New Delhi: At 10:30 am on Saturday, India’s Supreme Court passed a unanimous verdict on the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi title dispute case. The apex court ruled in favour of the Hindu parties. The disputed 2.77 acres will now go to them.
The Sunni Waqf Board, the most prominent Muslim litigant in this case, will be offered five acres within Ayodhya for the construction of a mosque. The case is naturally complicated by teh fact that Hindu political vandals had violently demolished the centuries-old Babri Masjid at the site in 1992, triggering widespread communal violence and riots in India.
The criminal case against those accused in this violence is still pending, 27 years later. The Wire spoke to senior lawyers and judges to get to the bottom of the legal aspects of the verdict.
Former judge of the Supreme Court and Lokayukta for Karnataka
“This is the best judgment I could have expected. The Supreme Court has come to a via media. A good decision I must say. In larger interest of the nation and peace in the society. I think it’s a very good decision. I couldn’t have expected anything better.
“According to me, even a rightful owner can engage in illegal activities. Normally this is not done. Everything should be done in the legal process, in accordance with law. But if someone takes the law into their own hands, that doesn’t take away the title to the property.”
Senior advocate, Supreme Court
“This verdict showcases the Supreme Court’s craftsmanship and statesmanship. The letter of the law was adhered to, but relief for both Hindu and Muslim groups was provided, taking into account ground realities.”
Senior advocate, Supreme Court
“For once, the Supreme Court has actually drawn a fine balance between expectations, faith, secular principles and law. This issue, simply put and without the rhetoric…is a title suit, about a piece of property.
“I think the Supreme Court has done really well, looking at it from a pure evidence perspective and has also been very independent in saying that the demolition of the mosque is illegal. No question about it. Demolition is illegal.
“But, on the title to the property, they have looked at the evidence on record and, consequently, the evidence saying that yes there was a pre-existing structure, which was a non-Islamic one, whether a Hindu temple or something else, was taken into account.
“Therefore by the evidence on record, the Hindu parties are entitled to the land. But to maintain equity, the court has also said that the Muslim parties should be given five acres to build a mosque. Therefore, simply as a lawyer, I think the Supreme Court has achieved a very fine balance and I’m proud of that.”
“On the issue of demolition of the super-structure, Supreme Court has indicated that the demolition was illegal. Under Indian law, dual ownership is recognised. It’s not recognised in English law. So in Indian law, the title to the underlying land can belong to one person and the super structure can be with another. So, even if the pulling down of the super structure may have been illegal, someone may still have a claim on the land. This pulling down does not trounce upon the claim of that person to the land. This is what the Supreme Court appears to have held: that the evidence on record shows that the Hindu parties are entitled to the property.
“On the demolition, there’s a separate criminal proceeding going on. Any kind of punishment could come there. But that proceeding doesn’t trounce upon the title claim of the land by Hindu parties. The Supreme Court appears to have struck the balance.
“The court is not inquisitorial and this is not a PIL. It is a suit. So a civil court can only examine on the balance of probabilities and evidence available on which of the two warring properties are entitled to the property. It is not meant to go looking for other participants here, because the court is not inquisitorial. Between the two contesting parties here, the parties have to show the court that one has a better claim to the land than the other. That’s what happened.”