Supreme Court extends stay on survey in Mathura mosque case | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Supreme Court extends stay on survey in Mathura mosque case

Apr 15, 2024 01:34 PM IST

The bench had on January 16 stayed the Allahabad high court order of December 14 for the appointment of an advocate-commissioner to oversee the mosque survey

The Supreme Court on Monday extended its earlier order, suspending an advocate-commissioner’s survey of the Shahi Eidgah mosque near to the Krishna Janmabhoomi temple in Mathura, till the next hearing in August.

Supreme Court of India. (File Photo)
Supreme Court of India. (File Photo)

A bench of justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta ordered for the listing of the matter in the first fortnight of August for a detailed hearing after noting that the court was yet to formally issue notice in the plea – a legal imperative for admitting a case for an extensive hearing.

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“Issue notice in the matter. Re-list the matter in the week commencing August 5, 2024. In the meantime, pleadings will be completed by the parties. Interim order to continue,” the bench stated in its brief order, extending the operation of its January 16 order.

On the next date of hearing, the Supreme Court will also consider a number of petitions, contesting the Allahabad high court’s decision to transfer approximately 18 suits pertaining to the land dispute between Krishna Janmasthan and Shahi Eidgah from several Mathura civil courts to itself for hearing.

The bench had on January 16 stayed the Allahabad high court order of December 14 for the appointment of an advocate-commissioner to oversee the mosque survey, noting that the Hindu side’s plea for the survey was “very vague” and that the matter also raised some significant legal issues that required the top court’s scrutiny.

On the day, the court referred to the questions over passing an interim order without rendering prima facie satisfaction regarding the maintainability of the suit also arose in the case.

On December 14, the Allahabad high court ordered a survey of the mosque that Hindu plaintiffs say holds signs proving that it was a once a Hindu temple, opening a new chapter in the decades-old dispute that is part of a raft of cases where Hindu petitioners are pushing for legal change to gain rights over Islamic holy sites. t also gains enormous political significance at a time when a survey has already been conducted at the contested Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi. The Gyanvapi Idgah committee’s challenge to this order is presently pending in the Supreme Court.

Since July 2023, the Supreme Court is seized of the challenge to a May 26 order of the Allahabad high court that transferred to itself all suits filed by Hindu parties claiming right over the mosque land in Mathura. The mosque committee has argued that it did not have the financial wherewithal to defend the suits in the Allahabad high court which is 600km away and would prefer having it in Delhi which only 150km away.

The May 26 order by the high court came on a plea by Bhagwan Shrikrishna Virajman at Katra Keshav Dev Khewat Mathura (deity) through the next friend, Ranjana Agnihotri, who is also an advocate, and seven others. Next friend is a legal representative of someone incapable of maintaining a suit directly. The Hindu plaintiffs requested that the original trial be conducted by the high court as the matter involved is of national importance.

Multiple suits regarding the Krishna Janmabhoomi-Shahi Eidgah Mosque land dispute pending before various courts in Mathura have a common demand – to reclaim the 13.37-acre land on which the mosque stands – to be returned to the Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi Trust. The mosque abuts the temple and the suits have sought to annual a compromise entered between the mosque committee and Shri Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sangh in 1968 allowing the continue at the place where it currently stands.

The mosque, in its petition before the top court, questioned the maintainability of the suits after prolonged delay. It further argued that the suit is barred by the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 which protects the “character” of all places of worship existing as on August 15, 1947 (barring the Ram Janmabhoomi land at Ayodhya) and prohibits filing of any lawsuits to alter the character of any place of worship.

In July last year, the top court observed that it would be in the interest of all stakeholders if the matter is decided “at the earliest” because pendency in such “sensitive” cases create “disquiet”. Adding that it would lay down norms for hearing the clutch of suits related to the dispute, the court had directed the high court registrar to send details of all such pending cases. On the day, the court had also remarked that it would be more appropriate for a high court judge to apply his mind considering the complex nature of the case.

The Gyanvapi case has been pending since May 2022 before the Supreme Court, which has so far refused to stay the proceedings before the Varanasi district judge. In that case, too, the civil court first appointed an advocate-commissioner and then July last year, a full scientific survey of the mosque premises by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was ordered to determine if the 17th century structure was built upon a pre-existing temple. The Supreme Court, at different points in time, refused to stay these orders when appealed against by the Gyanvapi mosque committee.

The Varanasi district court in January further asked for the copies of the ASI report to be given to the parties in the case. The ASI report, which was soon made public, concluded that a large Hindu temple existed before the construction of the Gyanvapi Masjid, signifying a tipping point in the contentious community conflict that may have far-reaching effects even as the trial of the underlying civil suit filed in 2021 is yet to commence.

A batch of petitions — some seeking to scrap the 1991 Act and some others asking for tight enforcement of the same law — are pending before the top court since March 2021. Last September, Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, while hearing the Gyanvapi case, observed that the religious “character” of a site also had to be led by evidence.

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