New Delhi: Justice S Abdul Nazeer, the only Muslim among the 28 Supreme Court judges, has been put on a new Bench constituted by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi for hearing the Ayodhya dispute on Tuesday. The CJI has also replaced Justice N V Ramana on the previous Bench with Justice Ashok Bhushan. Headed by the CJI, the other judges retained on the Bench are Justices S. A. Bobde and D Y Chandrachud. The reconstitution of the Bench was necessary because Justice U U Lalit recused himself on January 10 after it was pointed out that he had appeared as a criminal lawyer in a 1997 contempt case in the Ayodhya dispute.
Justice Nazeer has been brought in as his knowledge of the Islamic practices may be required since a 1994 verdict of the Apex Court that a mosque was not an integral part to Islam may crop up during the hearing. The reason for dropping Justice Ramana is, however, not clear. Incidentally, Justice Bhushan and Nazeer were part of the three-judge bench, then headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra (since retired), which on September 27, 2018, by a 2:1 majority verdict refused to refer to a five-judge Constitution Bench reconsideration of the observations in its 1994 judgement that a mosque was not integral to Islam. The matter arose during the hearing of the Ayodhya land dispute. Justice Nazeer had delivered minority judgement. The reconstituted Bench is expected to meet on January 29 and decide the frequency of hearings in the case.
The Bench has to decide on 14 petitions against the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment, which split 2.77 acres of land on which the Babri Mosque stood, among three parties — Sunni Waqf Board, Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla. The Hindu organisations claim that the disputed site in Ayodhya is the birthplace of Lord Ram and that a mosque, the Babri Masjid, was constructed in the 16th century on the ruins of a temple that was demolished by the Mughals. The mosque was razed in December 1992 by Hindu kar sevaks.