Posted on 12.08.17 by Satya Prasoon
On 11th August 2017, a 3-Judge bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Justices Dipak Misra, Ashok Bhushan and Abdul Nazeer heard the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid property dispute (Maulana Ashhad v Mahant Suresh Das). Mr Tushar Mehta, Additional Solicitor General, appearing for the State of Uttar Pradesh, spoke first and pointed out the need to simplify the procedural and factual background of that case as there were numerous appeals and cross-appeals and sub-issues, within the scope of the appeal. As an example, issues relating to darshan would follow the decision in the main matter and 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 to Article 25, the fundamental Right to Worship. He claimed that, contrary to Mr.Mehta’s view, the Hindus’ right to worship at the birthplace of Lord Ram needed to be heard first for if the Court concluded that this was an essential religious practice then this fundamental right would take precedence over the other issues 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 as it was civil litigation in progress here Mr Swamy could not raise the constitutional question. 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 counsel 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 Justice Misra statement that this 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. 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 Mishra, 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 Justice Misra noting that this would be a status check and arguments would commence after the vacations, in January.
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