The Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed the Ayodhya mediation committee to resume talks with the disputing Hindu and Muslim parties even as it indicated that the ongoing hearings of the appeals before a Constitution Bench is likely to finish by October 18.
Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi is scheduled to retire on November 17. If the hearings are completed by October 18, the court will have a month to write the judgment for the over 70-year-old Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute .
By giving mediation another chance, the court has opened the doors again for an amicable settlement of the dispute among the parties. The mediation panel, if it is successful in patching up a settlement, can move the court with the terms of the settlement anytime during the hearings or after the judgment is reserved but before the verdict is pronounced.
The court said mediation should continue to remain confidential and would be carried on simultaneously with the court proceedings, which has been going on for over 25 days. The Bench it may even relegate Saturdays for the Ayodhya hearings if time seems to fall short as the days slip by.
Prepare timeline for oral arguments, lawyers told
On September 17, the court asked the lawyers to chalk out a timeline to present their oral arguments in the appeals. The lawyers had conveyed it on Wednesday after which the Bench estimated the hearings could be closed by October 18.
On September 16, the mediation committee filed in parallel a short memorandum informing the Court that parties across the Hindu-Muslim religious divide have approached it with a request to resume talks to amicably resolve the dispute.
The memorandum suggested that mediation could continue even as the Court continues to hear the appeals.
The parties asked the mediators - former Supreme Court judge F.M.I Kalifulla, spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravishankar and senior advocate Sriram Panchu - that talks should resume from the point where it was abruptly dropped at the last minute on July 29 due to resistance from certain blocks across the religious divide, causing heartburn among some other stakeholders.
The Constitution Bench announced the failure to reach a final settlement in a hearing on August 2. Adjudication of the pending appeals, which were kept in limbo due to the mediation, commenced from August 6. The Sunni Waqf Board is arguing its case.
Bid to heal minds and hearts
The mediation effort was initiated by the court on March 8 in a bid to heal minds and hearts. The Bench had explained that the case was “not about the 1500 sq ft of disputed land, but about religious sentiments".
The mediation committee had held several rounds of talks with the stakeholders in Faizabad district of Uttar Pradesh of which the disputed area in Ayodhya is a part of. The proceedings were held in camera and utmost care was taken to maintain confidentiality to ensure its success.
Initially, on March 8, the court gave the mediation effort a deadline of eight weeks. However, the panel filed an interim report dated May 7 in the court, saying they were making “progress”.
The court then extended the time till August 15, saying it did not want to “short-circuit” the mediation efforts. It pushed for a possible out-of-court settlement despite objections raised by some parties that their faith in Lord Ram’s birthplace was “non-negotiable”.
However, things took a sudden turn when an application was filed by Gopal Singh Visharad, an original claimant who filed a title suit in 1950, through his survivor Rajendra Singh. It claimed that the committee was making no progress and asked the Bench to commence hearing the long-pending Ayodhya appeals.