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regular-article-logo Friday, 19 April 2024

Allahabad HC orders speed trial in 32-year-old Gyanvapi case, says Places of Worship Act no bar

Either the Gyanvapi compound has a Hindu religious character or a Muslim religious character. It can’t have dual character at the same time, says Justice Rohit Ranjan Agarwal

PTI Prayagraj Published 19.12.23, 06:25 PM
Gyanvapi Mosque.

Gyanvapi Mosque. File picture

The Allahabad High Court on Tuesday dismissed pleas challenging the maintainability of a 1991 suit seeking the “restoration” of a temple where the Gyanvapi mosque now stands in Varanasi, while observing that the “religious character” of a disputed place can only be decided by the court.

The court dismissed five related petitions --- on maintainability and also against a survey of the mosque premises -- filed over the years by the masjid management committee and the Uttar Pradesh Central Sunni Waqf Board.

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The HC held that the suit filed before the district court is not barred by the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 that forbids “conversion” of the “religious character” of a place from what existed on August 15, 1947.

In an important observation, Justice Rohit Ranjan Agarwal said the Act did not define “religious character” and this can only be determined through evidence presented in court by the opposing parties.

“Either the Gyanvapi compound has a Hindu religious character or a Muslim religious character. It can’t have dual character at the same time,” the judge said.

He ordered that the trial in this case of “vital national importance” should be concluded as soon as possible, preferably within six months.

“In the national interest, it is required that the suit must proceed expeditiously and be decided with utmost urgency with the cooperation of both the contesting parties without resorting to any dilatory tactics,” he said, cautioning against any “unnecessary adjournment” in the lower court.

The mosque management committee said it will meet Wednesday to decide the next course of action, indicating that it would appeal against the order. “We will fight the legal battle till our last breath,” committee’s joint secretary Syed Muhammad Yasin told PTI.

The 63-page order on the Gyanvapi mosque-Kashi Vishwanath temple issue follows other significant court rulings over the past months on temple-mosque disputes in Uttar Pradesh.

The Supreme Court earlier gave its go-ahead for a survey of the Gyanvapi mosque premises by the Archaeological Survey of India and the high court allowed a survey of the Shahi Idgah mosque that adjoins the Krishna Janmasthan temple in Mathura.

Hindu litigants say the two mosques were built during Mughal rule after the demolition, or partial demolition, of temples and the surveys would through up evidence proving this.

The high court took note of the ASI survey conducted at the Gyanvapi masjid, following directions by the trial court which is hearing the petition of a group of women seeking regular access to Hindu deities depicted on the mosque’s rear wall.

If required, the lower court may direct ASI for a further survey, the judge added.

“The dispute raised in the suit is of vital national importance. It is not a suit between the two individual parties. It affects two major communities of the country,” he said while calling for a speedy trial.

The suit was filed by petitioners seeking the right to worship in the Gyanvapi mosque adjoining the Kashi Vishwanath temple. Muslim litigants had challenged its maintainability, citing the 1991 Act.

But Justice Agarwal said, “The Act does not define “religious character”, and only “conversion” and “place of worship” have been defined under the Act.” “What will be the religious character of the disputed place can only be arrived by the competent court after the evidences are led by the parties to the suit,” it said.

“Either the Gyanvapi Compound has a Hindu religious character or a Muslim religious character. It can’t have dual character at the same time. The religious character has to be ascertained by the Court considering pleadings of the parties, and evidences led in support of pleadings,” it said.

The Places of Worship Act had exempted only the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute from its purview.

After a landmark Supreme Court verdict four years back, the first phase of the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya is nearly over. The consecration ceremony will take place next month.

On December 8, the high court had reserved its judgment on all five petitions challenging the maintainability of the suit pending before the Varanasi court.

Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Telegraph Online staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.

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