Noting that there is no legal impediment in doing so, the Supreme Court on Friday referred to court-appointed and court-monitored mediation the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute in the hope of a "permanent solution".
The five-judge bench constituted a Three-member panel to be headed by (retd.) Justice F. M. I. Khalifullah. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Senior Advocate Sri Ram Panchu shall be the other members. The panel would have the liberty to solicit more mediators or seek legal assistance.
The proceedings shall be held at Faizabad in UP with the state government being directed to extend suitable facilities for the purpose.
The mediation process is to be initiated in one week, to be concluded within the eight-week period granted for the examination of the official translations of the oral evidence filed by the state of UP. The court required the first status report in respect of the mediation to be submitted to it within 4 weeks.
The bench also clarified that the mediation process being held in-camera, its details shall remain confidential, with no publications in print or electronic media in this connection.
In the light of CPC Order XXIII Rule 3, the bench hinted that should a compromise be arrived at by the contesting parties, the same can be recorded by the court and concretised as a decree.On March 6, the bench of CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justices S A Bobde, D Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and Abdul Nazeer had reserved orders on this plea.
The Hindu groups on Wednesday had stiffly opposed the reference to mediation. They had submitted that the matter was not a mere property dispute, but was concerning faith and sentitments.
"The belief that the site is the birth place of Lord Ram is non-negotiable. We are ready to crowd-fund the construction of a mosque elsewhere", submitted Senior Advocate C S Vaidyanathan, who appeared for the deity.
The Akhil Bharath Hindu Mahasabha also voiced their opposition to mediation. They submitted that if at all mediation is ordered, general public should be permitted to participate after issuing public notice under Order 1 Rule 8 of the Code of Civil Procedure.
On the other hand, Muslim groups expressed their willingness to participate in mediation. Senior Counsel Rajeev Dhawan appearing for Sunni Waqf Board went to the extent of submitting that consent of all parties was not required for the Court to refer the parties to mediation under Section 89 of the Code of Civil Procedure.
Justice Bobde orally remarked from the bench that the Court was conscious of the gravity of the dispute and its impact on "body politic". The endeavour is to "heal relations", he said. He assured that confidentiality will be maintained if the case is referred for mediation and indicated that the court is considering banning media reporting on mediation process.
However, Justice Chandrachud seemed to have reservations about the efficacy of mediation process. He wondered how the mediated settlement can bind millions of persons belonging to both relgions, as the issue was not a dispute between two parties. At the same time, he expressed that a negotiated settlement in the case was most 'desirable'.
On this count, Justice Bobde expressed that if a decree can bind all parties in a representative suit, so can the result of a mediation.
Solicitor General Thushar Mehta, appearing for Uttar Pradesh Government, opposed mediation by saying that it was not "prudent and advisable" in the given circumstances. Mehta's submission was opposed by Dhawan by stating that UP Government cannot take views in the matter as it was supposed to have a disinterested stance being a statutory receiver.
After hearing the parties, the Court reserved orders on this limited point.
On Feburary 26, the bench had adjourned the hearing on the merits of the case by six weeks to enable the parties to examine the translations of records prepared by the UP Government. The parties were directed by the Court to examine the records and point out their objections. This was after the Muslim groups expressed doubts about the veracity of the translation
At the outset, the CJI had made it clear that the hearing will commence only if parties accept the translations prepared by the UP Government as authentic. The report submitted by the Secretary General to the Court was read out by the CJI to the parties, which indicated that the records ran into nearly 38,000 pages, in the languages of English, Hindi, Sanskrit, Urdu and Gurumukhi.
While Senior Advocate C S Vaidyanathan had endorsed the authenticity of translations, Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhawan, who appeared for Sunni Waqf Board, objected.
"We have not got the opportunity to examine the translations prepared by UP Government", said Dhawan.
This was objected to by Vaidyanathan, by submitting that the parties had accepted the translations as authentic way back in December 2017, and had agreed for final hearing.
In view of this disagreement, the CJI remarked that the Court will not waste its time if parties are not agreeable on translations.
The bench had then remarked that it was better to have a mediated settlement of the dispute and adjourned the matter to today to explore the scope of mediation.