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What happens to Ayodhya hearing if CJI retires before the judgment

Ranjan Gogoi, CJI is to retire on Nov 17 2019

The Supreme Court has set a tentative deadline for the completion of arguments in the Ram Mandir dispute by 18 October. If the arguments are completed by the deadline then the bench would have roughly a month’s time to pronounce its judgment.

If the decision is not taken by the time Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi retires on November 17, the matter would be back to square one.

As per the rule, the Supreme Court bench that hears the case has to deliver a verdict. If the judge retires before the judgment is declared, then a new bench is constituted and the matter is freshly heard.

Finalizing the deadline is a good decision: Atul Kumar

The Supreme Court lawyer Atul Kumar while talking to the journalist said that since the CJI is retiring on November 17, finalizing a deadline is a right decision. This will give the bench and him necessary time to apply their minds on the arguments put by the parties and then write a judgment.

The lawyer also outlined the practicality of the deadline set by the CJI-headed five-judge constitutional bench. He said that apart from the Ayodhya title case, other cases also require judgment. New land acquisition law is one of them. Ranjan Gogoi needs time to work on these cases and deliver the judgment and he has got only this much time (Nov 17). The writing of the judgment of the Ayodhya case will take substantial time keeping the extensive e arguments in the view advanced by the parties.

The SC began day-to-day hearing on August 6 in the Ayodhya case even though the case had reached in Supreme Court in 2011.  Multiple petitions were filed challenging the verdict of Allahabad High Court in 2010.

The Allahabad High Court had ordered to divide the disputed site into three equal parts

The Allahabad High Court had ordered to divide the disputed site of the 2.77 acres Ram Janambhoomi– Babri Masjid land into three equal parts among Ram Lala- the presiding deity, Sunni Waqf Board – representing the Muslim side and the Nirmohi Akhara – representing the Hindus.

BJP and other Hindu outfits have put allegations many times regarding the deliberate delay in the Ayodhya case.  It has been alleged that the case was not touched for six years until 2017 as the previous NDA government was interested in settling the dispute.

The case got momentum in 2017 when the hearing started on a petition seeking review of 1994 Allahabad High Court judgment pronouncing that the mosque wasn’t the essential part of Islam. The hearing was led by then CJI Dipak Misra with other Supreme Court judges. This case had a direct bearing to the Ayodhya matter as Babri Mosque was referred as a matter of freedom of religion.

A senior advocate and a Congress lawyer Kapil Sibbal appeared for the Muslim side during the course of the case in 2017 and requested Supreme Court  to defer the matter till Lok Sabha Elections 2019 gets over. This led to a huge political row. However, the Supreme Court didn’t accept the request of Kapil Sibbal.

The judgment, in this case, was delivered on September 27 in 2018. Then CJI Dipak Misra retired on October 2. The Supreme Court also said that the case will be heard by a new bench of three judges from 29th October 2018 onwards.

Mediation panel failed, day-to-day hearing started

The next big break came in the case when a mediation panel was formed by the SC in March this year. The panel was headed by former SC judge FM Ibrahim Khalifullah. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of the Art of Living Foundation and senior lawyer-mediator Sriram Panchu were the other two members. The panel was to submit the report by August 15. After failure in mediation efforts day-to-day hearing started from August 6.

Since then, the arguments presented by the parties have been lengthy in Ayodhya case that prompted the bench to set a time-frame so that a verdict is possible for the bench before the CJI retires.

Atul Kumar, said that in the US Supreme Court and the English common law, generally the time is allocated to parties. The parties have to then finish their arguments within that time frame which helps a faster delivery of justice.

If the retiring judge doesn’t manage to deliver a judgment before his/her retirement, then the arguments have to be advanced afresh before the new constitutional bench.  It would be a complete waste of resource, Kumar added.

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As the festive season is approaching, the Supreme Court will be closed for 15 days on account of Dussehra and Diwali other than the regular Saturdays and Sundays before the CJI retire. If Ranjan Gogoi manages to hear the arguments and deliver a judgment, it would be a legacy judgment for him.

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