New Delhi : The Supreme Court on Friday transferred proceedings of the suit by Hindu parties seeking worshipping rights at Varanasi’s Gyanvapi mosque to the district judge, while ordering its May 17 interim order to protect the ‘Shivling’, purportedly discovered during the survey, and free access to Muslims for ‘namaz’ should continue.
A bench, headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and comprising Justices Surya Kant and P.S. Narasimha, said the District Judge will decide the matter on priority.
The bench said taking in view of complexity of the issues involved in the suit and the sensitivity, the suit before Civil Judge, Senior Division, Varanasi should be tried before a senior and experienced judicial officer of the Uttar Pradesh Higher Judicial Service.
It said the May 17 interim order will remain operational for eight weeks, after the District Judge’s decision in the matter, so as allow the aggrieved party to appeal against the decision.
The bench noted that the District Judge has an experience close to 30 years and would be able to handle the matter.
Senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, representing the Committee of Management, Anjuman Intezamia Masajid Varanasi, contended that the status quo of 500 years had already changed by sealing the premises and added that the status quo, which existed before, must continue.
The top court said its interim order on May 17 would balance the interests of contesting parties.
Ahmadi said there is a narrative being created and commission reports are being leaked selectively. “This is disturbing communal harmony. Don’t look at this from the point of one suit alone. Look at the ramifications across the country,” he added.
The top court also took a serious view on the leak of a report on the video survey of the mosque. “Only the trial court can open the report… there is a need to maintain calm on the ground and not allow nerves to be frayed with selective leaks.”
As Ahmadi questioned the appointment of Commissioner, as it was barred under the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, the bench said that there are various nuances of the Act which will fall for consideration.
“The ascertainment of religious character is not barred under the Act. The ascertainment of religious character of a place may not fall foul of Section 3 or 4 of the Act. These are matters where we will not hazard an opinion. We are in a dialogue.”
The top court also directed the District Magistrate, Varanasi to make arrangements for ‘wuzu’ (ritual ablutions), for Muslims before offering namaz.
The top court has scheduled the matter for further hearing in July.
The trial court’s order for survey of the area by appointing court commissioners was questioned by the masjid committee, which moved the apex court challenging the Allahabad High Court’s April 21 order. The high court had declined to intervene into the matter. The survey was conducted on May 14, 15 and 16.
The masjid committee contended that the suit is all about changing the character of a shrine which is a mosque, and this is not maintainable. However, the top court had cited that the suit filed before the Varanasi court was not title suit but one for injunction against worship at ‘Shringar Gauri’.