A special judge holding daily trial in the politically sensitive 1992 Babri Masjid demolition case, involving BJP veterans L K Advani, M M Joshi, Uma Bharti and others, moved the Supreme Court Monday seeking six more months to conclude the matter. The judge, at Lucknow, has informed the top court in a May 25 letter that he is due to superannuate on September 30, 2019.
Besides Advani, Joshi and Uma Bharti, the accused against whom the conspiracy charge was invoked on April 19, 2017 by the apex court included former BJP MP Vinay Katiar and Sadhvi Ritambara. Three other high-profile accused have died. The top court had held that Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh, during whose tenure as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh the disputed structure was razed, is entitled to immunity under the Constitution as long as he remained in gubernatorial position.
The top court on Monday sought assistance of the Uttar Pradesh government to devise a mechanism to extend the tenure of the special judge to enable him conclude the trial in the case. A bench headed by Justice R F Nariman, asked the state government to apprise it by July 19 of a mechanism by which the special judge's tenure could be extended till he delivers the verdict in the high profile case.
"The special judge after two years of virtual day to day hearing is at the fag end of the hearing of the case and requires little more than six months to complete the trial together with the delivery of the judgement".
"However, in his letter to us dated May 25, 2019, he has indicated that he will be superannuating on September 30, 2019. We are of the view it is important for the special judge to conclude the proceedings and pronounce the judgement in the the case. Given the facts and circumstances, we call upon the state of Uttar Pradesh to assist us on this behalf. List on Friday," said the bench also comprising Justice Surya Kant.
The bench told senior advocate Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for Uttar Pradesh government, to find a "way out" and refer to the rules by which the tenure of the judge could be extended. "You find out the mechanism and refer to the rules. If possible we can extend the tenure by exercising powers under Article 142 of the Constitution," the bench said.
On April 19, 2017, the top court had ordered day-to-day trial to be concluded in two years in the Babri Masjid demolition case. While dubbing the demolition of the medieval era monument as a "crime" which shook the "secular fabric of the Constitution", it had allowed the CBI's plea on restoration of criminal conspiracy charge against the VVIP accused.
The court had come down heavily on the CBI for the delay of over 25 years in the trial and said, "The accused persons have not been brought to book largely because of the conduct of the CBI in not pursuing the prosecution of the aforesaid alleged offenders in a joint trial, and because of technical defects which were easily curable, but which were not cured by the State Government."
Issuing a slew of directions, it had said that "the proceedings (against Advani and others) in the court of the Special Judicial Magistrate at Raebareli will stand transferred to the Court of Additional Sessions Judge (Ayodhya Matters) at Lucknow. "The court of sessions will frame additional charges under Section 120-B (conspiracy) and the other provisions of the Penal Code mentioned in the joint charge sheet filed by the CBI against Champat Rai Bansal, Satish Pradhan, Dharam Das, Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, Mahamadleshwar Jagdish Muni, Ram Bilas Vadanti, Vaikunth Lal Sharma and Satish Chandra Nagar," the apex court had said.
It had also said that if trial was adjourned, then it should be fixed on the next day or a close proximate date and the reasons for it should be recorded in writing. CBI should ensure that on every date fixed for recording of evidence, some prosecution witnesses must remain present, so that for want of witnesses the matter is not adjourned, it had said.
The court had termed the Allahabad High Court's February 12, 2001 verdict dropping conspiracy charge against Advani and others as "erroneous". Out of the eight VVIP accused Giriraj Kishore, and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Ashok Singhal and Vishnu Hari Dalmia died during trial and the proceedings against them have been abated.
Before the 2017 verdict of the apex court, there were two sets of cases relating to the demolition of the disputed structure on December 6, 1992 going on at Lucknow and Raebareli. The trial of first case involving unnamed 'karsevaks' was going on in a Lucknow court, while the second set of cases relating to the eight VVIPs were going on in a Raebareli court.