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Justice J S Khehar
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What the Chief Justice suggests is worth taking up

IT IS RARE for a Chief Justice of India to suggest an out-of-court settlement of an issue. Yet, that is what Justice J S Khehar did on March 20th when he suggested that the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case be settled amicably by mutual agreement.

In his remarks during a hearing, the CJI said “If the parties want me to sit between mediators chosen by both sides for negotiations, I am ready,” adding that if required, the apex court can also choose a principal negotiator for finding a solution.

Predictably enough, the reactions to what the CJI said were divided along political lines. The BJP welcomed it while the secular opposition was cold. What Justice Khehar said, however, should be taken in the context of the legal dispute and not in political terms, as is often the case in such vexed disputes fraught with emotion.

The earliest record of litigation on the Ayodhya dispute dates back to January 29th, 1885, when Mahant Raghubir Das of Ayodhya filed a case with the British era Council of the Secretary of State for India, demanding permission to construct a temple at the Ram Chabutra in the town. In the 132 years since then, there have been many twists and turns and layer upon layer of further litigation, apart from criminal cases as well as the demolition of the disputed structure on December 6th, 1992. After decades of fruitless litigation, the Allahabad High Court pronounced a verdict in 2010. This satisfied no one and an appeal to the Supreme Court followed. Almost seven years have elapsed since then.

A judicial verdict from the highest court should come in due course. But no one knows when. This is not just another title suit for a piece of land. There are hardly any examples that have been as politically and emotionally charged as this one. Justice Khehar—and India’s higher judiciary—understands this very well. It makes sense, then, to sort out the tangle with the help of neutral mediators, and a sitting judge of the apex court would be a good option. If the quarrelling litigants have faith enough in the judicial system to fight the case all the way to the Supreme Court, surely a serving judge—of mutual choice—can help find a way out.

A mutually acceptable solution would be possible if the parties agree to sit down and discuss the issue.