Babri demolition verdict likely by April next year

Manish Sahu
Two cases filed in Ayodhya after demolition. (Archive)

A special court in Lucknow, which is hearing the Babri Masjid demolition case in which senior leaders of the BJP and VHP are accused, is most likely to deliver its verdict by April next year when the term of Judge S K Yadav will come to an end.

The Supreme Court had extended the term of Judge Yadav, who was set to retire on September 30 this year, in July this year and directed him to deliver judgment in nine months.

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Among the 32 people facing trial in the case are veteran BJP leaders Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Kalyan Singh and former Union minister Uma Bharti, and sitting MPs Brij Bhushan Singh and Sakshi Maharaj.

“Of the total around 1,000 prosecution witnesses, 348 have so far been examined by the court... The accused of the case are being tried as per charges filed against them,” said defence counsel KK Mishra.

The prosecution is facing trouble to bring the witnesses to record their statements before the court because many have changed their addresses, while several were found to be dead.

After the demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, two cases were filed in Ayodhya — one related to the conspiracy of demolishing of Babri Masjid and another for instigating the crowd to demolish the structure. Around 47 more cases were lodged then that were merged with the case of demolition.

The trial in the two cases was held separately. The one in Lucknow court on charges of conspiracy of the demolition of the structure, and the other in Rae Bareli court for instigating the crowd to demolish the structure.

Of the 22 persons, who were facing trial in the Lucknow court, one has died. The prominent persons among the remaining 21 accused are Pawan Pandey, Brij Bhushan Singh, R N Srivastava, Lallu Singh and Sakshi Maharaj. R N Srivastava was then District Magistrate of Faizabad.

In Rae Bareli court, six were facing trial after the death of two accused — Acharya Giriraj Kishore and Ashok Singhal. VHP leader VH Dalmia, an accused in the Rae Bareli case, died this year, following which five accused were left that include Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Vinay Katiyar, Ritambhara and Uma Bharti.

On April 19, 2017, the Supreme Court ordered the clubbing of the two pending cases and set up a Special Court (Ayodhya Prakaran) in Lucknow to conclude the hearing.

The Supreme Court also ordered the restoration of charges against 13 accused, who were dropped from the case by the High Court earlier. Seven of the total 13 accused have died, including BJP leader and former MP Baikunth Lal Sharma. Six persons who are now facing trial are Ram Vilas Vedanti, Champat Rai, Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, Mahant Dharam Das, Satish Pradhan and the then UP CM Kalyan Singh. The Supreme Court also ordered adding of criminal conspiracy charge (IPC Section 120B) against the accused facing trial in Rae Bareli.

Meanwhile, Kalyan Singh, who had immunity as the Governor of Rajasthan, appeared before the special trial court in September this year after his term ended. He is currently on bail.

At present, the special court is hearing prosecution evidence that include recording of statement of witnesses. After it gets completed, the statement of the accused would be recorded under Section 313 of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).

Under Section 313, the judge questions the accused on the basis of evidence put before the court during trial, and the accused is given an opportunity to explain the circumstances and the allegations levelled against him. After its completion, the defence would put up evidence in the support of the accused.

The next stage would be argument before the judgment is pronounced.