Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi today (Tuesday, Jan 8) constituted a Constitution bench of five judges to hear the decades-old politically sensitive Ayodhya title suit which is set to resume on January 10.
A notice issued by the Supreme Court registry said the bench will comprise Justices SA Bobde, NV Ramana, Uday Umesh Lalit and DR Chandrachud and will be headed by CJI Gogoi.
The bench excludes Justice S Abdul Nazeer, the only Muslim judge in the apex court, who was a part of the bench hearing the cases earlier. Apart from the CJI, it has judges who are slated to be elevated to the top court’s highest chair up till 2024 in the order of their seniority.
The CJI had earlier this month said that a new bench will be constituted to hear the long-running Ram Janmbhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit and also decide on when arguments can commence in the matter.
In September last year, a top court bench headed by then Chief Justice Dipak Misra had cleared the decks for resumption of proceedings in the title suit, also called the Ayodhya matter, when it disposed off petitions that sought a review of the court’s earlier verdict in the Ismail Farooqui case which had controversially held that a mosque was not essential to Islam and hence, was not a perquisite for offering namaz.
The setting up of a constitution bench to hear the hugely polarising legal dispute comes at a time when the ruling BJP dispensation and its cadre has been aggressively pushing for the construction of a Ram Mandir at the site where the Babri Masjid was demolished by BJP-RSS workers in December 1992, claiming that it was their firm belief that the mosque stood at the exact same spot where Lord Rama was born and a temple dedicated to him was once located.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had, in a recent interview to a news agency, claimed that the Centre wanted the judicial proceedings in the title dispute to play out but indicated that in the event of an adverse ruling was also open to bringing an ordinance that would enable the construction of a Ram Mandir at the site.