In a significant development, Justice UU Lalit, who was part of the five-judge bench to hear Ayodhya Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land title dispute case, recused himself from the hearing on Thursday. Justice Lalit recused himself as senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan pointed that the former had appeared in the matter for former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh in 1994.
Following the development, the top court decided that the bench would be reconstituted and the schedule of the hearing in the case would be decided on January 29.
Chief Justice Gogoi in his order said that under the Supreme Court rules in exercise of his administrative powers, it was his perogative to decide the strength of the bench.
He said this while declining the submission by Dhawan that an earlier bench headed by then Chief Justice Dipak Misra had said that a hearing on the batch of petitions will be heard by three judge bench.
The court thereafter directed its registry to go through all the records relating to the Ayodhya case which are available with it and submit a report by January 29 as to how much time it would require for translating the documents and the case material which are in Persian, Arabic, Urdu and Gurmukhi languages.
However, when senior counsel Harish Salve, appearing for one of the Hindu litigants, offered to assist the registry in handling of the papers and their translations, Chief Justice Gogoi said that he will rely entirely on his own registry to do the job.
Having directed the secretary general of the Supreme Court to submit the report in 15 days the court directed that the reconstituted bench will hold the hearing on January 29.
The top court bench, headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, was earlier slated to decide on the schedule of the Ayodhya case on Thursday itself. Besides CJI Gogoi, the bench comprised Justice SA Bobde, Justice NV Ramanna, Justice UU Lalit and Justice DY Chandrachud.
On September 27, 2018, a three-judge bench of the apex court had refused to refer to a five-judge Constitution bench for reconsideration of the observations in its 1994 judgement that a mosque was not integral to Islam. The decision was taken by a 2:1 majority of the bench.
When the matter was last taken up on January 4, there was no indication that the case would be referred to a constitution bench as the apex court had simply said that further orders in the matter would be passed on January 10 by "the appropriate bench, as may be constituted".
(With IANS Inputs)