With less than two months before Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi is set to retire, the Supreme Court on Wednesday set a deadline for arguments in the protracted Ayodhya land dispute case and said that a verdict in the politically sensitive case is likely to be delivered on 15 November, two days before Gogoi's date of retirement.
The apex court's decision came 26 days after it began daily hearings in the case, also referred to as the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid civil dispute. The five-judge Constitution Bench, which also comprises Justices SA Bobde, DY Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and SA Nazeer, said that arguments by all parties are stipulated to end on 18 October, which will give them four weeks to complete writing the judgment.
Offering to hear the case on Saturdays as well, the court also allowed for a parallel mediation process alongside the hearings and said that the parties to the dispute are free to find an amicable solution, if they want, and place the settlement before it.
"The hearing of the appeals, which is at a very advanced stage, will continue without any interruption. "If in the meantime, the parties desire to settle the matter(s), including, by resort to mediation by the earlier constituted mediation panel, they may do so and place the settlement before the court, if reached," the bench said in its order.
The court on Tuesday had asked the counsels for the Hindu and Muslim parties to inform it about a tentative "time schedule" for concluding their arguments. As per the apex court's calendar, the bench now has 15 working days remaining to conclude the lengthy hearing by 18 October. So far, Hindu parties have argued for 16 days and senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, representing the Muslim sides, had advanced submissions for 10 days.
Dhavan said he and his colleagues would take eight more days to conclude their submissions and two senior counsel " K Parasaran and CS Vaidyanathan " appearing for a Hindu party would need two days to rebut his arguments. "We are open to hearing on Saturdays, if required," the bench said, adding a tentative schedule can also be worked out.
His predecessor, Dipak Misra, had also presided over a whirlwind of hearings and delivered verdicts in several major cases before retiring in October last year. In his final week as the CJI, Misra, who retired on set to retire on 2 October, passed judgments in cases ranging from the one on the constitutionality of Aadhaar to the case on the entry of women into the Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala.
With inputs from agencies