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Babri Masjid demolition case: SC asks Special judge to deliver verdict in 9 months

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New Delhi, Jul 19 : The Supreme Court Friday asked the special judge conducting trial in the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition case, involving BJP veterans L K Advani, M M Joshi and Uma Bharti, to deliver the verdict within nine months from today.

The top court also extended the tenure of the special judge at Lucknow till the completion of the trial and the delivery of verdict in the case.

Besides Advani, Joshi and Uma Bharti, the accused against whom conspiracy charge was invoked in the case by the Supreme Court on April 19, 2017, include former BJP MP Vinay Katiar and Sadhvi Ritambara.

Three other high-profile accused Giriraj Kishore, and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Ashok Singhal and Vishnu Hari Dalmia died during trial and the proceedings against them have been abated.

The top court had earlier held that Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh, during whose tenure as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh the disputed structure was razed, is entitled to immunity under the Constitution as long as he remains in the gubernatorial position.

On Friday, a bench of Justices R F Nariman and Surya Kant said the recording of evidence in the politically sensitive case should be completed within six months.

"We request the special judge and in addition it is made clear that the recording of evidence shall be completed within six months from today. The oral argument shall be kept to be bare minimum and supplemented with written submissions. Judgement in the case should be ready and delivered maximum within a period of nine months from today," the bench said.

Exercising its plenary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution, the bench directed the Uttar Pradesh government to pass appropriate orders in consultation with the Allahabad High Court within four weeks to extend the tenure of the special judge, who is set to retire on September 30.

The top court said the extension of tenure of the special judge will only be for the purpose of concluding the trial and delivering the verdict in the case.

It directed the Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh to file an affidavit bringing on record the appropriate orders passed by the state government with regard to extension of the tenure of the judge.

During the extended tenure, the special judge would remain under the administrative control of the Allahabad High Court, the top court said.

At the outset, Senior advocate Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for Uttar Pradesh government said that there was no provision for extension of tenure of judicial officers in the state.

She said however that the court in exercise of its plenary power can order the state to extend the tenure of the special judge for three months.

"We are not giving you three months. We are saying that extension of tenure will be till the trial is completed and judgement is pronounced even if it takes two years," the bench said.

Earlier, the special judge at Lucknow conducting the trial in the high-profile case had written a letter on May 25 to the apex court, seeking extension of two-year deadline for completion of the case.

The special judge had informed the court that he was set to superannuate on September 30, 2019.

On July 15, the apex court had sought assistance of the Uttar Pradesh government to find a "way out" to extend his tenure as per rules and indicated that it may exercise its plenary powers in the interest of justice.

It had said that the special judge, after two years of virtual day to day hearing, is at the fag end of the hearing of the case and requires little more than six months to complete the trial together with the delivery of the judgement.

On April 19, 2017, the top court had ordered day-to-day trial to be concluded in two years in the Babri Masjid demolition case.

While dubbing demolition of the disputed structure as a "crime" which shook the "secular fabric of the Constitution", it had allowed the CBI's plea on restoration of criminal conspiracy charge against the VVIP accused.

The court had come down heavily on the CBI for the delay of over 25 years in the trial.

Issuing a slew of directions, it had said, "The proceedings (against Advani and others) in the court of the Special Judicial Magistrate at Raebareli will stand transferred to the Court of Additional Sessions Judge (Ayodhya Matters) at Lucknow."

"The court of sessions will frame additional charges under Section 120-B (conspiracy) and the other provisions of the penal code mentioned in the joint charge sheet filed by the CBI against Champat Rai Bansal, Satish Pradhan, Dharam Das, Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, Mahamadleshwar Jagdish Muni, Ram Bilas Vadanti, Vaikunth Lal Sharma and Satish Chandra Nagar," the apex court had said.

The court had termed the Allahabad High Court's February 12, 2001 verdict dropping conspiracy charge against Advani and others as "erroneous".

Before the 2017 verdict of the apex court, there were two sets of cases relating to the demolition of the disputed structure on December 6, 1992 going on at Lucknow and Raebareli.

The trial of first case involving unnamed 'Karsevaks' was going on in a Lucknow court, while the second set of cases relating to the eight VVIPs were going on in a Raebareli court.

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