NEW DELHI: In a surprise development, the Supreme Court urged the opposing parties in the Ayodhya dispute on Tuesday to make another attempt to resolve their differences through negotiations with Chief Justice of India J S Khehar advocating a “give and take” approach and even offering himself as a mediator.

The sensitive Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute was back in the limelight just days after a BJP government headed by Aditya Nath Yogi took office in Uttar Pradesh.

The CJI said, “The parties must first sit together and hold a meeting cordially to agree to settle the sentimental issue through negotiations. It is far better than fighting in court.”

The SC asked BJP leader Subramanian Swamy to talk to all parties and renew his request for early hearing of petitions on March 31. If the parties do not reach a consensus to restart negotiations, the judicial process is likely to proceed.

Swamy provided the trigger for a torrent of observations from a bench of Chief Justice Khehar and Justices D Y Chandrachud and Sanjay Kishan Kaul by seeking urgent hearing on appeals against Allahabad HC’s September 30, 2010 judgment which divided the disputed land into three equal parts between Sunni Wakf Board, Nirmohi Akhara and ‘Ram Lalla’, the idol.

The SC had stayed the HC verdict on May 9, 2011 with the judges on the bench — Aftab Alam and R M Lodha — terming the decision strange as no party to the suits had claimed relief on the lines decided by the ruling. The contestants to the disputed sites clearly did not accept the HC’s formulation.

When Swamy mentioned the petitions for early hearing, the CJI said it was not difficult to list the case and decide the issue judicially. “But this is not one of those issues which can be decided in a huff. Given the sensitivity attached to the issues in question, it is best to settle the differences through negotiations between parties. All must adopt a ‘give a bit and take a bit’ approach to find a solution to this issue,” the CJI said.

Swamy said several attempts had been made in the past to find a negotiated settlement to the vexed issue that has been festering for nearly 70 years but the CJI said it would do no harm if the parties sat together and chalked out a format for negotiation and inform the court about it.

“If you want, the parties can choose negotiators of their choice for this purpose. These issues are best settled by sitting jointly. We can decide the issue judicially and our order will bind all parties. But such sensitive issues are best decided through negotiations by adopting a give and take policy,” the CJI said.

Justice Khehar took most by surprise when he offered his service as principal mediator for negotiators chosen by parties to the dispute to facilitate talks. “If parties want me to do the job, I will not hear this case and take up that task. If the parties want a brother judge, I am ready to provide him for facilitating the negotiation process,” he said.

This is significant, as it would be for the first time the SC has expressed willingness to provide a sitting judge as facilitator of negotiations between parties to find a solution to the dispute which is shrouded in competing claims, which includes the alleged placing of idols of Ram and other gods in the central dome of the disputed structure on December 23, 1949.

Allahabad HC had taken into account pleadings by all parties as well as findings of the Archaeological Survey of India, which was tasked to identify whether the disputed structure was built on a temple by Mughal king Babur in the early part of the 16th century.

All three judges of the HC bench wrote separate judgments but the common point in the majority judgment was that the 2.7 acres of land, on which the disputed structure was located before its demolition on December 6, 1992, would be divided equally between Sunni Wakf Board, Nirmohi Akhara and the idol of ‘Ram Lalla’, which was considered a legal entity.
The HC had given Ram Chabutra and Sita Rasoi to Nirmohi Akhara and the central dome portion to ‘Ram Lalla’. Immediately after demolition of the Babri Masjid by ‘kar sevaks’ on December 6, 1992, the central government had in 1993 persuaded Parliament to enact the Ayodhya Act to acquire the entire 67.03 acres of land around the disputed structure.

The SC had ordered status quo in the 67.03 acres while allowing worship of ‘Ram Lalla’ in a makeshift temple near the demolished structure. In its May 9, 2011 interim order, the court had reiterated the status quo in the 67.03 acres as also on the 2.7 acre over which the disputed structure stood.