New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Saturday, in a unanimous decision, accepted the Hindu parties’ claim to the disputed 2.77 acres in Ayodhya. The five-judge bench of the apex court said that the rightful claimant of the land will be Deity Ram Lalla, the last litigant in the case.
The verdict asked the Union government to form a trust within three months to oversee the construction and management of a temple at the disputed site. In effect, the apex court reversed the 2010 Allahabad high court judgement that had divided the land equally between the three litigants in the case.
The court also ruled that five acres of land will be given to the Sunni Waqf Board at an alternate site in Ayodhya to build a mosque. While the ownership claim of Nirmohi Akhara, the other Hindu litigant in the case, was dismissed, it gets to have its representative in the trust that will oversee the temple construction.
The judgement held the Hindu belief that the disputed site is the “birthplace of Lord Ram” is correct. It also said that the Sunni Waqf Board has not been able to prove adverse possession of the site, while there is evidence to show that Hindus worshipped at the premises of the mosque prior to 1857.
A large chunk of the bench’s conclusions were derived from the findings of the controversial Arachaeological Survey of India report which held that the Babri Masjid was built over a non-Islamic, possibly Hindu, structure.
Although the court said that both the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 and the surreptitious placing of idols in 1949 in the structure were illegal, it ruled in favour of the Deity Ram Lalla.
The apex court observed that unlike the Ram Janmabhoomi, Deity Ram Lalla has juristic personality. Essentially, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, which represented the Deity, gets sole ownership of the land.
The apex court judgement came after 40 continuous days of hearings that ended on October 16. A five judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and comprising Justices S.A. Bobde, D.Y. Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S. Abdul Nazeer conducted the hearings.
Although the Ayodhya-Babri Masjid case has strong political undercurrents, it was essentially a title dispute between three litigants. The two Hindu groups, Nirmohi Akhara that claims to be the primary custodian of the disputed site and Deity Ram Lalla which joined the litigation in 1989 through Deoki Nandan Agarwal, a former Allahabad high court judge who became a Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader, were fighting to claim the land against the third party, the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Waqf Board, which administers all Muslim shrines in the state.
All three parties had moved courts to lay claim to the 2.77-acre land at the disputed site.
The Ayodhya case has had a long, complicated legal history. The first lawsuit was filed by Gopal Singh Visharad for the Ram Lalla in 1950 at a Faizabad court. He demanded that the state government should enforce Hindus’ right to worship at the mosque’s site. In 1959, Nirmohi Akhara filed a suit to seek complete possession of the property.
In response, the Sunni Waqf Board in 1961 moved the Supreme Court, claiming its title right over the property. In 1989, Deity Ram Lalla was included as a litigant through the next best friend of the court Deoki Nandan Agarwal, who was then a judge at the Uttar Pradesh high court.
All these lawsuits were transferred to the Allahabad high court after the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.
A three-judge bench comprising Justices Sibghat Ullah Khan, Sudhir Agarwal and Justice Dharam Veer Sharma at the high court gave its verdict on September 30, 2010. By 2:1 majority, the bench divided the 2.77 acres equally between the three litigants.
However, there were many aspects of the judgement that favoured the Hindu parties. Justice Khan and Justice Agarwal said that the spot beneath the central dome of the razed Babri Masjid should be given to Ram Lalla for the construction of a temple. Justice Sharma dissented to say that the whole site should be given to Hindus, and they had exclusive rights over the land. He believed that the disputed site was “the birthplace of Ram”.
The judgement also affirmed that the Babri Masjid was built after the demolition of a Hindu temple.
However, since none of the parties could produce evidence of title ownership, the majority judgement favoured an equal division.
In 2011, the apex court suspended the high court ruling after both all the three litigants appealed against it.
Aside from these main developments, yet another legal development bolstered the case made by Hindus. The Supreme Court in 1994 in a related case made a remark that the concept of a mosque was “not integral to Islam”. In April 2018, senior lawyer Rajeev Dhavan filed a petition to reconsider this observation as the remark could have a bearings on the land dispute case. However, the Supreme Court refused to do so.
During the course of SC hearings, the Waqf Board argued that the masjid should be rebuilt on the same site as its demolition was illegal. It also wanted to SC to implement the Places of Worship Act 1991 which gave immunity to all places of worship as they existed before India became independent. It feared that if the decision goes in favour of the Hindu parties, Hindutva violence may spill over to sites like Mathura and Kashi, where a mosque and temple co-exist.
While Ram Lalla wanted full control of the site, the Nirmohi Akhara argued that it was willing to concede the rights of the title if its traditional shebait over the temple is recognised.
Before the SC began its day-to-day hearings, it had ordered mediation proceedings to see if all the litigants could amicably resolve the issue outside the court. The three-member mediation panel was headed by former SC Justice F.M.I. Kalifulla and comprising advocate Sriram Panchu and the Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravishankar.
However, after the process failed, the SC ordered that hearings on the matter would start from August 6, 2019.
Meanwhile, the Babri Masjid demolition criminal case against BJP leaders L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and others is going on in Lucknow. The special judge conducting the hearings in that matter moved the Supreme Court in July, 2019 seeking an extension of six months to conclude the trial.