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Since 1st March, 1999
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Ayodhya digging to settle temple claim

Lucknow, March 5: The scientific exercise to conclude if a temple existed at the site where the Babri Masjid stood before demolition will begin in a week.

The Allahabad High Court bench hearing the Ayodhya dispute today asked the Archaeological Survey of India to start excavation and report on the progress on March 24, the next date of hearing.

The order came a day before the Supreme Court hearing on whether the undisputed part of the land in the complex should be handed back to its “rightful owners”. The land was in the Ramjanmabhoomi Trust’s possession before being acquired by the government.

The court said the excavation should be carried out without disturbing the makeshift temple, which means an area measuring about 10 feet of the chabutra (platform) where the idol of Ram is placed. The right of devotees to have a darshan at the makeshift temple is not to be disturbed.

Objections by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Ramjanmabhoomi Trust as well as the Central Sunni Waqf Board and the All-India Babri Masjid Action Committee to the excavation were overruled by the court.

Faced with a fait accompli, the rival parties changed their tune, claiming that since the order had taken note of their misgivings, they saw nothing wrong in it.

“Prima facie we see nothing to object in the court’s order since it notes that the Supreme Court’s directive to maintain status quo at the disputed site would not be violated,” Jafaryab Jilani, lawyer and convener of the Babri committee, said.

Jilani left for Delhi to consult lawyers representing the Waqf board in the Supreme Court on the implications of the order. “We will express our considered view after discussions,” he said.

Ramjanmabhoomi Trust chief Ramachandradas Paramhans, who had earlier opposed the court’s suggestion to excavate the site and threatened agitation, also fell in line.

“We are happy that the court has ordered that the idol of Ram Lalla at the disputed site would not be shifted and the puja will continue as usual,” he said from Ayodhya.

The bench said excavation had become necessary after the report of a ground-penetrating radar survey conducted by Tojo-Vikas International Pvt. Limited in January.

It said the survey had detected a number of anomalies from 0.5 to 5.5. metres in depth that could be associated with ancient and contemporary structures such as pillars, foundations and walls, but their nature could be confirmed only “by systematic ground truthing, such as provided by archaeological trenching”.

The court order implicitly rejected VHP leader Ashok Singhal’s claim that the survey had shown existence of a temple underneath the disputed land.

“It (survey) is only a guidance to an archaeologist where to excavate. We are not recording any findings in regard to any foundation/construction on the basis of the report submitted by Tojo-Vikas International Limited,” the order said.

VHP general secretary Praveen Togadia, however, put up a brave face. “If the excavation corroborates our earlier findings of pillars and other remains of ancient temples which were recovered after the demolition of the Babri mosque, it will have a positive impact on the hearings by the Lucknow bench,” he said.

The court ordered the ASI to complete the excavation in a month and submit its report within a week after that.

It asked the ASI and the Union government to provide extra staff, if needed, to complete the work before the deadline. “If they are engaged in other work, it shall be suspended till the excavation in question is complete,” the order said.

Tojo-Vikas will assist the ASI by providing technical assistance at the time of excavation, the court said.

The court has asked the ASI to intimate the date of the commencement of the work to the officer on special duty, Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid, so that he can inform the contesting parties. The parties have been allowed to appoint nominees, including archaeologists, to watch the excavation by the ASI.

“Only one nominee of each contesting party at one time shall be entitled to remain present,” the court said.

The BJP, the VHP and government sources conceded that today’s order was a “logical follow-up” to the earlier survey.

“It is ultimately the excavation which will establish the direction (of the case) pursuant to the earlier approach. A clear indication that such a ruling would come was apparent from the radar report,” said a source.

The last line of the report suggested that if the court thought it necessary, it could confirm the survey’s findings by ordering physical excavation .

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