A week before it is scheduled to announce its verdict in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid row, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court Friday turned down a plea for directing an out-of-court amicable settlement of the dispute, noting several such attempts in the past had gone in vain.
The court also slapped costs of Rs.2 lakh on the petitioner, low-profile retired bureaucrat Ramesh Chandra Tripathi, though the amount was later reduced to Rs.50,000. Tripathi now plans to approach the Supreme Court with his plea.
The three-judge special bench of Justice S.U. Khan, Justice Sudhir Agrawal and Justice Dharam Veer Sharma also upheld its decision to deliver its judgment Sep 24.
“Postponement of the judgment could lead to more problems than the judgment itself,” said Justice Khan, the seniormost judge on the special bench said during the arguments on the plea.
The 16-page written order released by the three-judge bench termed Tripathi’s petition as “mischievious”.
“Considering the facts and circumstances and also the fact that the applicant, without any lawful excuse or reason, has filed this application, we hold this attempt mischievous and therefore, he deserves to be imposed exemplary costs of Rs.50,000,” the bench ruled.
The bench also cited the series of attempts made both by the high court as well as by the Supreme Court in the past to bring about an amicable settlement.
“We made efforts by requesting learned counsels for the parties to find out the possibility of a compromise, if any. Some of the parties very bluntly told us that in the nature of the rights asserted by them, the scope for compromise is absolutely nil. None was ready to part away even a single inch of land and said that it is for the court to decide but they cannot make any surrender whatsoever,” it said.
The 60-year-old legal battle has as many as 40 parties – 32 seeking the title to the disputed site as Lord Rama’s birthplace and eight in support of the Babri Mosque.
The judgement also frowned on Tripathi’s contention that the verdict could lead to law and order problems.
“We are really surprised to hear the wonderful argument by which he tries to frighten a court of law alleging apprehension of violence if a judgment is delivered and thereby asking the court not to decide a case. This is something that the people of India least expect from a court of law and that too, the highest court in a province,” it added.
During the arguments, Justice Agrawal pointed out that efforts for conciliation and an amicable out-of-court settlement were made by at least three prime ministers, two central laws and also a presidential reference to the Supreme Court, but all in vain.
The court also castigated Tripathi for waking up at the last moment, well after it had reserved its verdict and resolved to pronounce it Sep 24. “Where were you all these years while the case was being heard,” asked Justice Khan.
However, he added: “Even today if majority of the parties agree to get the matter resolved through concilliation, we will gladly welcome the move”.
Even when the judge threw open the offer to the parties present in the court, there was only one voice in its favour. This was the ‘Nirmohi Akhara’, one of the key parties in the legal battle.
Justice Sharma, who had late Monday evening entertained Tripathi’s application despite the absence of the other two judges on the bench, remained silent throughout the hearing.
Tripathi, 73, was upbeat despite the verdict.
“The high court order has not disheartened me at all and I am definitely going to file an appeal before the Supreme Court,”as told by Tripathi “I am not ready to give up as my effort was aimed only at serving the larger objective of insuring peace and communal harmony in the country. Since there is very little time left for the final judgment, I have to rush to Delhi as soon as possible,” he added.
Asked for his response to the order that not only questioned his motives, but also charged him with making an “attempt to divert, deviate and obstruct” the Ayodhya case, Tripathi shot back: “Well the high court has all the right to draw its own conclusions, but tell me, what would a 73-year-old man achieve by doing all that the court has accused me of attempting?”
Asserting that the mosque was built after the descecration of an ancient Hindu temple on the spot, violent Hindu mobs pulled the Babri Masjid down on Dec 6, 1992, triggering one of India’s worst post-partition communal clashes that left over 2,000 dead.