The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee's plea challenging the Allahabad High Court chief justice's decision to withdraw the Gyanvapi case from a single-judge bench that was hearing it since 2021.
The single-judge bench was hearing the plea of Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee (AIMC), which mages the affairs of the Gyanvapi mosque, challenging the maintainability of a lawsuit for restoration of a temple at the mosque site in Varanasi.
“Dismissed,” a bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra said after hearing the submissions of senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, who represented the mosque committee.
“We should not interfere with the order of the chief justice of the high court...In high courts, it is a very standard practice. This must lie in the realm of the chief justice of the high court,” the bench said.
The AIMC also challenged the withdrawal of the case from the single judge bench of Justice Prakash Padia. The case has now been assigned to a bench headed by Chief Justice Pritinker Diwaker of the high court through an administrative decision.
At the outset, Ahmadi said the earlier single judge bench had completed the hearing and was to pronounce the judgement on August 25. The very same day, the chief justice of the high court withdrew the case from the bench on the grounds of change in roster.
The senior lawyer said though it was not open for a litigant to choose as to which bench would hear a case, he was raising the issue as the transfer amounted to “abuse of judicial process”. The single judge had been hearing the case since 2021, he added.
The CJI then referred to certain aspects of the order of the chief justice of the high court and said he did not want to read it in an open court.
"Look at what the learned Chief Justice said in the last three lines...we do not want to read it in open court.. This is extraordinary. Never happened. We will leave it at that. I don't want to say much...,” the CJI said.
The CJI was apparently referring to the fact that the case files were retained in the judge’s chamber and never sent back to the high court registry.
"If we don't trust persons in charge in HCs where will the system go,” the CJI said.
On October 30, the high court adjourned the hearing till November 8 on the AIMC petition which has challenged the maintainability of a suit seeking restoration of a temple at the site in Varanasi where the Gyanvapi mosque stands.
When the case was taken up, the AIMC told the high court it had filed a Special Leave Petition before the Supreme Court against the order of the chief justice of the high court to withdraw the case from the single-judge bench that had been hearing the matter.
The HC chief justice, while giving reasons for the order dated September 18, 2023, which has been challenged before the Supreme Court, stated that the decision was taken on the administrative side in the “interest of judicial propriety, judicial discipline, and transparency in the listing of cases".
The AIMC petition also challenges a Varanasi court's direction to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to conduct a comprehensive survey of the Gyanvapi mosque. The order was passed on April 8, 2021.
A Varanasi court on November 2 granted the ASI time till November 17 for submitting its survey report. The ASI told the court it has completed the survey of the Gyanvapi mosque complex but needed more time to draft the report. The ASI was to submit the report of the survey by November 6.
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