New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday dashed the hopes of activists like Shyam Benegal and Teesta Setalvad to intervene in the sensitive Babri Masjid-Ram Temple land dispute case, making it clear that only the parties to the original lawsuits would be allowed to put forth their arguments.
A special bench headed by chief justice Dipak Misra also said it would first decide whether the land dispute appeals be sent to a five-judge constitution bench as sought by lead petitioner M Siddiq (since deceased), who is represented by legal heirs in the case.
"Counsel for appellants, as well as, the respondents in all the appeals have raised objections for such intervention/impleadment/filing additional documents/seeking permission to render assistance. We are of considered opinion that these interlocutory applications do not merit any consideration and they are accordingly rejected," the bench, which also comprised justices Ashok Bhushan and S A Nazeer, said.
The bench went a step further and directed its registry "not to entertain any interlocutory applications for intervention or impleadment". It, however, said that the parties can file additional papers.
It accepted the vehement contention of both the parties, Hindu and Muslim organisations and individuals, that only original parties to the dispute be allowed to argue.
Besides Benegal and Setalvad, eminent persons like Aparna Sen and Anil Dharker wanted to intervene for using the disputed 2.77 acre disputed land for some 'secular' purposes. The intervention plea of BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, at whose instance the cases were fast-tracked by the apex court, was also rejected.
The bench, however, considered Swamy's submission that he had not sought to intervene in the matter but filed a separate writ petition seeking enforcement of his fundamental right to worship at the birth place of Lord Ram in Ayodhya.
"I had filed a writ petition saying that I have a fundamental right to worship and this is a superior right than property right," Swamy said.
"As we are not inclined to permit the intervention application, the writ petition filed by the applicant (Swamy) shall stand revived and it shall be dealt with by the appropriate Bench in accordance with law," the bench said.
The bench, after deciding the fate of the pleas for intervention, proceeded with the hearing and asked senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for M Siddiq, to argue and persuade it as to why these matters be sent to a larger bench.
Dhavan referred to the apex court judgement delivered in 1994 on a plea filed by M Ismail Faruqui and said the verdict had made an unwarranted comment that mosques are not integral to prayer offered by followers of Islam.
He said that "a mosque remains a mosque" and the land where the structure was there belongs to the 'Allah' even after the demolition.
Referring to a trial court order, he said due to some political intervention, which is known to all, the idols were placed, the locks of Babri mosque was opened and the structure was finally demolished in 1992.
He then referred to certain paras of the 1994 judgement and assailed the view of the apex court.
The apex court had said that while offer of prayer or worship is a "religious practice, its offering at every location where such prayers can be offered would not be an essential or integral part of such religious practice unless the place has a particular significance for that religion so as to form an essential or integral part thereof".
"We must immediately make it clear that our addressing the said issue shall singularly relate to whether this Bench should think of, that the dictum in Dr M Ismail Faruqui requires reconsideration and, in that event, we may pass appropriate orders for placing the matter before a five-Judge bench for consideration of the said judgment.
"We have heard Dhawan in part with regard to the said aspect. He will develop the propositions on the next date of hearing. Let the matter be listed on March 23", the bench said.
Meanwhile, the court allowed all interim pleas of parties for bringing additional documents on record "for setting aside abatement, for condonation of delay, for substitution, for exemption from filing official translation".
The special bench of the apex court is seized of a total of 14 appeals filed against the high court judgement delivered in four civil suits.
A three-judge bench of the Allahabad High Court, in a 2:1 majority ruling, had in 2010 ordered that the land be partitioned equally among three parties -- the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla.