Arguments Summary Day 1:August 11, 2017

The 3 judge bench of Supreme Court comprising CJI Dipak Misra, Justices Ashok Bhushan and Abdul Nazeer began hearing the Ayodhya Title Dispute Case. The matter arose from an appeal filed against the Allahabad High Court judgment which partitioned the disputed land three ways between UP Sunni Wakf Board, Ram Lalla and Nirmohi Akhara.

Mr. Tushar Mehta, Additional Solicitor General, appearing for the State of Uttar Pradesh opened the arguments by pointing out the need to simplify procedural and factual background of the case as there were numerous appeals and cross-appeals and sub-issues. As an example, he suggested that issues relating to worship  (offering prayers) could be heard after this matter had been settled. He was interrupted by Mr Subramanium Swamy, an Applicant of a pending application for intervention, whose arguments pertained the fundamental Right to Worship on the disputed site. Contrary to Mr. Mehta's view, Mr. Swamy argued that the Hindus’ right to worship at the birthplace of Lord Ram needed to be heard first.  This is because, if the Court concluded that this was an essential religious practice then the fundamental right would take precedence over the title issue as these pertained to the right of property. This contention was strongly protested and Mr Rajeev Dhavan, representing the Sunni Waqf Board, noted that a 5-judge bench had separated constitutional issues from civil litigation earlier and the present appeal pertains to civil matter only.

 Next commenting on Mr Mehta’s point, Mr Dhavan agreed that the Right to Worship could not be placed above the right to property or the question of who had the right to worship, which were the main matters in this case. The Court seemed to accept this prioritization of issues and returned to Mr Mehta, for clarifications on who the various Appellants, Cross-Appellants and their counsels were in the many appeals in this case.

At this point counsels for the various Muslim bodies stated that proceedings could not commence as numerous documents in Arabic, Sanskrit, Persian and Hindi, that the High Court had relied on for its judgment, had not yet been translated into English. In response to the Chief Justice Dipak Misra's statement that it was not a valid request as the High Court had admitted these documents as exhibits, counsels clarified that some were tendered at the time of the judgment and remained untranslated. The Chief Justice Misra, however, maintained that the proceedings could move forward and translations requirements could be looked into during the course of the hearings.

At this juncture, Mr Kapil Sibal, also representing the Waqf board, raised a strenuous objection against proceeding without the translations. He offered to submit a list of the untranslated documents and alluded to two earlier orders of this Court – 4 January 2017 and 10 August 2015 – on the necessity for translations. He insisted that translations had to be completed before the hearings and sought four months to complete them. Justice Bhushan noted that sufficient time would be given for these procedural matters but all parties should nevertheless be ready to proceed with the hearings.

Justice Misra, then turned, once more, to the matter appeals and involved parties and concluded with the order that "all Legal Representatives already substituted be served and all applications for substitution stood allowed and Legal Representatives should be served now." On the question of translations, he directed that each of the original plaintiffs and defendants submit translations of documents relied on by them, including oral evidence, and any difference in opinion between parties be referred to a Board of Experts. He granted 12 weeks to the parties for this purpose and 5 December was set as the next date of hearing, with Chief Justice Dipak Misra noting that this would be a status check and arguments would commence after the vacations, in January.