SC to begin hearing on principal Ayodhya title suit from October 29

Supreme Court of India
The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday said it will not set up a larger Bench to review its 1994 verdict which held a "mosque is not an essential part of the practice of Islam". The apex court’s decision has paved the way for a three-member Bench to begin hearing the principal Ayodhya title suit from October 29. The Ayodhya dispute has significant political ramifications, particularly in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) welcomed the SC's decision. "We welcome this decision and are confident that a just verdict will be reached over the case at the earliest," the RSS said. Earlier this month, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had called for the construction of a "grand Ram temple" at the disputed site at the earliest and suggested the Narendra Modi government should bring an ordinance to facilitate this.

After the apex court's decision, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said the majority of the country wanted a solution to the case at the earliest. "We appeal that this matter is resolved as soon as possible," Adityanath said in Varanasi.

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) termed it "some positive movement" in the case. With the SC stating it will hear only the title suit, that is the land dispute over the site, the AIMPLB said the verdict indicated the hearing will not be done on the basis of faith.

Khalid Rashid Farangi Mahali said the AIMPLB had wanted the SC's 1994 observation that the mosque is not integral to Islam be put before a Constitution Bench "so that the matter is resolved permanently." "Two positive things have come from this verdict. First, the Ayodhya matter will not be heard on the basis of faith and will be heard as a title suit," he said. "We hope the final hearing of Ayodhya will be completed soon. The Ayodhya hearing should not be linked with the (2019 Lok Sabha) elections," Mahali said.

The Congress said its consistent position has been that all should honour the court judgment. Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi said it was unfortunate the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has exploited the dispute to fool people since 1992.

The SC, in a 2:1 verdict, said on Thursday that the issue whether a mosque is an essential part of the practice of Islam was not relevant for deciding the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute.

A Muslim group had appealed to the SC to constitute a five-judge Bench to relook into the observation of a five-judge Constitution Bench in 1994 in the Ismail Faruqui case that a mosque is not an essential part of Islam on the grounds that it has affected the decision of the high court in the land dispute.

A three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, by a majority of 2:1, declined the plea of M Siddiq, one of the original litigants of the Ayodhya case who has died and is being represented through his legal heir, that the matter be referred to a larger Bench.

"We again make it clear that questionable observations made in Ismail Faruqui's case were made in the context of land acquisition. Those observations were neither relevant for deciding the suits nor relevant for deciding these appeals," said Justice Ashok Bhushan, who read out the judgment for himself and the CJI.

The apex court said now the civil suit on land dispute will be heard by a newly constituted three-judge Bench from October 29 as Justice Misra will retire on October 2 as the CJI.

The issue whether mosque is integral to Islam had cropped up when a three-judge bench headed by CJI Misra was hearing a batch of appeals filed against the Allahabad High Court's 2010 verdict by which the disputed land on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid area was divided into three parts.

The three-judge high court Bench, in a 2:1 majority ruling, had ordered that the 2.77 acres of land be partitioned equally among three parties -- the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara, and Ram Lalla.

The court also said all religions have to be respected equally by the State. "All mosques, all churches and temples are significant for the community." Justice S A Nazeer, the third judge, dissented with the majority view and said the question whether mosque was essential part of the religion cannot be decided without a "detailed examination of the beliefs, tenets and practice of the faith" and favoured reconsideration of the issue to a larger Bench. 

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