The Supreme Court has set a new deadline of September 30 for a CBI court to deliver its verdict in the Babri Masjid demolition case, in which senior BJP leaders LK Advani, Murali Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti face criminal charges as accused.
A bench headed by Justice Rohinton F Nariman extended the previous deadline upon a request by special Ayodhya judge, who had submitted a progress report along with an application to give him some more time to wrap up the trial.
“Having read the report of Mr. Surendra Kumar Yadav, learned Special Judge, and considering that the proceedings are at the fag end, we grant one month’s time, i.e., till 30th September, 2020, to complete the proceedings including delivery of judgment,” said the bench in its order on August 19.
The last order in this regard had come in May when the bench had directed the CBI court to deliver the judgment by August 31, 2020 after taking note of a similar request by the special judge.
The bench had said the judge should take advantage of video-conferencing to complete the evidence in the trial and wind up the case within the slotted time.
The apex court has been issuing directives to ensure the trial is concluded within a stipulated time frame.In April 2017, the court had described the demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya as “crimes which shake the secular fabric of the Constitution of India”, as it put Advani and others on a joint trial with ‘kar sevaks’ in the 1992 case under various charges, including criminal conspiracy to pull down the disputed structure. It gave the CBI court in Lucknow two years to deliver its judgment.
In July last year, the Supreme Court had asked the Uttar Pradesh government to give an extension of tenure to Judge Yadav, who was scheduled to retire on September 30, so that he could complete the trial in the nearly 28-year-old cases. At that time, the court also gave the judge nine more months to finish the trial.
But in May, the trial judge wrote again, citing constraints due to the nation-wide Covid-19 lockdown. This time, the bench gave Judge Yadav time till August 31, and suggested he should also use video-conferencing to record statements of witnesses and accused.
Last month, the special court used video-conferencing to record statements of veteran BJP leaders Advani and Joshi. All of them have denied the charges by the prosecution and said they were being implicated due to political reasons. They have denied any role in the demolition, and said they did not participate in any act that could impact the unity and integrity of the nation.
Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and BJP leader Kalyan Singh was joined as an accused in the trial after his tenure as the Rajasthan Governor got over in September 2019.
Three other high-profile accused – Giriraj Kishore, Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Ashok Singhal and Vishnu Hari Dalmia – died during trial and the proceedings against them were abated.