The special CBI court hearing the Babri Masjid demolition case is set to record the statements of the accused, who include BJP leaders L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti, from June 4 onwards.
Special judge S.K. Yadav on Thursday asked the defence to start producing the 32 accused from that date.
It is not immediately clear if they have to be present in court or can appear through a videoconference due to restrictions imposed to fight the spread of COVID-19.
The court will record their statements under Section 313 of the CrPC, giving them a chance to claim innocence.
This stage of the trial is also meant to explain to the accused the evidence gathered against them by the prosecuting agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation.
The Babri Masjid was demolished in December 1992 by “karsevaks” who claimed that the mosque in Ayodhya was built on the site of an ancient Ram temple.
The prosecution had wrapped up the examination of its witnesses by March 6 and the court asked some of the accused to appear before it on March 24 for recording their statements under Section 313 of the CrPC.
But the proceedings did not take place as the court in Lucknow closed due to the COVID-19 crisis.
When the proceedings resumed on May 18, the defence counsel moved an application to summon three prosecution witnesses in order to cross examine them. This was allowed.
The accused include former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, former Deputy Prime Minister L. K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti, Vinay Katiyar, Sadhvi Rithambara, Sakshi Maharaj and Ram Vilas Vedanti.
On April 19, 2017, the Supreme Court had ordered the special judge to conduct a day-to-day trial, concluding it in two years.
Calling the demolition of the disputed structure a crime which shook the “secular fabric of the Constitution”, it allowed the CBI plea on restoration of criminal conspiracy charge against the VIP accused.
The court had termed the Allahabad High Court’s February 12, 2001, verdict dropping conspiracy charge against Mr. Advani and others “erroneous”.
On May 8 this year, the top court set a new deadline for the special judge, asking him to deliver the verdict by August 31.