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SC sends Ayodhya dispute for in-camera mediation--- 3 member panel formed

SC sends Ayodhya dispute for in-camera mediation

Swami Chakrapani, president, Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha, flashes victory sign after Supreme Court sent the Ayodhya title dispute for mediation.
Swami Chakrapani, president, Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha, flashes victory sign after Supreme Court sent the Ayodhya title dispute for mediation.   | Photo Credit: Sandeep Saxena

Supreme Court appoints panel of mediators, including former apex court judge, Justice F.M.I. Kalifulla; spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar; and senior advocate Sriram Panchu.

A five-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi sent the Ayodhya dispute for mediation in a bid to heal minds and hearts.
The Supreme Court on Friday appointed a panel of mediators, including former apex court judge, Justice F.M.I. Kalifulla, as Chairman, spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and senior advocate Sriram Panchu, a pioneer in alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in the country.
The Ayodhya dispute mediation would start in a week’s time in Faizabad district in Uttar Pradesh of which the disputed area in Ayodhya is a part of.
The mediation proceedings would be held in-camera. Stressing the need for “utmost confidentiality” in the conduct of the mediation to ensure its success, the court went to the extent of opining that the media should refrain from reporting on the mediation proceedings.
“We are of the further opinion that while the mediation proceedings are being carried out, there ought not to be any reporting of the said proceedings either in print or electronic media,” the order said.
However, the court stopped short of passing any specific gag order on the media and left it on the mediators to pass “necessary orders in writing, if so required, to restrain publication of the details of the mediation proceedings.”
The time given for mediation is eight weeks, but the court urged the mediators to “conclude at the earliest.” The mediators would have to file a status report in the court in four weeks.

Eight weeks

This eight weeks is the time given to the Muslim parties to examine the accuracy and relevance of the Uttar Pradesh government’s official translation of thousands of pages of oral depositions and exhibits in the Ayodhya title suit appeals pending since 2010 in the apex court.
In fact, the court had invoked Section 89 of the Civil Procedure Code (CPC) to propose mediation as an “effective utilisation of time” during the interregnum. The CJI had expressed hope that mediation may spell a peaceful end to the volatile dispute between the members of the two religious faiths.
The court has pushed for a possible out-of-court settlement despite objections raised by some Hindu parties that their faith in Lord Rama’s birthplace is “non-negotiable.”
“Notwithstanding the lack of consensus between the parties in the matter we are of the view that an attempt should be made to settle the dispute by mediation,” the court observed.
The court brushed aside the objections raised by several parties, including that public notice should be issued as the dispute affects the religious sentiments of Hindus and Muslims across the spectrum. They had quoted Order 1 rule 8 and Order 23 rule 3-B of the CPC, both of which mandates that all stakeholders should be issued notice in a “representative suit.”
But both Justices Ashok Bhushan and S.A. Bobde had prima facie shot down the argument, saying the provisions deal with procedure at the time of institution of a suit and not in the appellate stage, that too, in the Supreme Court. Justice Bobde said if the private appellants had represented the two faiths in the lower courts, it could very well do so in the process of mediation.
“We do not find any legal impediment to making a reference to mediation for a possible settlement of the dispute(s) arising out of the appeals,” the Supreme Court held in its order.
It said the question whether any of the CPC provisions would apply here is left open open to be decided later at the “appropriate stage.”

The court said the Ayodhya dispute mediators could co-opt more on the panel if necessary and take whatever legal assistance required for them.

Justice S.A. Bobde, on the Bench, had put matters in perspective by observing that the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case “is not about the 1500 sq.ft. of disputed land, but about religious sentiments. We know its impact on public sentiment, on body politic. We are looking at minds, hearts and healing if possible.”

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