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New judge for Babri Masjid title suits
By Khadijatul Kubra

Lucknow: Mr. Justice Sudhir Narayan Agrawal will be the new presiding judge of the three-members Special Bench of the Allahabad High Court. Mr. Dinesh Kumar Trivedi, hitherto presiding judge of the Special Bench retired on 28 August 2001, necessitating re-constitution of the Bench hearing five title suits to adjudicate property dispute of over 67 acre area of Babri Masjid complex in Ayodhya.

The Allahabad High Court chief justice reconstituted the Bench eighth time since it was constituted first time over 12 years ago (on 10th July, 1989 to be exact) after a two-judge Division Bench agreed to the Uttar Pradesh Government plea to withdraw all the five suits from Faizabad District Court for "original trial" of its by the High Court itself in order to facilitate a speedy trial of the dispute. Mr. Sudhir Narayan is a senior judge of the Allahabad High Court and is due to retire on 10 July, 2003. He is permanent judge of the High Court since February 1992. Earlier, enrolled as an Advocate on 22 December 1962, Mr. Agrawal practised on Civil, revenue, taxation and criminal matters in the Allahabad High Court.

Besides Mr. Sudhir Narayan, Mr. Justice Syed Rafat Alam and Mr. Justice Bhanwar Singh are the other members of the Special Bench in the Babri Masjid title case, which was revived after Supreme Court declared that the issue was purely a civil dispute and rejected the contention that it was a matter beyond the purview of the judicial review for being a matter of faith. Mr. D. K. Trivedi retires from the service later last month when the Bench was recording the statement of Mrs. Shirin Moosvi, an eminent historian, who is the 20th witness from the Sunni Central Board of Waqf and Mr. Mohammad Hashim, a petitioner in the case from Ayodhya since 1949. Earlier, the Court had recorded the evidence of several eminent historians including Mrs. Suvaira Jaiswal, Prof. Suraj Bhan. The constitution of the Full Bench had so far undergone seven changes. Justices K. C. Agrawal, the acting chief justice, Mr. Umesh Chandra Srivastava and Mr. Syed Haider Abbas Raza, comprises the first three judges of the Full/Special Bench for the disposal of the title suits in regard with the disputed property known as Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi complex in Ayodhya in the district of Faizabad, about three hours drive from state capital of Lucknow. Second time the Bench comprises of justices Mr. Satish Chandra Mathur, Mr. Brijesh Kumar and Mr. S. Haider Abbas Raza. Later, Mr. justice Ajay Prakash (A.P) Mishra, Chaudhry Abdur Rahim and Mr.I.P.Vashistha comprised it. Following retirement of Mr Rahim, the Bench was reconstituted by the Allahabad High Court chief justice and its members were Mr. A. P. Mishra, Mr. Vashistha and Syed Rafat Alam. It was reconstituted again when Mr. Mishra was transferred to an elevated position as chief justice of Delhi High Court only later to be appointed as judge of the Supreme Court. The new combination of the judges were Mr. Dinesh Kumar Trivedi, Syed Rafat Alam and Mr. Jagdish Chandra Mishra. Following retirement of Mr.Mishra, Mr. Bhanwar Singh, who had earlier worked as Secretary-General of the Supreme Court was nominated to the Bench under Mr.Trivedi. Besides Mr. Mishra, Mr. Brijesh Kumar is the second judge of the Bench who had been elevated to the apex court. Recently, the Full Bench had rejected Rajanth Singh-led Bharatiya Janata Party government's plea that recording of the evidence statement be made either by a single judge or by the appointment of a commission, saying it was "not feasible". citing previous examples, the court says that "...The net result is delay. Therefore, we are of the opinion that even an appointment of Single Judge or a Commissioner will not ensure expeditious trial of this suit." Under the new judge, the Bench would start cross-examination of Mr. Deoki Nandan Agrawal, a retired judge of the High Court who is a party in the case as next friend of the deity Bhagwan Ram.
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