advancing the date, filed by the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha, had been turned down by the top court.
Earlier, on September 27, during a hearing of the Ayodhya land dispute case, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, by 2:1 majority, had refused to refer to a five-judge Constitution bench the issue of reconsideration of its observations in a 1994 judgment that a mosque was not integral to Islam.
Dismissal of the plea to refer the matter to a larger bench had cleared the way for beginning of the final hearing of the appeals.
In the 1994 order in the Dr M Ismail Faruqui etc vs Union Of India And Others case, the court had said a mosque not an “essential part of the practice of the religion of Islam, and hence “its acquisition (by the State) is not prohibited by the provisions in the Constitution of India”. The petitioners had contended that earlier decisions in the Ayodhya case were influenced by this statement and hence it should be re-examined by a Constitution bench.
But the Supreme Court judgment rejected this and said, “to conclude, we again make it clear that questionable observations made in Ismail Faruqui’s case… were made in context of land acquisition” and that “those observations were neither relevant for deciding the suits nor relevant for deciding these appeals”. The judges added that “the observation need not be read broadly to hold that a mosque can never be an essential part of the practice of the religion of Islam”.
The Faruqui verdict had come on a plea challenging the constitutional validity of the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act-1993, under which 67.703 acres were acquired in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid complex.
A five-judge Constitution bench of the court headed by then CJI M N Venkatchalliah had in that case held “under the Mahomedan Law applicable in India, title to a mosque can be lost by adverse possession… If that is the position in law, there can be no reason to hold that a mosque has a unique or special status, higher than that of the places of worship of other religions in secular India to make it immune from acquisition by exercise of the sovereign or prerogative power of the State. A mosque is not an essential part of the practice of the religion of Islam and namaz (prayer) by Muslims can be offered anywhere, even in open. Accordingly, its acquisition is not prohibited by the provisions in the Constitution of India”.