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Babri cases to be expedited
By PM Damodaran

Lucknow: The directives by the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court on March 20 to hold day to day hearing in the title suits may expedite a solution to the Ayodhya dispute provided that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad accept the court verdict in the case. While the Muslims have unequivocally expressed their readiness to accept the court verdict in toto, the VHP has given confusing signals in this regard. While Mr. Singhal had sent a letter to the Prime Minister's Office making it clear that his organisation would accept whatever verdict given by the court in the title suits, many other VHP leaders and sants had reiterated that they would never forego their claim on the disputed site.

In fact the recent High Court order was only a reiteration of its ruling given earlier. The court, on a petition filed by the Uttar Pradesh government on March 23, had on July 12 last year passed an order for conducting day to day hearing in the title suits for their early disposal. At present three commissioners are involved in recording the statements of the witnesses. But recordings of the statements of witnesses could not go far due to a legal lacuna. The Bench had then observed that if objections were raised before the commission regarding the admissibility of the evidence, it had no other option but to stop the recordings as only the court had the power to adjudicate them.

The High Court bench in its recent ruling, however, stated that there was no need for the commissioner to stop the recordings in case an objection was raised regarding the admissibility of evidence. In the light of the Supreme Court's view in the Bipin Shantilal Panchal case, the High Court bench observed that the commissioner could note down the objections and continue to take the statements of the witnesses. The objections would be adjudicated by the bench later.

The court, however, has not made any comment on the numbers and time of the appointment of the commissioners, who would be judges of the court, retired judges, subordinate judicial officers or advocates. Since a commissioner records the statement of one witness only at a time, a few commissioners may have to be appointed to expedite the disposal of the title suits. There are about 200 witnesses in the four title suits in the Ayodhya case. 

Only the statements of one from the Hindu side and 24 from the Muslim side were recorded so far. The state government has undertaken to bear the expenses on the working of the commission.

The recent ruling of the High Court has come on a petition filed by the central government on March 6 seeking day to day hearing in the title suits for the early disposal of the cases. The central government argued that being the receiver of the acquired land; it was incurring an expenditure of Rs.30 crore per annum for the maintenance and security to the site. It also pointed out that a volatile law and order situation was prevailing in the country over the Ayodhya issue. While commenting on the centre's arguments for the early disposal of the case, the bench observed that even otherwise it was the duty of the court that the suits were decided expeditiously.

The Sunni Waqf Board had opposed the central government's plea maintaining that it had no right to intervene in the case as it was not a party to the suits. The Board, however, observed that it had no objection if the central government wanted to be a party in the suits. The High Court Bench did not comment on these objections made by the Board. Meanwhile senior counsel representing the Board, Mr. Zafaryab Jilani has welcomed the High court order directing for the day to day hearing in the five-decade long suits.

Despite the High Court's directives, recording of the statements of the witnesses may be a time-consuming process. According to legal experts, though the high court order was in right direction, it may take at least a couple of years more for the court to give its verdict in the case.

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