- Apprentice Lawyer
A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court today delivered its verdict in the Ayodhya dispute. The focal point of the case was the title with respect to the disputed site.
Two major suits were contested in this regard – suit filed by Sunni Central Board of Waqfs, Uttar Pradesh which was suit 4 and suit filed by Bhagwan Sri Ram Birajman (Ram Lalla/ Deity) which was suit no. 5 filed through Senior Advocate and retired High Court judge Deoki Nandan Agarwala.
The Supreme Court in its judgment today declared that the title of the disputed site is vested with Bhagwan Sri Ram. Thus, the Court decreed suit 5.
It also partly decreed suit 4 on the ground that Muslims were dispossessed of the mosque in 1949 and the mosque was ultimately destroyed on 6 December 1992.
So what exactly are the conclusions of the Court regarding the title of the disputed site?
Suit 4 was filed by Sunni Central Board of Waqfs.
The reliefs claimed were as follows:
(a) A declaration to the effect that the property indicated by letters A B C D in the sketch map attached to the plaint is public mosque commonly known as ‗Babri Masjid‘ and that PART O 707 the land adjoining the mosque shown in the sketch map by letters E F G H is a public Muslim graveyard as specified in para 2 of the plaint may be decreed.
(b) That in case in the opinion of the Court delivery of possession is deemed to be the proper remedy, a decree for delivery of possession of the mosque and graveyard in suit by removal of the idols and other articles which the Hindus may have placed in the mosque as objects of their worship be passed in plaintiff‘s favour, against the defendants.
(bb) That the statutory Receiver be commanded to hand over the property in dispute described in the Schedule ‗A‘ of the Plaint by removing the unauthorised structures erected thereon.
Suit 5 was filed on July 1, 1989 by Bhagwan Sri Ram Birajman at Sri Ram Janam Bhoomi Ayodhya (Plaintiff No. 1), Asthan Sri Ram Janam Bhoomi, Ayodhya (Plaintiff No. 2) and Senior Advocate and retired High Court judge Deoki Nandan Agarwala (Plaintiff No. 3).
Both plaintiffs No. 1 and 2 are juridical persons and plaintiff No.3 a Vaishnava Hindu sought to represent the Deity and the Asthan as a next friend. The following reliefs were claimed in suit 5:
(A) A declaration that the entire premises of Sri Rama Janma Bhumi at Ayodhya, as described and delineated in Annexure I, II and III belongs to the plaintiff Deities.
(B) A perpetual injunction against the Defendants prohibiting them from interfering with, or raising any objection to, or placing any obstruction in the construction of the new Temple building at Sri Rama Janma Bhumi, Ayodhya, after demolishing and removing the existing buildings and structures etc., situate thereat, in so far as it may be necessary or expedient to do so for the said purpose
After analysing all evidence and arguments, the Supreme Court arrived at the following conclusions regarding the title of the disputed site.
Destruction of mosque serious violation of the rule of law
There was a mosque at the disputed site till December 6, 1992. The submission that the mosque did not conform to Islamic tenets was rejected. The evidence indicated that there was no abandonment of the mosque by Muslims and Namaz was observed on Fridays till December 1949 the last namaz being on 16 December 1949;
The damage to the mosque in 1934, its desecration in 1949 leading to the ouster of the Muslims and the eventual destruction on 6 December 1992 constituted a serious violation of the rule of law, the Court held.
Outer courtyard – Hindus have proved exclusive possession
This important question was ruled in favour of Hindus. The Court held Hindus have been in exclusive and unimpeded possession of the outer courtyard of the disputed site where they have continued worship.
This would go on to affect the eventual relief given by the Court.
“The Hindus have established a clear case of a possessory title to the outside courtyard by virtue of long, continued and unimpeded worship at the Ramchabutra and other objects of religious significance.”
It further held that on the balance of probabilities, there is clear evidence to indicate that the worship by the Hindus in the outer courtyard continued unimpeded in spite of the setting up of a grill-brick wall in 1857. Thus, their possession of the outer courtyard stands established together with the incidents attaching to their control over it.
Inner Courtyard – contested site but Muslims could not prove exclusive possession
The inner courtyard has been a contested site with conflicting claims of the Hindus and Muslims, the Court held.
“The Hindus and the Muslims have contested claims to the offering worship within the three domed structure in the inner courtyard. The assertion by the Hindus of their entitlement to offer worship inside has been contested by the Muslims”
As regards the inner courtyard, there is evidence on a preponderance of probabilities to establish worship by the Hindus prior to the annexation of Oudh by the British in 1857. The Muslims have offered no evidence to indicate that they were in exclusive possession of the inner structure prior to 1857 since the date of the construction in the sixteenth century.
After the setting up of the grill-brick wall, the structure of the mosque continued to exist and there is evidence to indicate that namaz was offered within its precincts. The report of the Waqf Inspector of December 1949 indicates that Muslims were being obstructed in free and unimpeded access to the mosque for the purposes of offering namaz. However, there is evidence to show that namaz was offered in the structure of the mosque and the last Friday namaz was on 16 December 1949. The exclusion of the Muslims from worship and possession took place on the intervening night.
Thus, the conclusion of the Court regarding the inner courtyard is that it is contested and Muslims have not been able to prove exclusive possession.
