The Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on Wednesday reserved its judgment, after a marathon 40-day hearing, on the cross-appeals filed by the Hindu and Muslim sides challenging the three-way partition of the disputed 2.77 acres of Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land among Ram Lalla, Nirmohi Akhara and the Sunni Waqf Board in September 2010.
The high-octane hearings between the rival sides in the legal dispute was not without drama on the final day. It had numerous lawyers vying for time to argue their points and saw senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan tear pages on his desk while the Chief Justice and the judges, who have constantly attempted to maintain peace among lawyers, even threatened to walk out if order and decorum was not restored.
The hearings began on August 6 after a mediation attempt across the religious divide “to heal hearts and minds” failed to deliver. This is a close second to the longest heard case in the Supreme Court — the historic Kesavananda Bharati case.
The testimonies in the appeals alone run into 54 volumes consisting of 13,426 pages which have been translated into English and filed by the Uttar Pradesh government. There are a total 533 exhibits translated by various parties.
The Allahabad High Court judge, Justice S.U. Khan, one of the three judges whose opinions in the case are under appeal, had described the disputed Ramjanmabhumi-Ayodhya property as a “small piece of land where angels fear to tread”.
The “innumerable landmines” involved in the case and the decades of religious tension may have played a part in the appeals having to spend eight long years in the cold storage in the apex court.
The Centre, under the Ayodhya Act of 1993, is holding the acquired land, including the disputed site, as a non-partisan, statutory receiver.
But Chief Justice Gogoi has been decisive and pushed the lawyers incessantly to stick to the deadline. The Bench had sat through the weekdays since August 6 to finish the hearings. The initial deadline was October 18. With Chief Justice Gogoi set to retire on November 17, the Bench had said it would need at least a month to write the judgment. However, the hearings have been wrapped up two days before the October 18 mark.
The Bench, other than Chief Justice Gogoi, comprised Justices S.A. Bobde, D.Y. Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S. Abdul Nazeer.
The main arguments laid down by the Hindu side is that their faith and belief that Lord Ram was born exactly under what was the central dome of the Babri Masjid, before the mosque was demolished by kar sevaks on December 6 of 1992, has been consistent across centuries. Travelogues, writings and Skanda Purana have mentioned the Ramjanmabhoomi as a place of special religious significance to the Hindus. The Hindus have claimed that the disputed land itself is a juristic personality not hit by the law of limitation.
They have highlighted photographs from the Archaeological Survey of India excavations to prove that a large religious structure pre-existed the Babri Masjid. They said Mughal Emperor Babur demolished the temple to build the mosque.
Mr. Dhavan has argued that the Muslims have exclusive title over the land and the Hindus were given only prescriptive rights to enter and pray at the Ram Chhabutra.
They sought the restoration of the property to what it was prior to December 1992. Mr. Dhavan said the idols were placed surreptitiously by the Hindus in the intervening night of December 22-23 of 1949. They said there was not one direct evidence to show that the disputed land was the birthplace of Lord Ram. They argued that the findings of the archaeological excavations do not show one structure but several constructions spread over different eras. It is not that of a single massive structure as claimed by the Hindus.
“Even the Hindus were conquerors. There were thousands of conquests in history... How are they different from the conquests of Muslims,” Mr. Dhavan asked.