The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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SC throws cold water on govt temple ‘gameplan’

New Delhi, March 31: The Centre’s “Ayodhya gameplan” to hand over the undisputed 67.703 acres to a Hindu organisation suffered a setback today after the Supreme Court dismissed its application and reiterated its March 2002 order banning any religious activity or alteration of the land and imposing maintenance of status quo.

“If the land is transferred to any other body or trust at this stage, further complications may arise,” the apex court said.

A five-judge Constitution bench, led by Justice S. Rajendra Babu, said the purpose of acquiring the undisputed land — surrounding the disputed 2.77 acres — under the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act in 1993 was to “maintain public order and promote communal harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst the people of India”.

The acquisition was meant to help the party that wins the title suit to construct a temple or a mosque. So, till the title suits are decided by the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court, the Centre should not alter the status quo of the acquired land, the apex court ruled. “…status quo will have to be maintained until suits are finally disposed of,” it said.

The court pointed out that the disputed 2.77 acres are also acquired and thus subject to the outcome of the title suit. “The acquisition of larger extent of land is incidental to main purpose (to facilitate the winning party in the title suit to construct a temple or mosque).”

“Thus, the two acquired lands (of 67.703 and 2.77 acres respectively) are intrinsically connected with one another and cannot be separated at this stage of the proceedings for different treatment during the interregnum,” said the bench of Justices Babu, Syed Shah Mohammed Quadri, M.B. Shah, N. Santosh Hegde and Doraiswamy Raju.

The acquisition of the undisputed land has two purposes. The first involves handing over this land to the party that wins the title suit so that the party can construct a temple or a mosque, and have some surplus land for entry and exit gates of the temple/mosque and space for other general utilisation.

Second, in the remaining portion of the land, the government itself — according to the objects and reasons of the Act — can construct a mosque, a temple, and provide amenities for pilgrims, a library, a museum and “other suitable facilities”. The “superfluous land” left could be handed to the original owners.

The court pointed out all these aspects in the judgment and said: “Above all, status quo has been maintained since 1992 and no activities as are set out in the course of the application (of the Union government) have been required to be done so far.”

“When for a long time, a particular state of affairs has prevailed — as in the present case for over a decade — and when the adjudication of the disputes which are pending before the high court are reaching final stages, it will not be appropriate to disturb that state of affairs,” the bench said.

As for the title suit, all witness depositions would be over by the end of this year and only summations of arguments would remain. So, a ruling can be expected any time early next year. As a result, the court found no need to alter the status of the land.

“It is well known that preservation of property in its original condition is absolutely necessary to give appropriate reliefs to the parties on the termination of the proceedings before the courts and, therefore, we do not think that this is one of those cases in which it becomes necessary to disturb that state,” the bench said.

The Centre, in its application seeking to alter the status of the undisputed acquired land, had said there was a change in the circumstance since the apex court’s March 2002 order; so that order should be vacated.

The apex court has now effectively extended its March 2002 order till the disposal of the title suit and till a party wins the title to the disputed land.

The apex court appreciated the various parties’ decision to stick to arguments on law and facts “without bringing into court in any manner the passion raging outside, whether religious or political”. “We greatly appreciate this stand of the advocates and the parties in the court,” the bench recorded.

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