A spire of a Hindu temple is seen over a city wall in Ayodhya. Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg

Ayodhya Dispute: Supreme Court Refers Case To Three-Member Panel For Mediation

The Supreme Court referred the long-standing Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute case to mediation, for which it has also set up a three-member panel.

The panel will comprise the former Supreme Court judge, retired Justice FM Kalifulla, Art of Living Founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Senior Advocate Sriram Panchu. Justice Kalifulla will be the chairman of the mediation panel.

The top court said that despite the lack of consensus between the parties, it believes an attempt towards mediation must be made.“We don't find any legal impediment in referring the matter to mediation,” Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi said while pronouncing the order.

The top court also said the process must be carried out with utmost confidentiality and that print/electronic media be prohibited from reporting on the mediation process while it’s underway. However,the court did not pass any specific orders to this effect, leaving the the decision to the mediation panel.

The mediation process will begin in a week’s time in Faizabad and all expenses for the process will be born by the Uttar Pradesh Government. Incidentally, the Uttar Pradesh government represented by the Solicitor General had opposed the idea of referring the dispute to mediation. The top court has directed that the committee submit an interim report within 4 weeks and the mediation process be completed within 8 weeks.

At a hearing on February 26, the top court had granted 8 weeks time for the parties to ensure the case documents are translated. At that time itself the top court had suggested mediation as an attempt to amicably settle the dispute. Then on March 6, while reserving the judgment, the five-judge bench headed by the chief justice had asked the parties to submit names for mediators in case the apex court decides on mediation.

The Supreme Court bench, which also included Justice SA Bobde, Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice Abdul Nazeer and Justice Ashok Bhushan, heard arguments that lasted for about an hour.

Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhawan, who appeared for the Sunni Waqf Board, supported the suggestion for mediation. He agreed with the court’s suggestion to keep mediation proceedings confidential.

Senior Advocate CS Vaidyanathan, appearing for the deity Ram Lalla, however, said the mediators cannot determine the location of the birthplace of the deity as it's already on record. It can only determine whether there could be an alternative location for the mosque, he said.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the government of Uttar Pradesh, too, expressed doubts over sending the case for mediation. “It wouldn't be advisable.”