Nothing wrong in undertaking such an exercise

Even if there is a one per cent chance of a negotiated settlement, such an exercise can be undertaken by the parties to the Ayodhya dispute, said Justice H.L. Gokhale, who was on a Bench along with Justice R.V. Raveendran in the Supreme Court on Thursday.

The Bench stayed till September 28 the Allahabad High Court ruling dismissing a plea to defer the judgment for exploring the possibility of an amicable solution to the dispute through negotiations.

During the course of arguments, senior counsel Ravi Shankar Prasad, appearing for Dharamdas, said the trial in the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi title suits had concluded on the directions of a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, and the High Court should be allowed to pronounce its verdict as all attempts at settlement had failed.

At this juncture, Justice Gokhale said: “Even if there is one per cent chance, we can undertake that exercise.”

He referred to a newspaper report, in which a Muslim organisation had stated it was ready for negotiations, and said: “There is nothing wrong in giving one more opportunity. When there is a problem, litigants don't suffer. Only ordinary people suffer.”

When Mr. Prasad said the judgment could not be deferred as one of the judges (Justice D.V. Sharma) was retiring on October 1 and postponement would result in the entire matter being heard again, Justice Gokhale said: “His retirement can be taken care of by the government [meaning he could be granted an extension of tenure].”

When senior counsel Anup George Chaudhary, appearing for the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Wakf Board, argued that the judgment could not be deferred as there was only a zero per cent chance of settlement, Justice Gokhale said: “If it is adjourned, what prejudice will it cause you? We may not be facing the consequence. If something happens, you will be the first people who will blame us and ask what the Supreme Court was doing.

“Let us be clear. There is no need for imagination. We know what has happened in the past. The High Court made efforts. They might have failed, no doubt, but there are various possibilities. We do not know which party will succeed. It will be even more difficult how you can ignore the suggestion for a settlement.”

When Mr. Prasad and Mr. Chaudhary said the Supreme Court could take up the matter even after the High Court verdict — as any one of the parties could file an appeal — Justice Gokhale said: “Once an appeal is filed, it will be even more difficult to arrive at a settlement, as the parties will stick to their positions.”

Justice Gokhale said: “We understand that negotiation may once again fail as all the parties have hardened their stand. But for this reason we can't run away from our responsibilities. You come and report to us, then we will consider.”

The Bench posted further hearing to September 28.

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