Ram Mandir-Babri: Supreme Court to pronounce judgment tomorrow on reference [Read Timeline]
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Ram Mandir-Babri: Supreme Court to pronounce judgment tomorrow on reference [Read Timeline]

Murali Krishnan

The Supreme Court will pronounce its judgment tomorrow on the issue of reference of Ram Mandir- Babri case to a larger Bench.

The case was heard by a Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer.

The court will pronounce its decision on the limited aspect of whether the law laid down by the Supreme Court in its 1994 judgment in Ismail Faruqui v. Union of India should be revisited by a Constitution Bench.

In the Ismail Faruqui judgment, the Supreme Court had held that while offering of prayer or worship is a religious practice, offering prayer at every location where such prayers can be offered would not be an essential or integral part of such religious practice unless the place has a particular significance for that religion so as to form an essential or integral part thereof.

The test of comparative significance as it came to be called was strongly opposed by Senior Counsel Rajeev Dhavan. Appearing for Sunni Waqf Board, Dhavan had submitted that every place of worship of every religion is entitled to protection and comparative significance cannot be used to resolve inter-faith disputes.

Dhavan had placed heavy reliance on Justice BN Kirpal’s opinion in the TMA Pai Foundation judgment, quoting from that verdict,

“The one billion population of India consists of six main ethnic groups and fifty-two major tribes; six major religions and 6,400 castes and sub-castes; eighteen major languages and 1,600 minor languages and dialects. The essence of secularism in India can best be depicted if a relief map of India is made in mosaic, where the aforesaid one billion people are the small pieces of marble that go into the making of a map.

Each person, whatever his/her language, caste, religion, has his/her individual identity, which has to be preserved so that when pieced together it goes to form a depiction with the different geographical features of India.”

The Court had heard other Senior Counsel too before reserving its verdict on July 20 this year.

The hearings were also marked by a constant war of words between Dhavan and other Senior Counsel and ASGs appearing in the case.

Below is a timeline of the controversial case.

1885: Mahant Raghubar Das files a suit in the Court of the Sub-Judge, Faizabad, against the Secretary of State for India, seeking permission to construct a temple on the land adjoining the Babri mosque.

1949: Idols of Lord Ram appear inside the mosque allegedly placed there by Hindus. Muslims protest and both parties file civil suits. The government proclaims the premises a disputed area and locks the gates. This leads to the property going into the hands of the receiver, and a puja being conducted by a Hindu priest appointed by the receiver.

1950: Gopal Singh Visharad filed a suit in the Faizabad civil court seeking exclusive rights for performing puja for Lord Rama. He seeks a restraint order on the removal of idols on which the judge issued a temporary injunction. This order is later confirmed by a Division Bench of the Allahabad High Court.

1959: Suit filed by the Nirmohi Akhada, seeking transfer of charge of the disputed site from the receiver.

1961: Suit by the UP Sunni Central Board of Wakfs for the declaration and possession of the Babri site.

1964: All three suits filed by Hindus and the one filed by the Waqf Board are consolidated as suit No. 12/196, becoming the main case in the dispute.

1986: On a petition of one Hari Shanker Dubey, Faizabad Session Judge allows Hindus to worship at the site and the locks are re-opened. Muslims set up Babri Mosque Action Committee in protest.

1989: VHP steps up the campaign, laying the foundations of a Rama temple on the land adjacent to the disputed Mosque. Former VHP vice-president Justice Deoki Nandan Agarwal files a case, seeking the Mosque to be shifted elsewhere.

November 9, 1989: The then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, allows ‘shilanyas’ or ground-breaking ceremony, at an undisputed site.

1990: The then BJP president L.K. Advani launches a Rath Yatra to amass support for the construction of a temple at the disputed site.

December 6, 1992: Babri Masjid razed to the ground by a Hindu mob, resulting in widespread clashes between Hindus and the Muslims in which more than 2,000 people lose their lives.

