SC may order mediation on Ayodhya issue, mixed reaction from litigants

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it might order mediation for an amicable resolution of the Ayodhya title issue as it deferred passing of a formal order on this till the next date of hearing on March 5.

The five-judge constitution bench, comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice S.A. Bobde, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice S. Abdul Nazeer, suggested mediation while hearing of a batch of cross petitions challenging the 2010 Allahabad High Court verdict trifurcating the disputed site and giving one part each to the Nirmohi Akhada, Ram Lalla and the Sunni Waqf Board.

“We are considering the possibility of healing relations” between two communities, Justice Bobde said, adding “we, as a court, can only decide the property issue”.

“We deem it proper to observe that the mediation suggested is only to effectively utilize the time of eight weeks that would be taken to make the cases ready for hearing,” the court said.

“We defer passing of orders on the aforesaid suggestion i.e. mediation until 6th of March, 2019 (Wednesday) when this Bench will assemble again at 10.30 a.m. for the limited purpose of passing orders on reference of the dispute to a Court-appointed mediation process.”

The court suggested the mediation route citing Section 89 of the Code of Civil Procedure, and its power to order so in an appropriate case.

The suggestion, however, was not accepted by lawyers appearing for the Hindu parties, though those appearing for Muslim parties were ready it if the mediation and regular hearing on the petition challenging the 2010 High Court judgement go on concurrently.

“On our side, we are agreeable so long, it (mediation and hearing) is going concurrently,” senior counsel Rajeev Dhavan, representing the lead petitioner M. Saddiq told the bench.

On the other hand, senior counsel C.S. Vaidyanathan, appearing for Ram Lalla, said: “In a matter like this, there is not much of meeting ground. It has been tried more than once. We don’t want to have another round of mediation.”

Advocate Ranjit Kumar, appearing for Mahant Suresh Das, said: “This has been tried in the past, it has not worked. Mediation is not possible.”

This is not for the first time that suggestion for mediated settlement of issue has come from the top court. Earlier, then Chief Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar had, on March 21, 2017, offered to mediate on the issue.

The court’s suggestion on Tuesday came as it appeared that the hearing may get deferred by six to eight weeks as the Muslim litigants wanted to verify the Uttar Pradesh government’s “official” translation of the oral evidence and exhibits relating to the case.

As senior counsel Dhavan and Dushyant Dave raised the Muslim litigants’ demand, Vaidyanathan, Ranjit Kumar and others, appearing for different Hindu litigants, opposed it, saying that it was too late to raise any dispute about the accuracy/correctness of the translation, citing the apex court’s August 10, 2015, August 11, 2017, December 3, 2017 and February 8, 2018 orders in this connection.

Countering this, Dave, appearing for Mohammed Hashim, said, “At that time it was not said that that the translations are authentic and truthful.”

Both Dhavan and Dave said that “they have not the occasion to go into the translation made available by the State of Uttar Pradesh and, therefore, are not in a position to comment upon the accuracy, correctness or the relevance of the translation”.

Not persuaded with the submissions by lawyers appearing for Hindu litigants, CJI Gogoi asked, “Show us the order which says that the sides agree to the official translations of documents and exhibits. The August 11, 2017 order was in respect of exhibits and not oral evidence.”

As Dhavan and Dave persisted with the plea to verify official translations, the CJI asked what time frame they would require. Dave suggested 8 to 10 weeks.

Noting the difference between the two parties, the court, in its order, said, “We are of the view that to proceed with the hearing of the cases it is necessary to have on record translation of the depositions as well as the exhibits on which no controversy can be raised at a later point of time to derail the hearing once the same commences.”

It said both parties must satisfy themselves the “accuracy, correctness, relevance, etc”. of the translations filed in the registry by Uttar Pradesh as well as the translated copies of the exhibits made available by the parties and point out “their respective agreements/objections stating precisely the part of the translations on which objections/disagreements are being raised”.

Once this is done, within eight weeks from Tuesday, the court said, “further orders will follow so that hearing of the cases can begin in the right earnest”.