Nazeer & Bhushan join 5-judge Ayodhya bench

Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi drafted two new judges, Justice S Abdul Nazeer and Justice Ashok Bhushan, to the five-judge bench for the January 29 hearing of the legal battle for ownership of the 2.77-acre Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid disputed land in Ayodhya.

The politically sensitive case relating to the over century-old litigation has been pending in the SC since 2011.

The reconstitution of the bench was necessitated after Justice U U Lalit recused from the case on January 10. This was followed by Justice N V Ramana withdrawing citing personal reasons. The bench is led by the CJI. The other two judges on the five-judge bench are Justice S A Bobde and Justice D Y Chandrachud.

The developments meant that on the last two hearings, the court couldn’t draw up a schedule that could have given an inkling of when a final verdict could be expected.

The CJI sprang a surprise on January 8 by announcing a bench that comprised himself and four future CJIs in Justices Bobde, Ramana, Lalit and Chandrachud. However, on January 10, senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan pointed out that Justice Lalit, when he was an advocate in 1997, had appeared for a party in the criminal case relating to Babri Masjid demolition on December 6, 1992. This led to Justice Lalit immediately announcing his recusal.

On September 29, a bench of then CJI Dipak Misra and Justices Bhushan and Nazeer, by 2 to 1 majority held that appeals against Allahabad HC’s verdict on Ayodhya land dispute would be heard by a three-judge bench. Justice Nazeer had leaned in favour of the Ayodhya dispute being sent to a five judge bench.

There are 16 appeals and petitions by Hindu and Muslim parties challenging the Allahabad HC’s September 30, 2010, verdict, which had divided the 2.77 acres equally between idol Ram Lalla, Sunni Wakf Board and Nirmohi Akhara.

The SC had on May 9, 2011, admitted the appeals and stayed operation of the HC order. The first hearing on the appeals against the 2010 HC verdict took place on December 5, 2017. Senior advocates Kapil Sibal, Dhavan and Dushyant Dave, appearing for Muslim parties, had used politics, religion and even alleged ‘agenda’ and ‘bias’ for the “hurry’ being shown by the CJI Misra-led bench in deciding the 70-year-old litigation and sought its reference to a five or seven-judge bench.

On January 10 this year, CJI Gogoi had explained why he constituted a five-judge constitution bench to adjudicate appeals against Allahabad HC verdict on title suits despite a three-judge bench rejecting the plea for reference of the petitions to a larger bench.

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