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Ayodhya diggers want three months

Lucknow, March 24: The Ayodhya temple tangle today took another turn with a litigant urging Allahabad High Court to put an immediate stop to digging at the disputed site and the Archaeological Survey of India pleading that it be given three months to complete the job.

At its first sitting since the special bench issued the excavation order, the court was asked by Mohammed Hashim Ansari to recall its March 8 directive. The ASI submitted its report on the first 10 days of digging to the court and requested that its one-month time limit be extended.

The Central Sunni Waqf Board took the middle ground, saying it found nothing wrong with the digging order but asked the court to reconstitute the excavation team and appoint a court nominee to be present at the site while the work was on.

After hearing the counsel for the parties, Justices Sudhir Narain, S. R. Alam and Bhanwar Singh reserved their order on the ASI request till tomorrow. They are yet to decide if Ansariís petition seeking a halt to excavation is admissible.

In its report, the ASI said it needed two more months to complete digging and another 15 days to file its report. The original order had asked it to complete the job in a month, starting March 12.

Ansari, the oldest living plaintiff in the Ayodhya case, has boycotted the excavation from the beginning. Efforts of the district administration to station him at the digging site have failed so far.

In his review petition, Ansari claimed that the excavation order not only violated the Supreme Courtís directive to maintain status quo at the disputed site, but amounted to desecration of a place where the Muslims had offered namaz for 400 years.

The petition added that a graveyard existed on the land around the Babri Masjid site and excavations would lead to exhumation of bodies.

In a separate petition, Central Sunni Waqf Board counsel Zafaryab Jilani objected to the composition of the 14-member ASI team, which included only one Muslim.

Jilani said that while seeking the views of the parties to the case on the proposed excavation in February 2002, the court had said the ASI would work under a panel of five eminent archaeologists of which at least two would be Muslims.

The petition also sought the appointment of a court nominee who would be present at the disputed site during the digging to ensure that the courtís directives were followed and the objections of parties were disposed of on the spot.

Apart from seeking the courtís directives on how the ASI should record its daily site notes and inventory lists in the presence of the parties, the Waqf board also wants the court to specify how deep the ASI should be allowed to dig.

ďSince all parties agree that the Babri masjid was built in the year 1528 A.D. and the opposite party claims that it was built after demolishing a Hindu temple standing on the site, there is no logic in the ASI digging for evidence prior to 16th century,Ē Jilani said.

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