The Ayodhya case will next be taken up on January 29, after proceedings were hardly able to get off the ground during the much-awaited hearing on Thursday, on account of Justice UU Lalit having earlier appeared as a lawyer in a related case.
The Chief Justice of India, who is heading the 5-judge Constitution bench that has been constituted to hear the politically sensitive title dispute, clarified right at the start of proceedings that only a date and schedule were to be determined in the Thursday hearing.
Speaking immediately after, Rajeev Dhawan, senior counsel for one of the petitioners, highlighted that Justice UU Lalit had at one point been a lawyer in the associated Kalyan Singh case. Dhawan said, however, that he has no objection to Justice Lalit being on the bench but wanted to bring it to their notice.
To this, Harish Salve, appearing for the plaintiff Ram Lalla, said, "Justice UU Lalit on the bench doesn’t impact the case because the case going on regarding Kalyan Singh was a criminal case regarding the Babri demolition and not on the merits of the Allahabad HC order."
However, Justice Lalit at this point decided to recuse himself from the case.
CJI Gogoi then said, "Rajeev Dhawan has brought to our notice that Justice Lalit had appeared in a criminal case regarding the same issue on 1997. Although he has raised no objection, the final decision rests with the judge." He then gave a background into the decision to constitute a 5-judge bench, saying that it was taken on an administrative side under the powers of the CJI.
The other hurdle involved translation of the copious amount of documentary material required by the bench. The CJI quantified these as follows: "A total of 88 witnesses have been examined. Documents run up to 13886 pages. Allahabad HC judgment runs into 4304 pages. Documents lying in 15 sealed trunks."
Following this, the CJI said that the case will be taken up again on January 29 for further orders. The Supreme Court registry was also asked to submit a report on by when all the documents can be translated and the filings can be complete to begin hearing the case.
A new 5-judge Constitution bench is now likely to be constituted.