Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Allahabad HC allows plea seeking ‘restoration’ of temple at Gyanvapi site


Prayagraj: The Allahabad High Court on Tuesday dismissed pleas challenging the maintainability of a 1991 civil suit pending before a Varanasi court seeking “restoration” of a temple at the site where the Gyanvapi mosque exists, while observing that the religious character of the disputed place can only be decided by the court.

Justice Rohit Ranjan Agarwal held that the suit filed before the district court is maintainable and not barred by The Places of Religious Worship Act, 1991.

The court said the dispute raised in the suit is of “vital national importance” as it affects two major communities of the country and directed the lower court to decide the suit expeditiously preferably within six months.

“No unnecessary adjournment shall be granted to any of the parties”, it said.

“Interim order, if any, is vacated. ASI to submit its report before lower court. If required, the lower court may direct ASI for further survey,” it said.

“The Places of Religious Worship Act, 1991 does not define ‘religious character’, and only ‘conversion’ and ‘place of worship’ have been defined under the Act. What will be the religious character of the disputed place can only be arrived by the competent court after the evidences are led by the parties to the suit,” the Judge said.

“The Act only bars conversion of place of worship, but it does not define or lays down any procedure for determining the religious character of place of worship that existed on 15.08.1947,” it said.

The civil suit was filed by Hindu worshippers seeking the right to worship in the Gyanvapi mosque adjoining the Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi.

Pending before a Varanasi court, the suit seeks to “restore” an ancient temple at the site occupied by the Gyanvapi mosque, with the petitioners contending that the mosque is part of the temple.

The Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee, which looks after the management of the Gyanvapi mosque, has challenged the maintainability of the suit filed before the Varanasi court, wherein the Hindu side plaintiff has sought “restoration” of a temple at the site where the Gyanvapi mosque exists.

While the Hindu side plaintiff contended that the Gyanvapi mosque is a part of the temple, the primary contention of the Committee and Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board was that the suit is prohibited by the Places of Worship Act (Special Provisions) Act of 1991, which prohibits the conversion of a religious structure from its nature as it stood on August 15, 1947 Noting that more than 32 years have elapsed since the filing of the original suit in 1991, and only issues have been framed after filing of written statement by defendants, the court said proceedings have remained pending for almost 25 years on the strength of interim order granted by this court on October 13, 1998.

“The dispute raised in the suit is of vital national importance. It is not a suit between two individual parties. It affects two major communities of the country. Due to the interim order operating since 1998, the suit could not proceed. In the national interest, it is required that the suit must proceed expeditiously and be decided with utmost urgency with the cooperation of both the contesting parties without resorting to any dilatory tactics,” it said.

On December 8, the high court had reserved its judgment on all five connected petitions filed by the Committee and others challenging the maintainability of a suit pending before a Varanasi court.

In the petition, the Varanasi court’s April 8, 2021 direction for conducting a comprehensive survey of the Gyanvapi mosque was also challenged.


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