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Above: Hindu litigant Mahant Dharamdas speaking to mediapersons after the Ramjanambhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit hearing/Photo: Anil Shakya

Warring claimants to the disputed site fail to reach consensus on whether translations of key documents provided by UP government are acceptable

The Supreme Court, on Tuesday (February 26) deferred for another six weeks its decision on when to commence regular hearing in the case. However, in a surprise development, the five-judge constitution bench also wondered if the dispute should be sent in for mediation one last time, by invoking Section 89 of the Code of Civil Procedure.

A decision on when the Supreme Court’s five-judge constitution bench will commence its hearing on the Babri MasjidRam Janmbhoomi title suit will be taken only after all the parties in the long-pending dispute agree on whether or not they are willing to accept the UP government’s translated version of nearly 38000 pages of documents – originally written in five different languages – related with the land dispute.

The Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and comprising Justices SA Bobde, DY Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer, on Tuesday (February 26) handed over copies of a report filed by the apex court’s secretary general and co-signed by four of its registrars detailing the status of documents, translations and records in the case.

Chief Justice Gogoi informed counsels for all parties in the case that nearly 38000 pages of documents originally written in five different languages – English, Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit and Gurmukhi – had to be translated. It may be recalled that during an earlier hearing of the case, on January 10, the Chief Justice had directed the Supreme Court registry to appoint official translators for the documents and also assess how much time it would take to complete the process of translations.

On Tuesday, as the matter came up for hearing again, the Chief Justice asked all the competing parties in the case if they were willing to accept translations of the documents that have been provided by the Uttar Pradesh government. The translations have been provided to the court by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the State of UP.

The Chief Justice made it clear that the court would not want to commence with the hearing in the case if the correctness of the translations were in dispute. “Once we start hearing we don’t want anyone disputing the correctness of translations,” he said.

Senior advocate Rajeev Dhawan, appearing for the Sunni Waqf Board, a key Muslim party in the case, informed the court that he had not examined the translated copies filed by the UP government and added that given the importance of the title suit, all aspects must be “looked into with the highest scrutiny.”

Senior advocate CS Vaidyanathan, appearing for Ram Lalla (the infant Lord Ram – also a petitioner in this case) disputed Dhawan’s contention, stating that the translations done by the UP government had been provided to all the parties in the case over a year ago and that the counsels had accepted these without any reservations back then.

Justice Bobe noted that if the translated copies given by the UP government had been accepted by all competing counsels then there was no need for the court’s registry to carry out fresh translations and regular hearing in the case may proceed at the earliest. With senior advocate Dhawan reiterating that he had not examined the translations provided by the UP government, Justice Bobde said perhaps there had been “some communication gap as the translations by the government of UP are ready but have not been checked” by Dhawan. He added that translations to be taken by the Supreme Court registry too are not yet ready for examination.

With Dhawan and Vaidyanathan disagreeing on whether translations by the UP government had been shared in advance with all parties and accepted by them, Chief Justice Gogoi said: “We are not going to waste our time if disputes are going to be raised over translations of documents.”

Justice Chandrachud then said that in the interest of expediting the proceedings, a middle ground may be explored. “If certain translated documents are acceptable, then the registry can proceed with translating only the disputed documents,” Justice Chandrachud said while asking Vaidyanathan to place on record any order or document which stated that the competing parties in the case had accepted the translations provided by the UP government without any objections.

Vaidyanathan then referred to page 12 of the top court’s 2017 order in the case, saying no objection on translation was raised back then and that “two years later they are coming up with this objection”.

Vaidyanathan and a counsel appearing for the Hindu Mahasabha reiterated that the counsels for the Muslim parties – Dhawan and senior advocate Dushyant Dave – were trying to delay the proceedings indefinitely. Vaidyanathan questioned the bona fides of Dhawan.

Dhawan retorted: “This isn’t a moment of acrimony. We are not adversarial. We are only trying to have the records presented before this Court. We want to argue the case and are prepared to do so.” Asked by the Chief Justice about how much time they would need to examine the translations, Dave replied that a time frame of 8 to 12 weeks would be required for the purpose.

Justice Chandrachud too pointed out that as of 2017, the exercise of translation of documents was incomplete and the parties had failed to reach a consensus before the Supreme Court Registrar. “It can’t be said that the parties have accepted the translated documents by default since they did not raise any objection (in 2017),” Justice Chandrachud observed.

With the arguments heading nowhere and the commencement of regular hearing stuck on whether the voluminous translations can or cannot be agreed upon by all parties, Justice Bobde made a surprise suggestion – if another chance to should be given to resolve the decades-old dispute through mediation.

There seemed to be near unanimity among all the contesting claimants to the disputed land that mediation had already been tried and failed. While Dhawan added that his parties were willing to give mediation a try once again, he said the process can be initiated only if the Hindu parties in the case are clear on how to proceed.

Justice Bobde then remarked: “We are thinking of using Section 89 CPC for reaching a settlement between Hindu and Msulim parties,” adding that “even if there’s only a 1 per cent chance, it should be explored.”

Section 89 of the Code of Civil Procedure states:

“Where it appears to the Court that there exist elements of a settlement which may be acceptable to the parties, the Court shall formulate the terms of settlement and give them to the parties for their observations and after receiving the observations of the parties, the Court may reformulate the terms of a possible settlement and refer the same for—

(a) Arbitration;

(b) Conciliation;

  1. c) Judicial settlement including settlement through Lok Adalat; or

(d) Mediation

The Hindu parties in the case, however, made it clear that they did not favour resumption of mediation, insisting that all such efforts made in the past had failed to deliver the intended result.

Justice Bobde then said that the title suit should not be seen purely as a property dispute and that the court was trying for “healing relationships between the parties”.

Senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, appearing for another Hindu party, agreed with Vaidyanathan and told the bench that mediation attempts in the past had failed and now “everyone wants the SC to decide the dispute”.

The court then allowed BJP leader Subramanian Swamy to make a brief submission on an application he had moved in the court earlier this week seeking permission to exercise his fundamental right to practice his religion by offering prayers at the disputed Ram Janmbhoomi site.

Though Dhawan objected to Swamy’s making submissions in the case on grounds that the BJP leader was not a party in the title suit, Chief Justice Gogoi allowed the Rajya Sabha MP to proceed with his arguments. Swamy said any compromise in the case between the Hindu and Muslim parties must include “a minimum condition that Hindus will have a right to pray where Lord Ram was born”.

With no consensus on whether the parties in the suit are willing to accept the UP government’s version of the translated documents or willing to give mediation another chance, the bench adjourned the proceedings for another 6 weeks.

“We are of the view that translated documents such as exhibits and deposition should come on record.  Parties to examine translated documents and point out objections, agreements with the translated documents within 6 weeks,” the Chief Justice said. The court will also examine the possibility of sending the matter for mediation on March 5.

— India Legal Bureau

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