3-member panel to convey progress in 4 weeks, final report in 8 weeks
A three-member panel headed by former apex court judge Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla and consisting of spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravishankar and senior advocate Sriram Panchu, a renowned mediator, will try to find a negotiated settlement of the Ayodhya’s Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute case.
The Supreme Court referred the sensitive dispute for mediation to this panel and asked it to submit the progress report within four weeks and final report in eight weeks.
The mediation will be held at Faizabad and proceedings would be held “in camera”. The five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said it does not find any “legal impediment” to make a reference to mediation for settlement of the dispute.
“We, therefore, order accordingly, and having taken note of the names suggested by the parties, we are of the view that the following panel of mediators should be appointed to go into the dispute with liberty to the mediators to co-opt other members of the panel, if so required,” it said. The Bench, also comprising Justices SA Bobde, DY Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer, was told earlier by Hindu bodies, except for Nirmohi Akhara, and the Uttar Pradesh Government that they oppose the court’s suggestion for mediation. The Muslim bodies supported the proposal.
“Considering the provisions of the CPC (Civil Procedure Code)…, we do not find any legal impediment in making a reference to mediation for a possible settlement of the dispute(s) arising out of the appeals. Whether the said provisions of the CPC would apply in the event parties arrive at a settlement/compromise in the mediation proceedings is a matter left open to be decided at the appropriate stage,” the Bench said.
Interestingly, all the three members in the mediation team hail from Tamil Nadu. Justice Kalifulla hails from Karaikudi in Sivaganga district while Ravi Shankar was born in Papanasam near Kumbakonam in Thanjavur district and Panchu is Chennai-based. All parties in the civil appeal in the title case and all interveners are allowed to present their views before the mediation panel.
The top court directed that the mediation proceedings should be conducted with “utmost confidentiality” for ensuring its success and the views expressed by any of the parties including the mediators should be kept confidential and not be revealed to any other person. “We are of the further opinion that while the mediation proceedings are being carried out, there ought not to be any reporting of the said proceedings either in the print or in the electronic media,” the Bench said.
However, it refrained from passing any specific restraint order at this stage and instead empowered the mediators to pass necessary orders in writing, if so required, to restrain publication of the details of the mediation proceedings. “The Chairman of the mediation panel may also inform the registry of this court any difficulties that the panel may face in carrying out the task assigned to it by the present order and also to inform of any requirement to facilitate the mediation and to conclude the same at the earliest,” the Bench said.
The top court fixed the seat for mediation process in Faizabad of Uttar Pradesh, around 7 km from Ayodhya, and said that the adequate arrangements, including the venue of the mediation, place of stay of the mediators, their security, travel should be forthwith arranged by the State Government so that proceedings could commence immediately. It also directed that the mediation proceedings be held in camera as per the norms applicable to conduct the mediation proceedings.
“The panel of mediators is requested to ensure completion of the process during the period of the interregnum indicated above and send a report of the progress of the mediation to this court within four weeks of the commencement of the process,” it said.
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