Ram Lalla is juristic person: Judges
In its unanimous verdict that brought down the curtains on the decades-old Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute case, a five-judge Supreme Court bench declared Ram Lalla as a juristic person.
A juristic person is a non-human legal entity recognised by the law and entitled to rights and duties in the same way as a human being. Though the Muslim side did not contest Ram Lalla being a juristic person, yet the court gave a conclusive finding on the issue because the deity was the main petitioner in a suit filed claiming ownership of the disputed land.
“Yes, Hindu litigants had a weak case as far as title suit was concerned. So, a decision to file a case on behalf of Ram Lalla was taken,” said Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Triloki Nath Pandey, who represented Ram Lalla Virajman as a ‘next friend’.
Ram Lalla was first represented by a next friend in 1989, when Devki Nandan Agarwal, a judge of the Allahabad high court, filed a petition in the Faizabad district court in connection with the Ayodhya dispute. TP Varma took his place after his death. In February 2008, Pandey became next friend — a next of friend is a person who acts on behalf of another individual who does not have the legal capacity to act on his or her own behalf.
Led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi the bench, comprising justices SA Bobde, DY CHandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and SA Nazeer declined to accept the Hindu litigants’ argument to confer a similar identity to the Ram Janmasthan or the land where it is believed Lord Ram was born.
The bench held that such a conferment would immunise the property from competing title claims, as well as render laws that could meaningfully adjudicate upon civil suits, such as limitation, ownership, possession and division, ineffective.
The disputed site is a site of religious significance, but that itself is not sufficient to confer juridical personality on the land,” the bench held.
In its argument, the Hindu litigants had contended that the land itself is the manifestation of the deity and that the devotees worshipped not only the idol but the very land.
“A widespread belief in the religious nature of a site is not enough to confer upon the site legal personality…the concept for which juristic personality is conferred cannot be evolved into a Trojan Horse that permits, on the basis of religious faith and belief, the extinguishing of all competing proprietary claims over property as well stripping the property itself of the essential characteristic of immoveable property,” the court said.
The bench even refused to accept Hindu side’s view that the method of offering worship at the site – performing parikrama [circumambulating the deity] – was unique and should result in conferral of an absolute title to the parties.
There was no evidence to show there was manifestation of God at the disputed site. And in the absence of a manifestation, “recognising the land as a self-manifested deity would open the floodgates for parties to contend that ordinary land which was witness to some event of religious significance associated with the human incarnation of a deity (e.g. the site of marriage, or the ascent to a heavenly abode) is in fact a Swayambhu deity manifested in the form of land,” ruled the bench.
“In the present case, the first plaintiff has been the object of worship for several hundred years and the underlying purpose of continued worship is apparent even absent any express dedication or trust….. At the heart of the present dispute are questions pertaining to the rightful manager of the deity and the access of the devotees of Lord Ram to the idols. To ensure the legal protection of the underlying purpose and practically adjudicate upon the dispute, the legal personality of the first plaintiff is recognised,” the court said.
Analysing its own judgements of the past the top court said legal personality even may be conferred on an abstract idea. In addition, legal personality is conferred on Hindu idols to provide courts with a conceptual framework to adjudicate disputes involving claims over disputed property endowed to or appurtenant to Hindu idols.