The Supreme Court on Friday transferred the Gyanvapi dispute to the Varanasi district judge from the civil judge and tasked the more senior judicial officer with first looking into the maintainability of pleas for and against Hindus being allowed to pray on the mosque’s premises.
The Supreme Court said a “slightly more seasoned and mature hand” was needed to deal with the “sensitive issue”, but clarified that the decision to transfer the matter to the district judge was in no way meant to cast aspersions on the competence of the civil judge.
The district judge is the highest judicial officer of a district and his or her orders can be challenged only in the high court, which is the next appellate forum in the judicial hierarchy.
An apex court bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Surya Kant and P.S. Narasimha asked the district judge to first deal with the maintainability of the suit filed by the Muslims challenging the suit of the Hindu side seeking to pray at an area called the Shringar Gauri on the mosque’s premises. Only after this can the district judge take up the Hindu side’s claim that a “Shivalinga” had been found on the Gyanvapi premises.
“Having regard to the complexities of the issue involved in the case, in the civil suit and their sensitivity, we are of the considered view that the suit before the civil judge (senior division) Varanasi should be tried before a senior and experienced judicial officer of the Uttar Pradesh higher judicial service,” the Supreme Court said.
“We accordingly order and direct that the suit shall stand transferred from the file of the civil judge (senior division), Varanasi, to the court of the district judge, Varanasi, for trial, and all the interlocutory and ancillary proceedings in the suit shall be addressed to and decided by the court of the district judge,” it added.
The civil judge, Ravi Kumar Diwakar, had ordered a survey of the Gyanvapi premises on the basis of claims that Mughal emperor Aurangzeb had built the mosque by demolishing a portion of the adjoining Kashi Vishwanath temple and had ordered the sealing of an area within the Gyanvapi compound where the Shivalinga has been claimed to have been found.
The mosque committee says the structure is a defunct fountain and its lawyer has accused the civil judge in the Supreme Court of passing “illegal” orders that also went against the Places of Worship Act, 1991.
The Supreme Court said its May 17 order directing the Varanasi district administration to take steps to protect the area around the purported “Shivalinga” and also ensure unhindered access to Muslims to offer namaz would continue until further orders.
The Supreme Court said the “the selective leaks from the commission” conducting the Gyanvapi survey “must stop”.
“We must say… that this practice of selective leaks must stop. Once there is a commission report, it must be submitted to the court. Do not leak things to the press. You (commission) must submit the report to the court,” Justice Chandrachud said.