A judgment day, at last

A judgment day, at last

Ayodhya verdict: The three men who hold the balance over disputed site

A judgment day, at last

Their verdict will also not just be a ruling on who — the Muslims or the Hindus — owns the 2.77-acre sliver of land. Once they read out their judgment — and create history of sorts — it will test the resolve of the country’s secular soul. Neither the residents of Ayodhya nor anyone across the country have the prescience on the historic and potentially combustible judgment that Justices Sudhir Agarwal, S U Khan and D V Sharma on the Allahabad High Court’s Lucknow Bench will deliver at 3:30 pm.

Although they come from different educational and professional attainments and backgrounds, each of the judges is well-versed in civil law, and their verdict on the 125-year-old Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit will be a glittering capstone in their respective careers. Once the onerous task of reading out the judgment is over, 62-year-old Justice Sharma will bow out from the High Court — he retires the day after. Incidentally, it was Justice Sharma who had issued a note of dissent on the dismissal of the petition seeking deferment and out-of-court settlement of the case in the High Court earlier.

A deeply religious person, Justice Sharma has never married. He cooks his own food and does his own chores, according to Lucknow lawyers familiar with his frugal habits and simple lifestyle. After graduating in Arts in 1967, the judge passed LLB in 1970 and later served as the chief law officer of the UP Financial Corporation. Having held several positions in the state law department, Justice Sharma was appointed state Parliamentary Affairs department principal secretary and subsequently promoted as district and sessions judge in 2002.

Said to be very helpful towards economically marginalised petitioners, Justice Sharma was elevated as additional judge in October 2005 and took oath as permanent judge on September 17, 2007.

Justice Agarwal, the youngest of the three judges — he graduated in law in 1980 from Meerut University — joined the Allahabad High Court Bar in October the same year and was subsequently elevated to the Bench in 2005. Primarily a Science graduate from Agra University, Justice Agarwal practised tax matters, but gradually shifted to the service side and specialised in this branch of law.

Before his elevation to the Bench, Justice Agarwal was appointed additional advocate general in 2003. A year later he was designated senior advocate. By October 2005, he had become additional judge and took oath as permanent judge on August 10, 2007. According to lawyers in the High Court, he likes watching television soaps and reading comics during leisure hours at home.

Born in 1952, Justice Khan graduated in Science in 1971 from Aligarh Muslim University,  passed law in 1975 from the same institution. He was enrolled as an advocate with the UP Bar Council in Allahabad in 1975, practising in civil, service and revenue law. After working in the Aligarh Civil Court for two years and for several more in the Allahabad High Court, Justice Khan was elevated as a permanent judge on December 21, 2002.

Justices Sharma and Khan have been hearing the Ram Janmabhumi-Babri Masjid title suit since 2005. Justice Agarwal joined them on the Bench three years later since which time they have presided over the matter continuously. Barring the lawyers representing the 27 parties to the title suit, nobody else will be permitted inside the courtroom. After the verdict is read out, the Lucknow district magistrate will brief the media and apprise of the judgment.

The judiciary has followed a slow process and the parties to the suit have now demonstrated that they cannot afford more years of drift. In the event of the  judgment going in favour of one side, the other is expected to appeal in the Supreme Court, which would mean hearing the case all over again.

When the M S Liberhan Commission of Inquiry’s report was submitted last year, the country in general and Ayodhya in particular dismissed it with a casual shrug. But the Uttar Pradesh government of Mayawati on Wednesday indicated it would prefer to err on the side of caution, deploying over 1,000 armed men to guard the court premises in Lucknow besides enhancing the security around the judges’ residence considerably.

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