Panel chairman former SC judge Justice FMI Kalifulla, members Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and senior advocate Sriram Panchu to begin mediation next week
The Supreme Court’s five judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, on Friday (March 8), ordered that the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi title suit be sent in for court-monitored mediation. The top court has ruled that the mediation process shall be time-bound and that it must conclude within eight weeks while a status report must be filed within four weeks.
The apex court bench also comprising of Justices SA Bobde, DY Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer said in its order: “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 order adds: “We are also of the view that the mediation proceedings should be conducted with utmost confidentiality so as to ensure its success which can only be safeguarded by directing that the proceedings of mediation and the views expressed therein by any of the parties including the learned Mediators shall be kept confidential and shall not be revealed to any other person. 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 the print or in the electronic media.”
The court has, however, refrained from officially imposing a gag order on the media and left it to the mediation panel to “pass necessary orders in writing, if so required, to restrain publication of the details of the mediation proceedings.”
The panel of mediators will be chaired by Justice FMI Kalifulla, who had retired from the Supreme Court in July 2016. Chennai-based senior advocate Sriram Panchu, one of the country’s foremost legal minds on mediation and president of the association of India Mediators, is the second member of the panel. Art of Living Founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who had last year claimed that the Muslim parties in the case must “gift” their share to the Hindus for construction of the Ram Mandir and that “offering namaz (at the supposed site of the Ram Janmabhoomi) is unacceptable”, is the third mediator appointed by the apex court.
The bench has said that the panel, which has to begin negotiations within a week from now in Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh, can also co-opt other mediators if it so desires and directed the Uttar Pradesh government to ensure that necessary infrastructure for the mediation process is provided without any delay.
The court proceedings in the title suit, if still required, will commence only after the mediation process concludes.
It may be recalled that the Constitution Bench had, on March 6, reserved its order on whether or not it would send the long-pending title suit for mediation. The surprise suggestion of the top court to give mediation one last chance had come during proceedings in the title suit on February 26 when Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice SA Bobde had told counsel for the main petitioners in the case that they were thinking of invoking Section 89 of the Code of Civil Procedure to help resolve the sensitive land dispute through talks between the warring claimants.
Though most Hindu parties in the case as well as the Government of Uttar Pradesh had opposed the suggestion of sending the case for mediation, counsel for the Muslim petitioners and the Nirmohi Akhara had informed the bench that they were willing for a renewed mediation effort if the court ordered one.
Shortly after the Supreme Court pronounced its order, on Friday, Justice Kalifulla told mediapersons: “I understand the Supreme Court has appointed a mediation committee headed by me. I am yet to receive the order copy. We’ll make every effort to resolve the issue amicably.”
Ravi Shankar reacted to the development through a post on Twitter which read: “Respecting everyone, turning dreams to reality, ending long-standing conflicts happily and maintaining harmony in society – we must all move together towards these goals.” The self-styled spiritual leader’s nomination to the panel of mediators has, however, not gone down too well with some of the Muslim stakeholders in the dispute owing to his earlier utterances on the title suit.
Asaduddin Owaisi, Hyderabad MP and member of the All India Muslim Personal Law board which is a party in the title suit, told reporters: “Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who has been appointed a mediator had earlier made a statement saying ‘if Muslims don’t give up their claim on Ayodhya, India will become Syria’… It would have been better if the Supreme Court had appointed a neutral person.”
Convener of the Babri Masjid Action Committee and advocate, Zafaryab Jilani welcomed the court’s order and said: “We will cooperate in the mediation process. Now, whatever we have to say, we will say it to the mediation panel, not outside.”
The BJP, for which construction of the Ram Mandir at the site where its followers demolished the Babri Masjid has been a long-pending poll promise, has reiterated its hope that a temple dedicated to the infant Lord Ram (Ram Lalla Virajman, also a petitioner in the title suit) will be built in due course at the disputed site.
Uttar Pradesh deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya said that though he does not wish to question the Supreme Court’s order, “in the past, efforts made to arrive at a solution (through mediation) had not been successful”. He added: “No devotee of Lord Ram wants construction of the Ram Mandir to be delayed.”
Union minister Uma Bharati, still an accused in the 26-year-old Babri Masjid demolition case which has been pending adjudication at the trial stage, told reporters: “I don’t want to comment on the Supreme Court order. I don’t want to comment on the mediators named by the court. But, as a Hindu, I think, a temple should be made where Lord Ram was born.”
Read the detailed order here:
— India Legal Bureau