SC rejects all review petitions against its Ayodhya judgment

The Supreme Court dismissed all 18 petitions seeking a review of its November 9 Ayodhya land dispute verdict, all but casting in stone its 1,045-page judgment awarding the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site for a Ram temple and five acres of land at an alternative location to the Sunni Wakf Board for a mosque.

All the petitions were placed before a bench of CJI S A Bobde and Justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan, S Abdul Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna (who filled the vacant slot in the Constitution bench after the retirement of former CJI Ranjan Gogoi). The SC bench divided the petitions into two categories—those filed by people who were parties to one of the four title suits and others who were not but still had sought permission to file review petitions.

Petitions by entities who were parties to any of the title suits—Gopal Singh Visharad (1950), Nirmohi Akhara (1959), Sunni Wakf Board (1961) and Ram Lalla Virajman (1989)—were discussed in detail by the five judges in chamber without the presence of lawyers representing any party, as is the norm for preliminary hearing on review petitions.

After deliberating on the petitions filed by some of the parties to the title suits, the SC bench said, “Applications for listing of review petitions in open court are dismissed. We have carefully gone through the review petitions and connected papers filed therewith. We do not find any ground, whatsoever, to entertain the same. The petitions are, accordingly, dismissed.”

This leaves litigants who were parties to any of the title suits with a small window in ‘curative petitions’ to seek reversal of the November 9 judgment. However, given the general trend of dismissal of curative petitions, there is a very bleak chance of the SC reopening the 70-year-old litigation for a fresh hearing.

On the second category of petitions, which included petitioners like a “group of 40 intellectuals” who are not party to any of the title suits, the bench declined permission to even file a review petition. The fear expressed by the judges was that permitting non-parties would open flood-gates of litigation as it would allow any citizen to file pleas seeking a review of the Ayodhya ruling, and for that matter any order. Those who filed the non-party review petition included historian Irfan Habib, economist Prabhat Patnaik and activists Harsh Mander and Nandini Sundar.

Filing of petition by M Siddiq, through advocate Ijaz Maqbool, seeking review of the Ayodhya verdict had led to an unpleasant controversy as senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, who had argued for the Muslim parties, claimed he had been sacked from the case. The Sunni Wakf Board had dramatically agreed for a settlement by agreeing to give up its claim on the disputed land. Later, it refused to file a review petition.

However, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board decided to seek a review while retaining Dhavan as its counsel. But Dhavan’s expertise could not be utilised as SC rejected the plea for open court hearing and dismissed review petitions.

On November 9, the SC settled the centuries-old Hindu-Muslim conflict that had lingered in courts for 70 years by handing over the land in Ayodhya for construction of a Ram temple and said the Sunni Wakf Board was to be allocated five acres of land at a prominent place in the temple town for a mosque. The unanimous verdict, with unmistakable pen-prints of Justice Chandrachud, weighed in favour of deity Ram Lalla getting the disputed land in Ayodhya because Hindu parties could produce better evidence to substantiate their rights. However, the bench was also unanimous that Muslims too established a competitive right over the disputed land, and, hence, used its inherent powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to direct the Centre and UP government to allot five acres for a mosque.

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