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Won't Treat it as PIL, Will Decide Who Owns Ayodhya Land: Supreme Court

The issue arose after BJP MP Subramanian Swamy asserted his fundamental right to worship at the disputed site in his petition.

Utkarsh Anand | CNN-News18

Updated:August 11, 2017, 9:17 PM IST
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Won't Treat it as PIL, Will Decide Who Owns Ayodhya Land: Supreme Court
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New Delhi: Making it clear that the Ram Janmabhoomi - Babri Masjid title dispute will not be heard as a PIL, the Supreme Court on Friday fixed December 5 to begin hearing final arguments as to who owns the disputed land in Ayodhya.

"Don't turn it into an Article 32 (PIL) petition... we will go by the Civil Procedure Code and other laws necessary to decide it as title suit," said a bench led by Justice Dipak Misra.

The Court further declined a plea made by Sunni Waqf Board and legal representatives of individual claimants, including Md Hashim and M Siddiqui, to hear the case not before January.

"We can't wait till eternity for procedural formalities to get over... it has to be heard. We have to start hearing the matter," said the bench also comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and SA Nazeer.

While the lawyers for Sunni Waqf Board and others pressed for an extended date of hearing; counsel for Uttar Pradesh government, Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla said they wanted a speedy hearing of the matter in a time-bound manner.

Both the sides, however, agreed that title suits were to be heard and decided first since that would establish the confines of rights over the land.

The issue arose after BJP MP Subramanian Swamy asserted his fundamental right to worship at the disputed site in his petition.

Swamy contended his fundamental right to practise a religion was more important than anybody's property rights and therefore, his plea should be decided first.

But the Court asked him to wait till the hearing of the title suit is over. "You be here as we hear the suit. We may want your assistance too," the bench told Swamy.

Sunni Waqf Board and others on its side wanted a longer adjournment on the ground that many of the original petitioners required to be substituted by their legal heirs after the formers' death and then the notices would also have to be served on the legal representatives.

Another reason cited by their lawyers – Kapil Sibal, Anoop Choudhary, Huzefa Ahmadi and Rajeev Dhavan, was that the documents relating to the land in question were in eight different languages and hence, at least four months will be needed to translate them.

Sibal, at one point, asked the bench to seek assistance of the Central government's department of official translation for translating into English more than 15,000 documents in languages such as Hindi, Sanskrit, Persian and Punjabi. But the suggestion was turned down immediately. "We don’t want to involve the Government of India into this," retorted the Court.

It said that all the parties should get such documents translated on their own if they wanted to rely on them. "Plaintiffs and defendants should translate their own documents. If any dispute arises over correctness of such translation, we may then get an expert opinion from a board of translators," said the bench.

Sibal and Choudhary requested the bench to fix a date in January but the Court was not inclined. It gave all the parties 12 weeks to translate the relevant documents, and fixed December 5 to start the final arguments.

Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Uttar Pradesh government, was requested to get oral evidence in the suit translated within 10 weeks, and supply it to all parties. Senior lawyers C S Vaidyanathan and Shyam Divan appeared for Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla respectively. They also supported an argument for fixing an early date to start hearing the matter.

The court also ordered for expeditious completion of all other procedural formalities, including substitution of legal heirs and service of notices upon them. It directed completion of this exercise in six weeks.

At present, there is a “status quo” by the apex court on the Allahabad High Court order of three-way division of the disputed site. By a 2:1 majority judgment, the Allahabad High Court had in 2010 ordered for the three-way division of “roughly 15,000 square feet site” occupied by the mosque before its demolition on December 6, 1992 — one-third for the Sunni Waqf Board, one-third for the Nirmohi Akhara and one-third to the party for Ram Lalla.
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