SC to deliver judgment in title suit; PM Modi appeals for peace, harmony
A five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi will deliver one of the most anticipated court verdicts on Saturday when it rules on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit in the judicial culmination of a tinderbox dispute that has for decades riven the nation on religious and political lines.
The bench, also comprising justices SA Bobde, DY Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and SA Nazeer, is expected to pronounce its judgment at 10.30am. A notice on the pronouncement of the judgment was put up on the official website of the Supreme Court late on Friday evening.
The judges wrapped up a marathon, sometimes acrimonious 40-day hearing on October 16 by reserving its judgment, which was expected to be delivered next week before Gogoi retires on November 17.
It was advanced to Saturday after Gogoi met top officials of the Uttar Pradesh government, including chief secretary Rajendra Kumar Tiwari and police chief, director general of police (DGP) Om Prakash Singh, in his chambers on Friday for an assessment of the situation in Ayodhya, where the disputed site is located, and elsewhere in India’s most populous state.
The pronouncement of the verdict on a non-working day, Saturday, by the Supreme Court took some members of the legal fraternity by surprise.
“In nearly 30 years of my practice at the top court, I do not recall the court delivering the verdict on a holiday. But I welcome the move by the court... according to me, the idea is to minimise the possible fallout of a verdict on such a sensitive issue,” said Sanjay Hegde, senior advocate at the Supreme Court.
Advocate Vishnu Jain of the Hindu Mahasabha, which is a party to the dispute, said it was a welcome move. “We were anyway waiting for the pronouncement of the judgment and we believe that this verdict will put to rest a 135- year-old dispute. I think this move to deliver the verdict on a holiday is because of security reasons. On a non- working day there are less advocates in the court and its easy to manage the crowd in the court room,” he said.
Another lawyer, MR Shamshad, who represented Muslim parties in the case, said it would have been better had the verdict been delayed, noting that over the next two days, processions would be taken out for Prophet Muhammad’s birthday at many places in the country.
“It would have been better if it had been pronounced two days later,” he said, adding: “I am sure that the administration will ensure law and order situation and the procession will go on as usual.”
In a tweet late on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for peace and harmony. “The verdict will not be someone’s loss or victory. I appeal to countrymen to ensure that the tradition peace, unity and harmony in the country is upheld,” he said.
The Constitution bench headed by CJI Gogoi has heard a batch of cross-appeals against a 2010 Allabahad high court judgment. The original verdict ordered the division of the disputed 2.77 acres of land in Ayodhya into three equal parts to be divided among the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara, a religious denomination; and the Ram Lalla Virajman, which represents the child deity.
A large section of Hindus believes that the disputed site marks the birthplace of the warrior-god Ram and that a temple that stood on the location was destroyed in the 16th century during the rule of Mughal emperor Babar.
A mosque, the Babri Masjid, was constructed on its ruins. On December 6, 1992, Hindu activists campaigning for the construction of a Ram temple on the site demolished the mosque, triggering a cycle of violence and riots across the country.
As night fell on Friday, a top security alert was in place nationwide to prevent violence on the day of the most anticipated court verdict in India ever in a case that both Hindu and Muslim community leaders have followed intently.
Security was reinforced at the residences of all five judges of the Supreme Court bench, a Delhi Police officer said on condition of anonymity. The Uttar Pradesh government ordered all schools, colleges and educational institutions to be shut till Monday. In Delhi, the government issued an advisory for schools to close as a precaution.
“Delhi Police is planning elaborate police arrangements and all precautionary measures will be taken. Necessary arrangements will be made to ensure the safety and security of religious places. Field formations will remain in contact with stakeholders and meetings will be conducted with ‘aman committees’ comprising the respectables from different communities,” Delhi Police said in a statement. Ayodhya was sealed by security forces who warned residents to stay indoors and shops to be shut. Security was reinforced by the Government Railway Police (GRP) force at the Ayodhya railway junction, where quick response teams were in position, said Saumitra Yadav, superintendent of police of the GRP in Lucknow.
Over 90 companies of armed police, or around 9,500 men, including troopers from 37 UP Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) and central paramilitary forces, had already been deployed in Ayodhya district ahead of the Supreme Court verdict.