The Supreme Court on Wednesday set an October 18 deadline for the conclusion of hearings in the protracted Ram-Janmabhoomi Babri Masjid land title dispute, a move that has raised the possibility of a verdict in the politically sensitive case in the middle of November.
The target date for completion of arguments by both the Hindu and Muslim sides assumes significance as Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who is heading the five-judge Constitution bench hearing the case, is due to demit office on November 17.
The apex court also said the parties to the dispute can amicably resolve the matter through mediation if they want to but told lawyers from both the sides that it wanted to conclude the day-to-day hearings by October 18 so that the judges get almost four weeks time to write the judgment.
The Court on Tuesday asked the counsels for the Hindu and Muslim parties to inform it about a tentative "time schedule" for concluding their arguments.
The Constitution Bench, which also comprised Justices S A Bobde, D Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S A Nazeer, also said it has received a letter from former apex court judge F M I Kalifulla, who was heading the three-member mediation panel, in which it was stated that some parties have written to him for resumption of the mediation process.
"There is an ancillary issue. We have received a letter that some parties want to settle the matter by way of mediation," the bench said, adding they may do so and the proceedings before the mediation panel can remain confidential.
The bench said the day-to-day proceedings in the land dispute case have reached "an advanced stage" and will continue.
The apex court on August 6 commenced day-to-day proceedings in the sensitive land dispute case as mediation proceedings initiated to find the amicable resolution had failed.
The court had taken note of the report of the three-member panel, also comprising spiritual guru and founder of the Art of Living foundation Sri Sri Ravishankar and senior advocate and renowned mediator Sriram Panchu, that mediation proceedings, which went on for about four months, did not result in any final settlement and it had to decide the matter pending before it.
The court, which on March 8 referred the matter for mediation, had asked for in-camera proceedings to be completed within eight weeks, but later granted time till August 15 after the panel's earlier report said the mediators were "optimistic" about an amicable solution.
The top court fixed the seat for mediation process in Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh, around 7 km from Ayodhya, and said adequate arrangements, including the venue of the mediation, place of stay of the mediators, their security, travel should be forthwith arranged by the state government.
It had perused a report about the progress of the mediation process till July 18 and said its contents will remain confidential.
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 to be partitioned equally among the three parties - the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla.
On December 6, 1992, the Babri Masjid, constructed at the disputed site in the 16th century by Shia Muslim Mir Baqi, was demolished, sparking communal riots in the country.