A three-member mediation panel, consisting of Art Of Living founder Sri Sri Ravshankar, retired Justice FM Khalifullah and senior advocate Sriram Panchu have been appointed to formally mediate in the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute.
The Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, has also laid down some ground rules that the mediation process would have to follow and a timeline to which the process would need to adhere. If talks go according to the SC's judgement, the mediation process would need to end in the next 8 weeks.
Here are 5 things to know
1. Who is on the mediation panel?
The SC has appointed three members on this mediation panel:
- Retired Justice FM Khafiullah: Justice (retd.) Fakkir Mohammed Ibrahim Khalifullah is a former SC judge who served from April 2, 2012 to July 22, 2016 and will head the panel. Justice Khalifullah was on the Constitution Bench of the case pertaining to commutation of the sentences of the assassins of former PM Rajiv Gandhi in August 2015. He was previously served as judge on the Madras High Court.
- Advocate Sriram Panchu: A senior advocate, he is one of the founders of the India Mediation Chambers and has worked towards making mediation as part of the Indian legal system.
- Sri Sri Ravishankar: He is a spiritual guru and founder of 'Art Of Living'. Ravishankar has been a proponent of mediation settlement through arbitration in the Ram Janmabhoomi Dispute
2. What would be the mediation guidelines?
The SC has laid down the following guiding principles by which the mediation process would be streamlined:
- The mediation process would be out of the public lens and would be carried out with confidentiality. Media would not be allowed print or electronic reporting of the mediation proceedings
- The process would take place in Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh.
- The panel is permitted to make changes to its composition if the need arises and should they choose to do so
3. What time frame is the process slated to follow?
The SC has laid down the following time frame that the mediation is supposed to adhere to:
- The process is scheduled to kick-off within a week.
- An interim report of the mediation has to be submitted to the SC in 4 weeks
- The next hearing on the issue is scheduled to be in 6 weeks
- The mediation process is scheduled to wrap up in 8 weeks.
4. Where do all the parties stand on mediation?
The Nirmohi Akhara has welcomed the decision and has spoken to ANI post the decision:
Their spokesperson, Kartik Chopra, reaffirming the group's faith in the mediation process and in the SC order, stated that the Nirmohi Akhara, had, in fact, suggested the names of the three retired judges of the SC to be on the mediation panel.
The Muslim parties who are party to the dispute too have lent their support to the mediation process.
Post the SC order earlier today, member of the executive committee of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) spoke to ANI supporting the mediation process.
AIMIM MP from Hyderabad, Assaduddin Owaisi, welcomed the court decision, but questioned Sri Sri Ravishankar's presence on it, saying it would compromise on its neutrality.
However, other Hindu groups have opposed mediation.
Senior advocate CS Vaidyanath, appearing for the Deity Ram Lalla made these statements to PTI:
We are even willing to crowd-fund a mosque somewhere else but no negotiations can take place with respect of Lord Rama's birthplace. Mediation won't serve any purpose
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the state of Uttar Pradesh, too expressed apprehension at mediation and said that it should be carried out only if there existed a possibility of settlement. Mehta said given the nature of the case, mediation should not be a path forward.
Deputy CM of Uttar Pradesh, Keshav Prasad Maurya spoke following the order today. Maurya said that the case should not be delayed, and while he welcomes a settlement through dialogue, he also cited legislative routes (ordinances and legislative procedures) to solve the issue.
5. Is this the first attempt at mediation on the Ram Janmabhoomi issue?
No, but this the closest that the Ram Janmabhoomi case has reached to formal mediation amongst the disputing parties.
- Former Chief Justice of India JS Khehar had recommended mediation and had even offered to appoint mediators for the parties in March 2017. The SC's statements can be found here.
- Sri Sri Ravishankar (who has been appointed as one of the mediators on the current panel) had previously made an offer to intervene to reach an amicable solution in November 2016. The statement by his organisation 'Art of Living' can be read here.
- Then the senior-most judge on the Allahabad High Court, Justice Dharam Veer Sharma had suggested mediation in September 2010, before the verdict of Allahabad High Court dividing the disputed land equally amongst the three parties.
- There were back channel talks between the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the AIMPLB before 1992, but the demolition of the Babri Masjid laid them to rest.
The Ram Janmabhoomi case has been with the Supreme Court since 2010 after it froze the judgement of the Allahabad High Court in 2010. The Allahabad High Court then ruled to divide the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi land equally amongst three parties:
- Ram Lalla (represented by Hindu Mahasabha)
- The Nirmohi Akhara
- The Central Sunni Wakf Board
The Ram Janmabhoomi dispute started with the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 in Ayodhya, which various Hindu groups claim is the birthplace of Lord Ram (Ram Janmabhoomi).