NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday appeared resolute in taking the mediation route to explore the possibility, no matter however slim, of a compromise between Hindu and Muslim parties warring for ownership of the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land in Ayodhya as it asked parties to suggest names of mediators.
With Hindu parties, except Nirmohi Akhara, opposing mediation and Muslim parties expressing willingness, a bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S A Bobde, D Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer reserved its verdict on desirability of mediation for the land dispute and told the parties, “Give names of mediators by today. We will pass orders shortly.”
With the Hindu parties steadfast in opposing mediation, terming it a futile exercise, Justice Bobde said, “You are pre-judging it. We are trying for mediation because it is not about a land dispute but involves sentiments and faith of people. We are conscious of the gravity and importance of the dispute and its impact on the body polity of the country. It is all about mind, heart and feelings. We cannot understand how anyone can reject it outright.”
Appearing for the UP government, solicitor general Tushar Mehta said, “Apart from legality of the course of action (mediation), when one side is not ready, there is an element of ‘advisability’ and ‘judicial prudence’ in Section 89 of the Civil Procedure Code (CPC) itself. It is absolutely unadvisable and judicially imprudent to send this issue to mediation considering the very nature of the issues involved. The best and only advisable course of action is earliest judicial adjudication.”
When the Hindu parties said Babur had demolished the temple and it was the belief of people that Lord Ram was born there, which could not be settled through negotiations, Justice Bobde said, “We have also read history and about Babur. We have no control over the past. We can only do something about what exists in the present, that is the dispute.”
The court said there should be absolute secrecy around the mediation process as third-party comments based on media reports could unhinge the effort. “Media need not talk about what efforts are going on and what developments have taken place. We are considering whether it should be reported at all. It will not be a gag order but there should be confidentiality of the mediation process,” Justice Bobde said.
However, Justice Chandrachud said it could be difficult to ensure secrecy of the mediation process. He also wondered whether in the event of reaching a compromise, it could be binding on the public, who are not parties to the case.
Appearing for Muslim parties, senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan said there was no difference between court adjudicated verdict or a compromise which would result in a decree. Both would be binding on the parties, Dhavan said, who is an eternal advocate of free speech. On secrecy of the mediation process, Dhavan, ordinarily a passionate free speech votary, said he would go one step further to suggest that it should be contempt of court if anyone reported about developments in the mediation process.
Dhavan and counsel Ejaz Maqbool said the SC did not require consent of parties for sending a dispute for mediation but requested the court not to outline the framework settlement. He said original records of the entire Ayodhya land dispute litigation need not be placed before mediators and the process must be in-camera with the rider that no party participating in mediation can divulge details to media or anyone.
Appearing for deity Ram Lalla, senior advocate C S Vaidyanathan said the only dispute that could be sent for mediation was where could a mosque be builty. “Ayodhya is Ram Janmabhoomi and that is non-negotiable. Temple at Ramjanmabhoomi is non-negotiable. I cannot participate in mediation and take a contrary view,” he said.