Gyanvapi case: Survey must be completed by May 17, says Varanasi court
“If anybody creates impediment in the exercise by the court commissioners, the district administration must register a first information report (FIR) and take strict action. In any condition, the court commissioner’s exercise shall not stop,” stated the court order.
A Varanasi court on Thursday refused to stop the survey of the Gyanvapi Masjid complex and said the exercise must be completed by May 17, marking a crucial turn in the decades-old religious dispute over Hindu claims to the Muslim prayer site.
Civil judge (senior division) Ravi Kumar Diwakar dismissed a plea by Anjuman Intezamia Masajid Committee, which manages the Gyanvapi mosque, to limit the inquiry to certain parts of the premises and remove the present surveyor, and directed day-to-day survey of the complex until its conclusion.
The judge retained Ajai Kumar Mishra as the advocate commissioner, who was appointed last month to carry out the survey, while adding two more lawyers, Vishal Singh and Ajay Pratap Singh, to the commission that will inspect, conduct videography, and collect evidence regarding the alleged existence of Hindu deities inside the mosque complex, which abuts the Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi. It directed that Ajai Kumar Mishra and Vishal Singh will conduct the survey.
In its order, the civil judge clarified that the advocate commissioners will have the right to collect evidence from any part of the mosque complex, and that no hindrance shall be caused by anyone in the conduct of this exercise.
“If anybody creates impediment in the exercise by the court commissioners, the district administration must register a first information report (FIR) and take strict action. In any condition, the court commissioner’s exercise shall not stop,” stated the court order, seeking the commission’s report on May 17.
Making Varanasi district magistrate and police commissioner personally accountable, the court further directed that the district administration and the police must render all cooperation to the advocate commissioners and ascertain that the survey is completed as soon as possible. It ordered that the district officials and police be authorised to break open any lock, if required.
The survey was ordered by the court on April 26 on a 2021 petition by five women who sought daily prayers and worship rights at the Maa Shringar Gauri Sthal, a shrine dedicated to Hindu goddess Parvati located behind the western wall of the mosque complex. The exercise commenced on May 6 in the presence of all the parties amid tight security, triggering protests. But on May 7, the survey could not continue following objections from the advocates of the mosque management committee.
The five Hindu women had asked for year-long access to pray at the site which is currently opened for prayers once a year. The women also want permission to pray to other “visible and invisible deities within the old temple complex”.
This is the latest round of controversy in the decades-old dispute over faith and legal jurisdiction of devotees – similar to the one in Ayodhya – where some Hindu groups believe a Hindu temple was partially razed to build the 17th-century Gyanvapi mosque.
In its order, the civil judge also pulled up the Varanasi district administration for not complying with the court’s order in letter and spirit, adding the survey would have been concluded by now had the district administration rendered its full cooperation.
“It is often seen that officers of district administration do not follow the court orders due to their ego and arrogance... they don’t even place the true facts before the honourable chief minister,” lamented the judge, adding the officials wake up only after contempt of court proceedings are initiated against them.
Court-appointed special advocate commissioner Vishal Singh said: “We (three advocate commissioners) will hold a meeting in which we will take a decision on when to start the survey and other modalities. The proceedings of the survey will be conducted as per the court order.”
Advocate Subhash Nandan Chaturvedi, who appeared for one of the five Hindu women plaintiffs in the case, said: “The court has ordered a complete survey of the Gyanvapi, including its basement. A detailed report has to be presented to the court on May 17, which is the next date of hearing in the case. The court has also ordered the district administration not to delay the survey by making any excuses.”
Abhay Nath Yadav, one of the advocates for the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee, said that he was not satisfied with the order. “I have just received the copy of the order. I will go through the order thoroughly. We are not satisfied with the order. We will discuss our strategy with advocates and find a legal remedy against the order. Then, we will challenge it,” said Yadav, questioning the permission to conduct the survey of the entire mosque precincts.
The civil court was ruling on an application moved by the mosque management, seeking removal of Ajai Kumar Mishra as the court-commissioner, alleging that he was biased. The plea also objected to the survey of the entire mosque complex.
The dispute between Hindu and Muslim parties over the Kashi Vishwanath Temple-Gyanvapi Masjid site is decades old. It reached the courts in 1991, when local Hindu priests sought permission to worship in the mosque area. The hearing was later suspended by the Allahabad high court.
But the case gained steam in December 2019 when a local Hindu man filed an application in the civil court as the “next friend” of the presiding deity of the temple, Swayambhu Jyotirling Bhagwan Vishweshwar. In law, a next friend is a representative of someone incapable of maintaining a suit directly.
Last year, a Varanasi civil court ordered an archaeological survey of the Gyanvapi complex, saying the exercise was required to decide on pleas that allege the mosque was built by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb after partially demolishing a Hindu shrine. This order was challenged before the Allahabad high court, which suspended all proceedings.