Lucknow, May 23: Allahabad High Court has asked the Archaeological Survey of India to change the leader of the team heading the Ayodhya digging following accusations of bias.
Disposing of applications by the Central Sunni Waqf Board and other litigants, the Lucknow bench also ordered Faizabad commissioner Rajiv Kumar not to block excavation of five trenches near the makeshift temple where the ASI has dug up “squarish and circular structural bases”.
The court today summoned both ASI team leader B.R.Mani and Kumar to hear their views. Though it asked the ASI director-general to replace the leader, the court said Mani would continue to be on the excavation team.
The court permitted the parties or their nominees to enter the trenches to observe stratification, but barred them from scraping it. It also prohibited sharing of information with the media or publicising it in any manner.
Accusing the ASI of bias, the waqf board had sought the court’s permission to allow its experts to enter the trenches and observe stratification from June 10 to June 15, the deadline to complete the dig.
Allowing the work in trenches to continue, the bench of Justices Sudhir Narain, Bhanwar Singh and S.R. Alam ruled that no damage should be done to the sanctum sanctorum.
“We direct the chief engineer of the public works department to be present at the excavation site. He will make the necessary arrangements so thatno structure is affected,” the order said.
Mani told the court that the ASI had asked Kumar to provide space for digging around the makeshift temple but he had refused permission on the plea that the digging might cause damage to the shrine.
In the face of conflicting pleas by the litigants, the court kept the question of extending the dig deadline open.
“We expect that incomplete trenches and other trenches which require excavation will be completed at an early date. However, if for any good reason, the work is not completed, the ASI team leader may seek extension.”
The court allowed the ASI team leader to open the sealed packets containing the archaeological finds to prepare the final report. The openingand resealing must, however, be done in the presence of the parties.
The court took a serious view of the statements of VHP leader Ashok Singhal and others that the excavations had proved the existence of the temple but declined to haul them up for contempt.
“The basic responsibility is of the press which takes statements from the parties or any other person and then publishes it in the newspaper. The editor and persons concerned for publishing the news should have followed the guidelines of the court,” it observed.
The guidelines issued in August 2002 and in February 2003 had directed the press not to publish any statement or report on the Ayodhya cases as that might amount to prejudging issues involved in litigation.