New Delhi: The Supreme Court hearing of the Ayodhya land title dispute is again off to January 29. The first hitch came when Justice U U Lalit recused himself from the Bench led by the CJI. This happened after senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, who has been engaged by a Muslim party, pointed out that Justice Lalit, as a criminal lawyer, had appeared in a 1997 contempt case against then Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh in the Ayodhya dispute.
Though Dhavan said he had no objection to the presence of Justice Lalit on the Bench and he was just bringing the issue to the court’s notice, Justice Lalit immediately spoke to the CJI and other members on the bench — Justice S.A. Bobde, Justice NV Ramana, Justice DY Chandrachud — and recused himself.
The new Bench may include Justice S Abdul Nazeer, since he is the only Muslim among the 26 apex court judges who has knowledge of Islamic practices; he may also be required if a reference to the 1994 verdict, which had said that a mosque is not integral to Islam, may crop up. Once a call is taken on Justice Lalit’s replacement, the 5-judge Bench will decide the schedule of the hearings.
The court rose after the CJI declared that the reconstituted Bench will hold the next hearing on January 29 but before that he turned the spotlight on the translation issue. As he did so, he directed the court registry to go through all the records relating to the Ayodhya case which are available with it and submit a report as to how much time it would require for translating the documents and the case material which are in Persian, Arabic, Urdu and Gurmukhi languages.
Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for one of the Hindu litigants, offered to assist the registry in the translation work but the CJI shot the suggestion down and observed that the court will rely entirely on its own registry to do the job. The CJI’s stand was intriguing as the practice is that the parties in dispute are required to file the certified translations of any documents they want to use in the hearing.
The Apex Court has to decide on 14 petitions against the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment, splitting 2.77 acres of land in Ayodhya among three parties — the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla. Incidentally, a Bench headed by previous Chief Justice Dipak Misra had on September 27 rejected by 2:1 majority the reference of the case to a 5-judge Bench, but that may come up as the CJI has set up such a larger Constitution Bench overruling the judgment of his predecessor.