New Delhi: Congress leader Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Sunni Waqf Board in the Ayodhya title suit, gave a new twist to the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute on Tuesday by urging the Supreme Court to defer hearing in the case till July 2019 after the next Lok Sabha elections get over.
The apex court took note of the plea but fixed February 8, 2018, as the date to commence the final hearing in the case.
As the bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice S. Abdul Nazeer began hearing the matter, Sibal, along with senior counsels Rajiv Dhavan and Dushyant Dave, urged the court not to go ahead with the hearing as it could have repercussions for the country's polity and the general election.
Senior counsel Harish Salve countered Sibal, and told the bench that repercussion outside were not the court's lookout. As far as the court was concerned, it was "just a case" like any other case before it, he stressed. Urging the bench to commence hearings in December itself, Salve took exception that "it is being presumed which way the verdict will go... You have it (hearing) in December".
Salve was appearing for one of the petitioners seeking an early hearing on the petitions challenging the 2010 Allahabad High Court verdict, which was stayed by the top court on May 9, 2011. The HC had divided the dispute site between the Nirmohi Akhara, Lord Ram deity and the Sunni Waqf Board, but the SC called the decision “strange and surprising”.
Referring to a statement by a BJP leader that the matter would be listed and decided in three months, Sibal said that "justice should not only be done but also appear to have been done".
Dave, wondering what the “hurry" was, told the bench that the government was keen the Supreme Court heard the appeals early because Ram temple was part of the ruling party's manifesto. He urged the court not to fall into their trap, a point reiterated by Sibal.
He, along with Dhavan, also urging the bench that the matter should be heard by a five or seven-judge constitution bench.
Sibal also raised the issue of paucity of time in preparing the case that involves relying on more than 19,000 documents, a position also supported by Dhavan, who said the hearing would involve making their submissions and also "honestly" responding to the queries from the bench.
The petitioners also said the hearing would take long and may not be completed under Misra’s tenure, but this argument was shot down by the court. “The original suit was finished in 90 days by the Allahabad High Court, why should it take longer here?” the bench asked.
After rejecting the submission on postponing the hearing till 2019, including hearing by a constitution bench, the court asked senior counsel CS Vaidyanathan, appearing for deity Ram Lala, to give introduction of the dispute before the court.