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Citing 'Complexity, Sensitivity,' SC Transfers Gyanvapi Case to Higher Judge

'We are not casting aspersions on the trial judge. But in a matter like this, a more seasoned hand is better.'

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court has transferred the Gyanvapi Mosque case to a district judge, observing that due to the complexities and sensitivity of the civil suit, it had better be tried before a “senior and experienced judicial officer.”

Five Hindu women plaintiffs had moved a Varanasi trial court alleging that the city’s Gyanvapi mosque houses Hindu deities and that Hindus should be allowed to pray at the site.

In April, the Varanasi court had appointed a court commissioner to conduct a survey and video record the site. The mosque committee challenged this order before the Allahabad high court, but it was dismissed in the same month. The committee’s plea claiming that the court commissioner was biased was also dismissed.

On May 16, the plaintiff told the Varanasi court that a ‘shivling’ had been found within the mosque premises, following which Civil Judge (Senior Division) Ravi Kumar Diwakar ordered that the area where it was found be sealed.

A day later, the Supreme Court, however, instructed that the area where the ‘shivling’ was found should be protected but without impeding the access of Muslim devotees.

On Friday, an apex court bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Surya Kant and P.S. Narasimha ordered that this above interim order should continue till a district judge decides on an application filed by the masjid committee for rejection of the suit and for eight weeks after that.

The Supreme Court also directed the concerned District Magistrate to make proper arrangements for Muslims’ observance of wuzu at the site which has been brought into dispute by the petitioners’ claim.

LiveLaw has quoted the apex court bench as having said:

“In a matter of fair amount of complexity and sensitivity, we are of the view that the suit should be heard by a District Judge. We are not casting aspersions on the trial judge. But in a matter like this, a more seasoned hand is better. This will protect the interests of all parties…they know how to handle it.”

The civil suit before Varanasi Civil Judge (Senior Division), Ravi Kumar Diwakar, will now be transferred to the Varanasi District Judge Varanasi.

The same judge will decide, “on priority,” the mosque committee’s application filed under Order 7 Rule 11.

In the application, the Gyanvapi mosque committee had asked for the suit to be declared void in light of the 1991 Places of Worship Act. The Act has it that the character of a place of worship as it was at the time of India’s Independence cannot be altered by courts.

“The ascertainment of religious character is not barred…The ascertainment of religious character of a place as a processural instrument may not fall foul of Section 3 or 4. These are matters where we will not hazard an opinion in our order. We are in a dialogue…,” Justice Chandrachud said, on the 1991 Act.

“Suppose there is an aghyari [a Parsi temple]. And there is a cross. Does the presence of cross not make the place an aghyari? Does the presence of cross make it a Christian place? Such hybrid nature are not unknown in India,” he added.

Leak

In court today, senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, counsel for the Masjid committee, said if proceedings continue at the trial court, there could be “grave mischief.”

The court also took a dim view of the leak of information on the discovery of the ‘shivling’ to the media – over which advocate commissioner Ajay Kumar Mishra who was heading the trial court-appointed panel was removed.

“We must tell the other side that the selective leaks must stop. It should be submitted to the court. Do not leaks things to the press. You must present to the judge,” Justice Chandrachud said.