SC bench to begin hearing Ayodhya case on February 26

The much-adjourned hearing on politically and religiously sensitive 70-year-old litigation for ownership of disputed 2.77 acres of land in Ayodhya will commence before a five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court on February 26, if all goes well.

The SC Registry notified the scheduled commencement of hearing for Tuesday. But many might still keep their fingers crossed over whether the court would be able to keep its date with the matter, considering that due to a variety of reasons — from recusal to indisposition of judges — it had to adjourn the much-awaited hearing several times. Even in the last five months, the appeals against the Allahabad HC’s 2010 judgment dividing the 2.77 acres equally among Ram Lalla, Sunni Wakf Board and Nirmohi Akhara, which have been pending for the last nine years in the SC, had a roller-coaster journey.

On September 27 last year, a three-judge bench of then CJI Dipak Misra and Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer by 2-1 majority had rejected the plea of Muslim parties to refer the land dispute to a five-judge bench given its national importance. But CJI Ranjan Gogoi using his administrative powers under the SC rules decided to place the appeals for hearing before a five-judge bench.

When the bench of CJI Gogoi and Justices S A Bobde, N V Ramana, U U Lalit and D Y Chandrachud assembled on January 10, the Muslim parties said Justice Lalit, when he was an advocate, had appeared for a party in a case related to Babri Masjid demolition case. This triggered Justice Lalit’s immediate recusal from hearing of the case. By the time the bench was reconstituted and notified on January 25, Justice Ramana, too, had opted out of hearing. In place of Justices Ramana and Lalit, the CJI drafted in Justices Bhushan and Nazeer into the five-judge Constitution bench and scheduled hearing for January 29. But on January 27, the Supreme Court issued a circular intimating parties about cancellation of scheduled January 29 hearing because of indisposition of Justice Bobde, who had suffered a hair-line fracture in a minor accident at home. On January 29, the Centre moved the Supreme Court seeking permission to return all land surrounding the core disputed Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid structure, which it estimated to be only 0.313 acre, to the original owners. The Centre’s application said it would provide a plan while returning the land to original owners so as to make provision for entry and exit to the core disputed site.

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