SC declines to refer Ayodhya issue to five-member bench
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SC declines to refer Ayodhya issue to five-member bench

S.Sivadas

S.Sivadas

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by the Chief Justice Dipak Misra declined to refer to a five-judge Constitution bench the issue of reconsideration of the observations in its 1994 judgment that a mosque was not integral to Islam which had arisen during the hearing of Ayodhya land dispute.

In a majority 2:1 verdict the bench said the civil suit had to be decided on the basis of evidence and the previous verdict had no relevance to it.

Justice Ashok Bhushan, who read out the judgment on his and the Chief Justice's behalf said it had to find out the context in which the five-judge had delivered the 1994 judgment.

Justice S Abdul Nazeer disagreed with the two judges and said whether mosque is integral to Islam had to be decided considering the belief of religion and it required detailed consideration.

He referred to the recent Supreme Court order on female genital mutilation and said the present matter be heard by a larger bench.

The Supreme Court said now the civil suit on land dispute would be heard by a newly constituted three-judge bench on October 29 as Chief Justice Misra would be retiring on October 2.

The issue whether mosque is integral to Islam had cropped up when the three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Misra was hearing a batch of appeals filed against the Allahabad High Court’s 2010 verdict by which the disputed land on the Ram Janmabhoomi - Babri Masjid area was divided in three parts.

A three-judge bench of the high court had, in a 2:1 majority ruling, ordered that the 2.77 acres be partitioned equally among three parties - the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and RamLalla.

The verdict has huge implications for deciding whether a temple can be built on the spot where the Babri Masjid was razed in 1992. The court had said that it will not review the 1994 verdict, about whether a mosque is fundamental to the practice of Islam. With this judgment the three judges who are deciding what is called 'the title suit' to decide who the disputed land in Ayodhya belongs to have fixed hearings starting October 29.

The Muslim petitioners had said that the 1994 verdict which said namaz can be offered anywhere and not just at a mosque would unfairly influence the matter of whom the disputed site in Ayodhya belongs to and weaken their claim. They said the decades-old verdict must be reviewed before the title suit is decided.

The rival petitioners said this was an attempt to delay the hearings in the main case because Muslim petitioners worry that the top court will rule against them.

The top court today said that the 1994 verdict will not impact the main Ayodhya case and that the observations in that verdict about a mosque not being essential to Islam were made only in the context of the government acquiring the land that a place of worship is built on.

One of three judges involved in the verdict dissented from this understanding.These developments are that the main Ayodhya hearings will be held starting at the end of October.This is likely to benefit the ruling BJP which has promised a temple will be built though in keeping with the law; the party will hope for a favourable verdict before next years' general election.

In 1992, the 16th-century structure was destroyed by right-wing volunteers, or kar sewaks, who say a temple must be built for Lord Ram who was born on the spot.In 2010, the Allahabad High Court divided the land three ways between Muslim and Hindi parties, though the main part was allocated to Hindus. All parties involved challenged the High Court verdict in the Supreme Court.

DCW chief sounds word of caution

The Supreme Court verdict declaring that adultery is not a crime has been widely welcomed but some experts have sounded a note of caution, calling it anti-women and warning that it could give a license to people to have 'illegitimate' relationships.

The five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra unanimously struck down Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code dealing with the offence of adultery, holding it manifestly arbitrary, archaic and violative of the rights to equality and equal opportunity to women.

The Delhi Commission for Women chief, Ms.Swati Maliwal, said decriminalising adultery completely is just going to add to the pain of women in the country. 'I totally disagree with the Supreme Court judgement.The judgement is anti-women. In a way, you have given an open general license to the people to be in marriages but at the same time have illegitimate relationships,' she said. 'What is the sanctity of marriage?'

Social activist, Ms. Brinda Adige, also sought clarity and asked whether the verdict allows polygamy. 'Because we know that men very often marry two, three times and there is so much of problem when the first, second or third wife are abandoned. If adultery is not a crime, how is this woman even going to file a case against the husband who might desert or abandon her? It’s a concern,' she said.

The Congress leader, Renuka Chowdhury agreed. 'This is like criminalising the triple talaq law. They have done that but now the men will just abandon us or not give us talaq. They will have polygamy or nikah hallala which creates hell for us as women. I am glad it’s not a crime anymore but I do not see how it helps. The court should... give us clarity.'

The Supreme Court bench also held that adultery would continue to be treated as civil wrong and can be ground for dissolution of marriage. There can’t be any social licence which destroys a home, the Chief Justice had said. Section 497 of the 158-year-old IPC says: 'Whoever has sexual intercourse with a person who is and whom he knows or has reason to believe to be the wife of another man, without the consent or connivance of that man, such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of rape, is guilty of the offence of adultery.'

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