December 16, 1992: MS Liberhan Commission headed by Justice Liberhan is constituted by the then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao to investigate the circumstances that led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

1993: President Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma sends a single-point reference under Article 143 to the Supreme Court to decide whether a Hindu temple existed in the area on which “the structure” stood.

1994: The SC declines to answer the Presidential Reference and returns it.

2002: The Allahabad High Court directs the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to excavate the site to determine if a temple lay underneath. ASI says there is evidence of a temple beneath the mosque, but Muslims dispute the findings.

April 2002: Arson attack on Ayodhya pilgrims in Godhra leaving 58 dead, sparks clashes in Gujarat. This was followed by Allahabad High Court Bench who began hearing on title suit.

2003: UP court rules that seven Hindu leaders should stand trial for the destruction of the Babri Mosque, but no charges are brought against Advani, who was also at the site in 1992.

2004: UP court in Uttar Pradesh rules that Advani’s role in the destruction of the mosque should be reviewed.

July 2010: High Court wraps up title suit hearing, verdict awaited.

September 23, 2010: A day ahead of the Allahabad High Court verdict, the Supreme Court agrees to hear a plea for deferment of pronouncement of judgment by the High Court; Orders High Court not to pronounce the judgment till the deferment plea is heard by the SC.

September 28, 2010: Supreme Court rejects deferment plea and the judgment to be pronounced on September 30, 2010

September 30, 2010: Allahabad High Court pronounces verdict, orders -3way division of the property.

May 9, 2011: Supreme Court stays Allahabad High Court verdict, the Bench of Justice Aftab Alam and RM Lodha remarks, “How could the high court engineer something like partitioning of disputed land on its own.”

August 10, 2015: Parties submit that the records relevant to the hearing of these appeals is voluminous comprising documents in several languages including Persian, Sanskrit, Arabic, Gurumukhi, Urdu and Hindi. Tells the Court that translation of these documents has not been very satisfactory and may itself require to be verified and corrected at some stage; Seek appropriate directions to be issued be issued to all concerned to file their compilations of the record in suitable numbers.

Court refuses to issue any directions instead stating that counsel for the parties may appear before the Registrar and work out a satisfactory and agreeable method by which documents may be translated, collated, compiled and filed by the parties concerned.

November 11, 2016: Justice Rohinton Nariman recuses from the case.

August 11, 2017: Court grants 12 weeks’ time to all the parties to file the English translation of the exhibited documents.

December 5, 2017: Senior advocate Kapil Sibal submits before that the matter should be heard only after the completion of 2019 Lok Sabha elections. He proceeds to tell the Court that since the BJP has the issue of Ram Mandir in their election manifesto, the Bench must hear the matter only after July 2019. Senior advocates Rajeev Dhavan and Dushyant Dave also echoes Sibal’s arguments and seek leave to recuse themselves from the proceedings.

Court turns down the same. Lists the matter for February 8, 2018 for arguments.

February 8, 2018: Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for Sunni Waqf Board, seeks a day-to-day hearing in the case, but the Bench turns it down. Lists the case for hearing on March 14, 2018.

March 14, 2018: Senior Counsel Rajeev Dhavan submits that the matter deserves to be referred to a larger Bench in view of the decision rendered by the Constitution Bench of this Court in Dr. M. Ismail Faruqui & Ors. vs. Union of India & Ors.

The Court agrees to the same.

March 24, 2018: Rajeev Dhavan attacks the test of comparative significance employed by the Supreme Court in its 1994 judgment in Ismail Faruqui v. Union of India for deciding the significance of a place of worship to a community.

“Every temple, mosque, gurudwara, until the government decides to acquire it, is to be protected; There is no comparative significance”, he submits.

April 6, 2018: Heated exchange between Rajeev Dhavan and Additional Solcitior Generals Maninder Singh and Tushar Mehta during the hearing.

July 20, 2018: Court reserves verdict on question of reference to larger Bench.

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