The Supreme Court ordered mediation in the Ramjanmabhoomi- Babri Masjid case on Friday. The order was passed by a five- judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi.
Mediation will start within a week at Faizabad and state of UP has to make arrangements, the Supreme Court ruled. Mediation panel has to give its report within four weeks.
The mediation will be done by a three-member panel, which the Supreme Court said, will be at liberty to induct more mediators or seek legal assistance. Justice FM Khalifulah, the retired Supreme Court judge is the chairman of the panel.
Art of Living head Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and senior advocate Sriram Panchu are the other mediators on the panel. Panchu is a trained mediator.
The top court directed both parties to maintain utmost confidentiality during the process of mediation, which will be held in-camera. There ought not to be any reporting in print or electronic of the mediation process, the court said.
The mediation panel will revert to the Supreme Court registry if there are any hurdles in the process of mediation, the five-judge bench ruled. The other judges on the bench are justices SA Bobde, DY Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and SA Nazeer.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its order after hearing both sides on the proposal to try out mediation as an alternative to litigation to settle the decades-old dispute.
The suggestion was opposed by the Uttar Pradesh government and the Hindu parties, except the Nirmohi Akhara, a religious denomination that is one of the main parties to the civil suit, but was welcomed by the Muslim side.
The court is hearing petitions challenging a 2010 Allahabad high court order that trifurcated the 2.77-acre-site between the Nirmohi Akhara, the Sunni Central Waqf Board, and Ram Lalla (the child deity).
The court is also considering a petition by the Centre, which wants to release 67.7 acres of land acquired in 1993 around the site — except for .303 acres on which the actual disputed structure stood — to its original owners.
The court mentioned mediation as a possibility to resolve the contentious dispute in a hearing on February 26. The judges suggested an amicable resolution while telling the parties that they were seriously “giving a chance for mediation” in an attempt to “heal relationships”.
The verdict may assume political signifiance because it comes just weeks ahead of the general elections this summer. With the dispute having been referred to mediation, the outcome is likely be known only after the polls.
Many of the Hindu parties opposed mediation saying it would only delay the case, and that previous attempts to mediate the dispute had failed.
In its last hearing on Wednesday, the judges urged lawyers on both sides to exercise restraint and not argue on history.
“Don’t tell us history. We have also read history. Do not tell us what we already know. We have no control over what happened in the past…we have no control over the past. We can only undo the present, which is the dispute before us,” Justice Bodbe said.
Justice Chandrachud, however, aired his doubts over the binding nature of mediation and whether it would work in a dispute that has taken the nature of a representative suit.
“It’s no longer a dispute between just two parties but a wider dispute between two communities. Even if we go through mediation how would it be binding on all?” he asked.