The mosque management committee banks on the provisions of the 1991 law to challenge all proceedings relating to the religious character of the Gyanvapi mosque. The law has, however, not prevented a spree of litigation in recent months, which includes several lawsuits regarding the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi and Sri Krishna Janmabhoomi-Shahi Idgah dispute in Mathura.
NEW DELHI — The Supreme Court on Monday adjourned the hearing of an array of issues in the Gyanvapi Masjid case in Varanasi to December 1 due to paucity of time.
As the case came up before the court, the bench headed by Chief Justice Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud was informed that by the next date of hearing, a report by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on Gyanvapi Masjid will be made available, media reports said on Tuesday.
A Varanasi district judge had last week given the ASI time till November 28 to submit its report.
The Supreme Court is seized of a bundle of petitions filed by the management committee of the masjid challenging spot inspection and order of the masjid’s survey, as well as an order upholding the maintainability of the lawsuits.
Through its petition, the management committee endeavours to bar all claims over the access to the mosque or title of the Gyanvapi complex, relying on the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991. Section 3 of the law imposes a prohibition on individuals and groups of people against converting a place of religious worship into a different denomination, or even a different segment of the same religion.
It had earlier sought to get the case thrown out under Order VII, Rule 11 of the Civil Procedure Code (CPC). But last September, the Varanasi district judge dismissed the committee’s application. This judgment was upheld by the Allahabad High Court in May, compelling the committee to approach the apex court.
The other petition by the committee has challenged the May 2022 order of the Varanasi court directing a full survey of the mosque complex through an advocate commissioner. After the committee challenged this before the top court, the bench declined to stop the survey but directed that the section of the complex where a “Shivling” was reportedly found remain protected, adding that Muslims will also have the right to offer prayers in other sections of the mosque without any hindrance.
On May 20, 2022, the Supreme Court transferred the lawsuit from a civil judge to the Varanasi district judge, citing the “complexities and sensitivities involved in the matter”. It asked the district judge to decide on priority the application of the management committee that challenged the maintainability of the suit.
In September, the apex court refused to halt the ASI survey of the mosque, observing that it could not find fault with the district court’s order of July 21, nor would it interfere with every interlocutory direction passed in the case. The bench held that the order of the district judge cannot be construed to be without jurisdiction since the CPC empowers a court to issue a commission for a scientific investigation, the report of which is subject to be argued and tested at the time of trial.
At the same time, the apex court bench noted that the high court was correct in introducing some additional safeguards to circumscribe the order of the district judge, which included directions to ensure there would be no excavation at the site, nor would there be destruction of any part of the existing structure. The ASI should carry out its survey only using non-invasive methods, the top court directed.
While the mosque management committee banks on the provisions of the 1991 law to challenge all proceedings relating to the religious character of the Gyanvapi mosque, the law has, however, not prevented a spree of litigation in recent months, which includes several lawsuits regarding the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi and Sri Krishna Janmabhoomi-Shahi Idgah dispute in Mathura.
A batch of petitions, some seeking to scrap the 1991 law and others asking for tight enforcement of the same law, remain pending before the top court since March 2021.