A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, will hear the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case on Thursday. Among the first decisions to be taken by the bench will be deciding the schedule for the decades-old title dispute and decide whether it should be taken up on a daily basis. The four other judges on the Constitution Bench are Justice SA Bobde, Justice NV Ramana, Justice UU Lalit and Justice DY Chandrachud.
The decision on the title suit, pending for six decades and at the heart of India’s most politically divisive row, comes amid demands to speed up the plan to build a Ram temple at the site where the 16th-century Babri mosque stood before it was razed by Hindu right wing activists in 1992.
The case is pending before the apex court since 2010 when 14 cross-appeals were filed against the Allahabad high court’s 2010 judgement dividing the 2.77 acre land equally among the three parties – the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara, a Hindu religious denomination, and Ram Lalla, or infant Ram, represented by the Hindu Mahasabha – for the construction of a Ram temple.
The Supreme Court was originally supposed to hear the case in October, but deferred this to January, rejecting the Uttar Pradesh government’s plea for speedy hearings with CJI Gogoi saying the court had its “own priorities”
The postponement had led to demands from several right-wing groups affiliated to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party for a law or executive order to facilitate the building of a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a recent interview that his government would wait for the courts to rule on the case.
Taking up the case on January 4, a bench comprising CJI Ranjan Gogoi and justice SK Kaul, in a 10 second hearing that gave lawyers on both sides no opportunity to address the court, that a new three-judge bench which will be formed by the CJI before January 10 to hear the case and pass any further orders on the land dispute in Ayodhya.
However, on Tuesday, CJI Gogoi announced the setting up of a five member bench, which also comprises justices SA Bobde, NV Ramana, UU Lalit and DY Chandrachud – all potentially the next four chief justices of India.