A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, will decide on Thursday when to take up the Ayodhya temple-mosque case. The four other judges on the Constitution Bench are Justice SA Bobde, Justice NV Ramana, Justice UU Lalit and Justice DY Chandrachud.
The decision on the title suit, pending for six decades and at the heart of India's most politically divisive row, comes amid demands to speed up the plan to build a Ram temple at the site where the 16th-century Babri mosque stood before it was razed by Hindu activists in 1992.
Members of the ruling BJP, some of its allies and right-wing groups want a special executive order or ordinance to enable the start of construction before the general elections are announced. Last year, the top court refused an early hearing.
On Friday, the top court had deferred the Ayodhya case in just a 60-second hearing, and said a bench would decide on January 10 when to take up the case.
The dispute is over 2.7 acres of land on which the Babri Masjid stood before it was demolished on December 6, 1992.
In 2010, the Allahabad High Court accepted that the disputed site was the birthplace of Lord Ram and allotted two-thirds of it to the Hindus. The rest went to the Sunni Central Waqf Board of Uttar Pradesh. Both Hindu and Muslim organisations appealed against it in the Supreme Court, which in 2011, stayed the High Court order.
In October, the Supreme Court rejected the Uttar Pradesh government's appeal for an early hearing of the 14 petitions in the case. "We have our own priorities. Whether hearing would take place in January, March or April would be decided by an appropriate bench," the court said.
The court's refusal for an early hearing pushed right-wing groups and a section of the BJP to demand that the government bypass the legal process and expedite temple construction through an ordinance of executive order.
Despite pressure from right-wing groups and the Shiv Sena, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his New Year interview that the government is waiting for a legal resolution. "Let the judicial process be over. After the judicial process is over, whatever be our responsibility as government, we are ready to make all efforts," PM Modi said. He also accused the Congress of delaying the legal process.
In September, the Supreme Court had declined to reconsider its observations in a 1994 judgment that a mosque was not integral to Islam - an issue that came up during the hearing of the Ayodhya land dispute.
The 16th-Century Babri Majid was razed on December 6, 1992, by thousands of right-wing volunteers or Kar Sewaks, who claimed it was built on a temple marking the birthplace of Lord Ram that was destroyed. Around 2,000 people were killed in the riots that followed the demolition.
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