SC orders mediation in Ayodhya dispute

Gives three-member panel eight weeks to complete process

Hindu devotees, dressed up as Ram Sena, take part in a religious procession to press for the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, during the Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj (Allahabad), Friday, Feb 1, 2019. PTI file Photo

The Supreme Court on Friday ordered mediation to resolve the 70-year-old vexed Ayodhya dispute, nominating former top court judge Justice F M I Kalifulla, Art of Living’s Sri Sri Ravishankar and senior advocate Sriram Panchu to hold talks with the parties representing Hindu and Muslim sides.

“We do not find any legal impediment to making a reference to mediation for a possible settlement of the dispute(s) arising out of the appeals,” a five-judge bench presided over by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said, relying upon the provisions of the Civil Procedure Code.

The court ordered that Justice Kalifullah, who retired as SC judge on July 22, 2016, would head the panel, which would also comprise Ravi Shankar and Punchu as members. All the three negotiators, hailing from Tamil Nadu, would conduct the proceedings in “utmost confidentiality” to safeguard the process and ensure its success.

“We have considered the nature of the dispute arising. Notwithstanding the lack of consensus between the parties in the matter we are of the view that an attempt should be made to settle the dispute by mediation,” the bench said.

The Hindu side had earlier opposed any negotiation, saying earlier attempts had remained unsuccessful. The Muslim side, however, said they were open to the proposal moved by the court.

In its 18-page order, the bench, also comprising Justices S A Bobde, D Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer, directed for holding the proceedings in camera.

The panel would submit its interim report within four weeks and complete the process within eight weeks, the period within which, the court had earlier said, the voluminous documents related to 2010 appeals against the Allahabad High Court judgement were to be prepared for hearing.

The court said it was not passing a specific order restraining the media to report on the mediation proceedings. “While the proceedings are on, there ought not to be any reporting either in the print or in the electronic media,” the court said.

The court told the Uttar Pradesh government to provide all facilities including stay forthwith for the mediators for holding the proceedings at Faizabad itself. The panel should start working within a week. 

The court nominated the mediators after taking note of the suggestions given by the parties. It added that the mediators can co-opt other members if required.

Among the negotiators, Sri Sri had earlier tried to resolve the dispute by talking to various parties. Punchu, another member of the panel, is a senior advocate from Chennai.

He has published papers on alternate dispute resolution. He has authored a book ‘Mediation Practice and Law-- the Path of Successful Dispute Resolution.’ Punchu has been associated with mediation process to resolve dispute between Assam and Nagaland with regard 500 square km land.

He was also part of resolving disputes related to Parsi community in Mumbai.

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SC orders mediation in Ayodhya dispute

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