But the judgment does not say whether that would mean the Hindus were in exclusive possession of the inner courtyard or not.
So as per the evidence, Hindus were in possession of outer courtyard while neither Hindus nor Muslims could prove possession of inner courtyard.
So what then tilted the scale in favour of Hindus?
Disputed site one composite whole, Allahabad High Court solution not practical
One of the important conclusions reached by the Supreme Court was that the disputed site was “one composite whole”. A railing which was set up in 1856-7 did not either bring about a sub-division of the land or any determination of title.
On this same issue was also another significant aspect – the relief given by Allahabad High Court which ordered a three-way partition of the land. This the Court ruled was flawed for two major reasons:
Firstly, the High Court was not seized of a suit for partition.
“In a suit for partition, it is trite law that every party is both a plaintiff and defendant. The High Court was hearing: (i) a suit by a worshipper seeking the enforcement of the right to pray (Suit 1); (ii) a suit by Nirmohi Akhara asserting shebaiti rights to the management and charge of the temple (Suit 3); (iii) a declaratory suit on title by the Sunni Central Waqf Board and Muslims (Suit 4); and (iv) a suit for a declaration on behalf of the Hindu deities in which an injunction has also been sought restraining any obstruction with the construction of a temple (Suit 5) The High Court was called upon to decide the question of title particularly in the declaratory suits, Suits 4 and 5.”
Thus, the Supreme Court ruled that the High Court has adopted a path that was not open to it. It granted reliefs which were not the subject matter of the prayers in the suits. In the process of doing so, it proceeded to assume the jurisdiction of a civil court in a suit for partition.
Placing reliance upon Order VII Rule 7 of CPC, the Supreme Court held that courts in a civil trial to embark upon the exercise of recasting virtually the frame of a suit. The exercise of the High Court amounted to that. There was no basis in the pleadings before the High Court and certainly no warrant in the reliefs which were claimed to direct a division of the land in the manner that a court would do in a suit for partition.
Secondly, the Supreme Court ruled that there was another major flaw in the decision of the High Court. The High Court had ruled that the suits filed by Nirmohi Akhara (suit 3) and Sunni Central Waqf Board (suit 4) were barred by limitation. However, despite that the High court proceeded to grant relief in Suit 5 to the plaintiffs in Suits 3 and 4. This, the Court ruled, defies logic.
Thus the above combination of factors led the Supreme Court to conclude that the three-way bifurcation ordered by the High Court was legally unsustainable. Even as a matter of maintaining public peace and tranquillity, the solution which commended itself to the High Court is not feasible. The disputed site admeasures all of 1500 square yards. Dividing the land will not subserve the interest of either of the parties or secure a lasting sense of peace and tranquillity, the Court held.
Thus, the two conclusions, one that the disputed site is one composite whole and second that the outer courtyard had been in exclusive possession of Hindus, meant that the possessory claim of Hindus stood on a better footing than the evidence adduced by Hindus, the Court held.
This might have been the reason which led the Court to award the title of the whole of the disputed site to Hindus. The judgment in this regard makes a passing mention of this:
“….the evidence in respect of the possessory claim of the Hindus to the composite whole of the disputed property stands on a better footing than the evidence adduced by the Muslims.”
Whether this is a good ground to decide the title can be a subject matter of discussion for another day.
Relief to Hindus
Suit 5 was held to be maintainable at the behest of the first plaintiff (Ram Lalla/ Deity) who was represented by the third plaintiff. There shall be a decree in terms of prayer clauses (A) and (B) of the suit, the Court made it clear.
Towards this end, the Court has issued the following directions:
The Central Government should, within a period of three months from the date of this judgment, formulate a scheme under Sections 6 and 7 of the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act 1993.
The scheme shall envisage the setting up of Trust with a Board of Trustees or any other appropriate body under Section 6. The scheme to be framed by the Central Government shall make necessary provisions regarding the construction of a temple and all necessary, incidental and supplemental matters.
Possession of the inner and outer courtyards should be handed over to the Board of Trustees of the Trust or to the body so constituted. The Central Government will be at liberty to make suitable provisions in respect of the rest of the acquired land by handing it over to the Trust or body for management and development in terms of the scheme framed in accordance with the above directions; and
Possession of the disputed property shall continue to vest in the statutory receiver under the Central Government, until in exercise of its jurisdiction under Section 6 of the Ayodhya Act of 1993, a notification is issued vesting the property in the trust or other body.
The right of the plaintiff in Suit 1 to worship at the disputed property was also affirmed subject to any restrictions imposed by the relevant authorities with respect to the maintenance of peace and order and the performance of orderly worship.
Relief to Muslims
Simultaneously, with the handing over of the disputed property to the Trust or body under clause 2 above, a suitable plot of land admeasuring 5 acres shall be handed over to the Sunni Central Waqf Board, the plaintiff in Suit 4.
The land shall be allotted either by (a) The Central Government out of the land acquired under the Ayodhya Act 1993; or (b) The State Government at a suitable prominent place in Ayodhya; The Central Government and the State Government shall act in consultation with each other to effectuate the above allotment in the period stipulated.
The Sunni Central Waqf Board would be at liberty, on the allotment of the land to take all necessary steps for the construction of a mosque on the land so allotted together with other associated facilities.