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SC sends Ayodhya dispute for mediation in camera

SC sends Ayodhya dispute for mediation in camera
Ranjan Gogoi
New Delhi, Mar 8 (AGENCIES) | Publish Date: 3/8/2019 12:13:11 PM IST

A five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, on March 8 sent the Ayodhya dispute for mediation in camera. It appointed a panel of mediators, with former judge of the apex court Justice F.M.I. Kalifulla as its chairman and comprising spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and senior advocate Sriram Panchu, a pioneer in alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. The mediation would start in a week’s time in Faizabad district of Uttar Pradesh of which the disputed area in Ayodhya is a part of.

The court stressed the need for “utmost confidentiality” in the conduct of mediation to ensure its success and went to the extent of opining that the media should refrain from reporting on the proceedings. “We are of the further opinion that while the mediation proceedings are being carried out, there ought not to be any reporting of the said proceedings either in print or electronic media,” it said. However, it stopped short of passing any specific gag order on the media and left it on the mediators to pass “necessary orders in writing, if so required, to restrain publication of the details of the mediation proceedings.”

The time given for mediation is eight weeks but the court urged the mediators to “conclude the proceedings at the earliest.” The mediators would have to file a status report in the court in four weeks. The Muslim parties get the eight-week time to examine the accuracy and relevance of the State government’s official translation of thousands of pages of oral depositions and exhibits in the Ayodhya title suit appeals pending since 2010 in the apex court.

In fact, the court had invoked Section 89 of the Civil Procedure Code (CPC) to propose mediation as an “effective utilisation of time” in the interregnum. The CJI had expressed the hope that mediation may spell a peaceful end to the volatile dispute between the members of the two religious faiths.

The court had pushed for a possible out-of-court settlement despite objections raised by some Hindu parties that their faith in Lord Rama’s birthplace is “non-negotiable.” “Notwithstanding the lack of consensus between the parties in the matter we are of the view that an attempt should be made to settle the dispute by mediation,” the court had observed.

The court had brushed aside the objections raised by several parties, including that public notice should be issued, as the dispute affects the religious sentiments of Hindus and Muslims across the spectrum. They had quoted Order 1 rule 8 and Order 23 rule 3-B of the CPC, both of which mandates that all stakeholders should be issued notice in a “representative suit.”

But both Justices Ashok Bhushan and S.A. Bobde had prima facie shot down the argument, saying the provisions dealt with procedure at the time of institution of a suit and not in the appellate stage, that too, in the Supreme Court. Justice Bobde had said if the private appellants had represented the two faiths in the lower courts, it could very well do so in the process of mediation.

“We do not find any legal impediment to making a reference to mediation for a possible settlement of the dispute[s] arising out of the appeals,” the Supreme Court held in its order.

It said the question whether any of the CPC provisions would apply here was left open open to be decided later at the “appropriate stage.”

The court said the mediators could co-opt more on the panel, if necessary, and take whatever legal assistance required for them.

Justice S.A. Bobde had put matters in perspective by observing that the case “is not about the 1500 sq.ft. of disputed land, but about religious sentiments. We know its impact on public sentiment, on body politic. We are looking at minds, hearts and healing if possible.”

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