A five-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi on Friday referred the politically sensitive Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute case for mediation by a panel headed by former apex court judge F M I Kallifulla and gave it eight weeks to complete the process.
The other members of the panel will be spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravishankar and senior advocate Sriram Panchu, and the mediation will be held at Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh and the process should start within a week from Friday, said the bench.
The bench, also comprising Justices S A Bobde, D Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S A Nazeer, said the panel should file a progress report of the proceedings within four weeks and complete the process within eight weeks.
The apex court said "utmost confidentiality" should be maintained to ensure success of the mediation process and no media, neither print nor electronic, should report the proceedings.
The panel of mediators can co-opt more members in the team, it said. In case of any difficulty, the chairman will inform the apex court registry about it, it added.
On Wednesday, the bench had reserved the order after hearing various contesting parties.
Hindu bodies, except Nirmohi Akhara, have opposed the apex court's suggestion to refer the issue for mediation, while Muslim bodies have supported it.
The bench had concluded the hearing by asking stakeholders to give the names of possible mediators.
The apex court in its Wednesday hearing observed that the issue is not about 1,500 square feet land, but about religious sentiments.
The bench said it was conscious of the gravity and impact of the issue on "public sentiment" and also on the "body politic of the country".
It said the judges were aware of the history and were seeing that the dispute be resolved amicably. "it is not only about property. it is about mind, heart and healing, if possible," the bench said
The bench also said it was not appropriate to pre-judge that the mediation would fail and people would not agree with the decision.
"We are not concerned what has happened in the past. Don't you think we have read the history. We are not concerned what Babar did in the past or who was the king and who invaded. We cannot undo what has happened but we can go into what exists in the present moment," the bench said when a lawyer contended that injustices were meted out to Hindus by invaders in the past.
Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for the legal heirs of original litigant M Siddiq, said outlining of the dispute is not necessary and the court can order mediation by a mediator when parties are unable to settle it.
To this, the bench said that there may not be one mediator but a panel of mediators to deal with the issue.
During the hearing, Justice Chandrachud said it would be very difficult to bind millions of people by way of mediation considering it is not just a property dispute between parties but a dispute involving two communities.
Senior advocate C S Vaidyanathan, appearing for Hindu deity Ram Lala Virajman, said, "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," he said.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Uttar Pradesh government, said the court should refer the matter for mediation only when there exists an element of settlement.
Fourteen appeals have been filed in the apex court against the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment, delivered in four civil suits, that the 2.77-acre land in Ayodhya be partitioned equally among the three parties -- the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla.