Will HC succeed in settling Ayodhya dispute?

This is the question on top of several minds as the nation awaits with bated breath the verdict in the six-decade- old legal dispute over the ownership of the land where the 1528-built Babri Masjid once stood.

The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court, comprising Justices D V Sharma, Sudhir Agarwal and S U Khan, is slated to pronounce the verdict in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit at 3:30 PM.

The High Court here has been turned into a virtually impregnable fortress and only the parties to the legal dispute and their lawyers will be allowed entry to Court Number 21 where the three judges will pronounce their verdict. Unprecedented security measure have been put in place across the state and particularly in the capital here to ensure that no untoward incident takes place in the aftermath of the verdict.

The state government has clamped a ban on any overt display of victory or defeat after the pronouncement of the verdict which may run into several thousand pages. "Any such attempts will be firmly dealt with," Deputy Inspector General Rajeev Krishna said.

Around 1.90 lakh security personnel have been deployed across the state which Home Minister P Chidambaram said was "more than enough" to maintain law and order. At least 2,000 paramilitary personnel have been deployed across the city in addition to regular police force to maintain peace.

People went about their daily routines and schools and offices functioned normally in the state capital amid heavy police presence to check any untoward incident.
The only hurdle in the pronouncement of the verdict was cleared by the Supreme Court Tuesday when it dismissed the petition by a retired bureaucrat Ramesh Chandra Tripathi for deferment of the keenly-awaited judgement.

The High Court verdict assumes significance as an amicable solution to the dispute over a piece of land has not been achieved through negotiations between the two religious groups. Repeated attempts were made by former Prime Ministers P V Narasimha Rao, V P Singh and Chandra Shekhar to persuade the two sides to reach a compromise but with little success.

The Ayodhya dispute has been an emotive issue for decades and mired in a slew of legal suits involving Hindu and Muslim religious groups. The first title suit in the case was filed in 1950 by one Gopal Singh Visharad, seeking an injunction for permitting 'pooja'(worship) of Lord Ram at the disputed site while the second suit was filed by Paramhans Ramchandra Das also in 1950 seeking the same injunction but this was later withdrawn.

The third suit was filed in 1959 by the Nirmohi Akhara, seeking direction to hand over the charge of the disputed site from the receiver and the fourth one came in 1961 by UP Sunni Central Board of Waqfs for declaration and possession of the site. The fifth suit was moved on July one, 1989 in the name of Bhagwan Shri Ram Lalla Virajman also for declaration and possession.

Through an application moved by then Advocate General of UP, all the four suits were transferred to the High Court in 1989. As many as 94 witnesses have appeared before the Court --  58 from Hindu side and 36 from Muslim side  -- during regular hearings of the case which began on January 10, 2010.

The High Court, while adjudicating the case, also asked the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to carry out excavation in the area surrounding the disputed site to find out whether temple was there before mosque was built. The excavation, which was done in the presence of representatives from Hindus and Muslims, went on for more than five months between March and August in 2003.

Hearing in the case taken up on a day-to-day basis from January this year was completed on July 26 and the special bench had reserved its verdict asking the parties concerned to approach the OSD in case there was any scope of resolution to the case through reconciliation. Since none of the parties made any attempt in this direction, the court had on September 8 fixed September 24 as the date for pronouncement of the verdict. It was fixed for September 30 after the apex court dismissed a plea for deferment of the High Court verdict.

In its verdict, the High Court is expected to decide whether the 2.7 acres of disputed land on which the Babri Masjid stood before it was demolished on December 6, 1992, belongs to the Sunni Central Waqf Board or to the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha. The three main issues before the High Court are whether there was a temple at the disputed site prior to 1528, whether the suit filed by the Sunni central waqf board in 1961 is barred by limitation and whether Muslims perfected their title through adverse possession.

The history of the dispute goes back to the year 1528 when a mosque was built on the site by Mughal emperor Babar which Hindus claim to be a birth place of Lord Ram and where a temple was there earlier. In order to settle the dispute, the British officials in 1859 erected a fence to separate the places of worship, allowing the inner court to be used by Muslims and the outer court by Hindus and this system went on till 1949 when an idol of Lord Ram surfaced inside the mosque.

The authorities then declared the premises a disputed area and locked the gates which were unlocked after 37 years by a District Judge in 1986 to allow 'darshan'.
With the passage of time, the dispute took political colour. The Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992 in the presence of senior leaders of VHP, Shiv Sena and BJP.

The demolition of the mosque triggered communal riots in several parts of the country in which more than 2,000 lives were lost. Earlier this month, R C Tripathi, one of the parties to the suit, moved a plea in the High Court seeking deferment of the verdict to make fresh attempts for an out-of-court settlement through negotiations.

On September 17, the High Court refused to defer pronouncement of the verdict following which the matter reached the Supreme Court. An apex court bench of Justices Altamas Kabir and A K Patnaik refused to take up the case and referred it to another bench.

Difference of opinion between two Justices R V Raveendran and H L Gokhale, before whom the matter came up for hearing on September 23, surfaced on entertaining the petition. However, the court issued notices to the parties. The matter was finally head by a special three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India S H Kapadia om Tuesday and it dismissed the plea for deferment of the verdict by the High Court.

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