Govt sets priorities: Free up Ayodhya land for temple trust
The Narendra Modi government has sought the Supreme Court’s permission to return the “non-disputed” land in Ayodhya to the original landowners that included a trust formed to oversee the construction of the Ram temple.
Hours after news of the Centre’s application broke, an unnamed senior government functionary was quoted as saying that a step towards starting “work” on the Ram temple had been taken and a chorus arose from BJP leaders hailing the government’s move.
With the general election round the corner, the Modi government has come under increasing pressure from the Sangh parivar to show some tangible progress in the campaign to build the temple.
The Centre filed the application on Monday, the same day when Congress president Rahul Gandhi promised the poor a minimum income guarantee scheme if elected to power. The Ayodhya application is yet to be listed by the court.
After the Babri Masjid was demolished in December 1992 and many lives were lost in the riots, the then Congress government had acquired 67.703 acres, including the disputed portion.
The Modi government now wants 67.39 acres of the acquired land to be restored to its original owners, which include the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, a parivar-linked trust whose principal mission is to promote and oversee the construction of the temple.
As much as 42 of the 67-plus acres were with the Nyas before the land was acquired by the Centre.
In its application, the Modi government has put the size of the disputed land at 0.313 acre. When this portion is left out, the size of the remaining land will be 67.39 acres — what the government has described as “superfluous excess vacant” land.
The size of the disputed land has generally been considered to be 2.77 acres but the Allahabad High Court order of 2010 mentions the words “the premises in dispute along with some adjoining area (total area 2.77 acres)”, which suggests the specific disputed area could be less than 2.77 acres.
In 2010, Allahabad High Court had divided the disputed premises equally among the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla Virajman (baby Ram).
On Tuesday evening, when The Telegraph asked solicitor-general Tushar Mehta, a government law officer, about the size of the disputed land, he asserted that it was 0.313 acre.
The idol of Ram Lalla is located under what was the dome of the Babri Masjid. Allahabad High Court’s verdict, whose fate will be decided by a Supreme Court constitution bench that is yet to begin proceedings, had said the “portion below the central dome where at present the idol is kept in makeshift temple will be allotted to Hindus in final decree”.
The Centre’s application filed on Monday describes the “disputed area” as “land measuring 0.313 acre over which the structure, including the premises of the internal and outer courtyards of such structure, commonly known as the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid, stood”. This would suggest that the portion where the idol is kept does not fall within the area the government wants to return to the original owners.
The Centre’s application seeks strength from an order by the Supreme Court in 1994 that restrictions would apply only to the disputed land.
But on March 31, 2003, the Supreme Court had ordered the maintenance of “status quo” on the entire land, including the non-disputed plots. It is this order that the Centre now wants modified.
A senior government functionary told PTI the government’s plea in the Supreme Court was an attempt to redress the “deep sense of anguish of Ram devotees and party cadres”.
Separately, BJP leader and Union minister Prakash Javadekar said: “Today, the government has taken a very important in-principle decision…. The government wants to return the land to its original owners and they want to build the Ram temple there.”
Additional reporting by PTI