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CJI explains why he set up 5-judge bench to hear Ayodhya dispute

January 11, 2019 05:58 AM

COURTESY TIMES OF  INDIA JAN 11CJI explains why he set up 5-judge bench to hear Ayodhya dispute

New Delhi:

Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi on Thursday explained why he constituted a five-judge Constitution bench to adjudicate appeals against the Allahabad high court’s verdict on title suits claiming ownership of over 2.77 acres of disputed Ayodhya land despite a 3-judge bench rejecting plea of Muslim parties for reference of petitions to a larger bench.

CJI Gogoi had surprised many on June 8 by notifying a five-judge Constitution bench headed by him that would take up hearing of Ayodhya dispute on January 10. On Thursday, senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan drew the bench’s attention of the court to the certain speculations about setting up of a larger bench despite the September 27 judgement of the SC directing listing of the matter before a 3-judge bench.

As was reported by TOI on January 9, the CJI said: “The decision to post the matter before a five-judge bench had been taken by the CJI on the administrative side in exercise of his powers under Order VI rule 1 of the Supreme Court Rules, 2013 which mandates that ‘every cause, appeal or matter shall be heard by a Bench consisting of not less than two judges nominated by the Chief Justice’. Order VI rule 1prescribes the minimum numerical strength of the Bench and it is always open for the CJI to decide, having regard to the various relevant facts and circumstances, which cannot be exhaustively laid down, to constitute benches of such strength that the CJI deems it proper.”

“This is how the present bench of five judges has been constituted which is, in no way, contrary to what has been laid down by the three judges’ bench in the aforesaid judgement and order dated September 27, 2018,” he said.

The TOI report on January 9had said: “The Supreme Court Rules, 2013 provides a clue to this mystery. Order VI, Rule 1 says: ‘Subject to the other provisions of these rules every cause, appeal or matter shall be heard by a Bench consisting of not less than two Judges nominated by the Chief Justice.’ SC sources said the stipulation ‘not less than two judges’ gives plenary administrative power to the CJI to refer a matter to either 2-judge, 3-Judge, 5-Judge or even larger Bench depending on the importance of the issue involved in a case.”

The immediate task before the CJI is to find a replacement for Justice U U Lalit who has recused from the bench, which also comprised the CJI and Justices S A Bobde, N V Ramana and D Y Chandrachud.

The first order in the appeals against 2010 Ayodhya judgment of Allahabad High Court was passed in May 2011by a bench of Justices Aftab Alam and R M Lodha, which had stayed the HC verdict dividing the 2.77 acre disputed land equally among three parties - Ram Lalla, Nirmohi Akhara and Sunni Wakf Board. Since, then the benches that heard Ayodhya appeal from time to time always had a Judge belonging to Muslim community. But, the five-judge bench, that was set up by the CJI on January 8, did not have a single Judge from minority community.

On September 29, a bench of then CJI Dipak Misra and Justices Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer, by 2 to 1 majority, had held that appeals against Allahabad HC’s verdict on Ayodhya land dispute will be heard by a 3-judge bench. Justice Nazeer had leaned in favour of Ayodhya dispute being sent to a five-judge bench.

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