SC sends Ayodhya dispute for mediation in camera

Appoints panel of mediators, with former judge of the court Justice F.M.I. Kalifulla as its chairman and comprising spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and senior advocate Sriram Panchu.

Updated - March 09, 2019 12:44 am IST

Published - March 08, 2019 11:11 am IST - New Delhi

Swami Chakrapani, president, Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha, flashes victory sign after Supreme Court sent the Ayodhya title dispute for mediation.

Swami Chakrapani, president, Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha, flashes victory sign after Supreme Court sent the Ayodhya title dispute for mediation.

A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court on Friday referred the Ayodhya dispute for mediation in a bid to heal minds and hearts. 

The five-judge Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, appointed a panel of mediators, comprising former Supreme Court judge F.M.I. Kalifulla as chairman, Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and Sriram Panchu, a senior advocate with experience in alternative dispute resolution.

The mediation would start in a week in Faizabad district of Uttar Pradesh — of which the disputed area is a part — with the process conducted in-camera. 

Stressing the need for “utmost confidentiality” in the conduct of the mediation to ensure its success, the court opined that it might be best if the media refrained from reporting the proceedings. “We are of the further opinion that while the mediation proceedings are being carried out, there ought not to be any reporting of the said proceedings either in the print or in the electronic media,” the Bench said in its order. However, the court stopped short of passing any gag order on the media and left it to the mediators to pass “necessary orders in writing, if so required, to restrain publication of the details of the mediation proceedings.”

While the mediation panel has been given eight weeks, the court urged the mediators to “conclude at the earliest.” The Bench also directed them to file a status report in four weeks.

Eight weeks is the time given to the Muslim parties to review the accuracy and relevance of the Uttar Pradesh government’s official translation of thousands of pages of oral depositions and exhibits in the Ayodhya title suit appeals pending since 2010. 

In fact, the court had invoked Section 89 of the Civil Procedure Code (CPC) to propose mediation as an “effective utilisation of time” during the interregnum. 

Chief Justice Gogoi had expressed the hope that mediation might help spell a peaceful end to the volatile dispute. 

The court has pushed for a possible out-of-court settlement despite objections raised by some Hindu parties who have said their faith that Lord Ram’s birthplace was sited in the disputed area was “non-negotiable.” “Notwithstanding the lack of consensus between the parties in the matter we are of the view that an attempt should be made to settle the dispute by mediation,” the Bench observed.

The court brushed aside the objections raised by several parties, including that public notice ought to be issued as the dispute affects the religious sentiments. The appellants had cited Order 1, rule 8, and Order 23, rule 3-B, of the CPC, both of which mandate that notice be issued to all stakeholders in a “representative suit.” 

Justices Ashok Bhushan and S.A. Bobde, however, prima facie  shot down that argument, observing that the provisions cited dealt with procedure at the time of institution of a suit and not at the appellate stage, and that too in the Supreme Court. Justice Bobde said if the private appellants had represented the two faiths in the lower courts, they could very well do so in the process of mediation. “We do not find any legal impediment to making a reference to mediation for a possible settlement of the dispute(s) arising out of the appeals,” the Bench held in its order.

The court said the question of whether any of the CPC provisions would apply here was left open open to be decided later at the “appropriate stage.”

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