The Supreme Court on Sunday put out a notice that the Constitution Bench hearing the Ayodhya title suit appeals will not be sitting on January 29 as one of the judges, Justice S.A. Bobde, is not available on the day.
The one-paragraph notice said the Constitution Bench is cancelled on January 29 due to the "non-availability" Justice Bobde.
The notice has not mentioned a future date for hearing the Ayodhya case. It could be that one of the appellants may mention the case before Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and seek a future date for hearing.
The Bench had recently seen a change in two of its judges. Justices Ashok Bhushan and S. Abdul Nazeer had replaced Justices N.V. Ramana and U.U. Lalit.
Justice Bhushan is the author of the September 27, 2018 majority judgment that refused to refer the question whether prayer in a mosque is essential to Islam, before a seven-judge Bench. He was seconded by then Chief Justice Dipak Misra, who had led the three-judge Bench.
Justice Nazeer had delivered the dissenting opinion on the three-judge Bench. Justice Nazeer, in a strongly-worded opinion, held that the question was vital to the Ayodhya case and should be answered by a Constitution Bench.
The altered Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice Gogoi and comprising Justices S.A. Bobde and D.Y. Chandrachud along Justices Bhushan and Nazeer was supposed to fix the time and schedule for future hearings in the appeals on January 29.
The Bench was to peruse the report prepared by the Supreme Court Registry on the state of the entire case records of the Ayodhya case. These papers have been lying inside 15 sealed trunks in a sealed room of the court for the past several years.
The Ayodhya title dispute involves 120 issues which were framed for trial and the case records span the depositions of 88 witnesses running into 13,886 pages and 257 documents. Both the depositions and documents are in various languages, including Persian, Sanskrit, Arabic, Gurumukhi, Urdu and Hindi. Dr. Dhawan said there 533 exhibits in the case, three of which are reports about the disputed site prepared by the Archeological Survey of India. Lastly, the Allahabad High Court judgment runs into 4304 printed pages.
Besides this, the court had said there was a lack of clarity on whether the translations of the documents and depositions were correct. The Bench had ordered the Registry to make sure the translation is accurate, possibly with the help of qualified persons.
What the Registry reports back would be significant and decide the time-frame for the hearings even as the May Lok Sabha elections draws to a close. The case is a political hot potato with the pressure piling up on the NDA government from several quarters to make good its 2014 electoral promise of a Ram temple on the dispute Ayodhya site.