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SC to decide whether 1994 Ayodhya verdict be referred to larger bench

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New Delhi, Mar 23: The Supreme Court today said it would decide on whether to refer to a larger bench the issue of reconsideration of the entire 1994 verdict dealing with the acquisition of the disputed land in Ayodhya or parts of it.

One of the original litigants in the Babri Masjid-Ram Temple land dispute, M Siddiq, who has died but is being represented through his legal heir, is currently before the top court assailing certain findings of the 1994 verdict in the case of M Ismail Faruqui, like a mosque is not integral to the prayers offered by the followers of Islam.

The Faruqui verdict had dealt with the constitutional validity of the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act, 1993 by which the Centre had then taken over the disputed site and the adjoining land.

“First, we should put this controversy (on 1994 verdict) to rest. We may refer the entire or parts of the judgement to larger bench,” the special bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices Ashok Bhushan and S A Nazeer said.

Terming the observations of the verdict as crucial, senior lawyer Rajeev Dhavan said it needed to be reconsidered by a five-judge bench and without rectifying these anomalies on aspects like the position of mosques in Islam, in the judgement, the civil appeals cannot be decided effectively.

“A mosque remains a mosque even after its demolition and belongs to the ‘Allah’,” he said.

Referring to certain paragraphs of the 1994 judgement, Dhavan said “the apex court had said that while offer of prayer or worship is a religious practice, its offering at every location where such prayers can be offered would not be an essential or integral part of such religious practice unless the place has a particular significance for that religion, so as to form an essential or integral part thereof”.

He submitted that the judgement had said the view that once a consecrated mosque, it always remains a place of worship as a mosque, “was not the Muslim Law of India as approved by Indian Courts”.

“Subject to the protection under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution, places of religious worship like mosques, churches, temples, etc. can be acquired under the State’s sovereign power of acquisition.

“Such acquisition per se does not violate either Article 25 or Article 26 of the Constitution. The decisions relating to taking over of the management have no bearing on the sovereign power of the State to acquire property,” Dhavan said quoting the 1994 verdict.

Dhavan cited a judgement and said, “It is quite a different matter that the area is now acquired. Can you say that if a mosque is destroyed it ceases to be a mosque?”

He submitted that the 1994 judgement had said that the fundamental right to worship does not extend to place of worship.

The Babri Masjid was constructed in 1528 and it is a religious structure of extreme importance for the Muslims.

“This is the big cry which is taking place. Can a court say that the only way to resolve the dispute is to deal with the comparative significance of the temple and mosque?” he said, adding that mosques enjoy special status and protection under the Muslim law.

He said that a “political wrong” was committed and two ‘rath yatras’ were undertaken by BJP leader L K Advani to destroy the mosque.

The lawyers, representing the other side like Ram Lalla and Nirmohi Akhara, opposed the submission and said the 1994 verdict had no bearing in the present case.

The advancing of arguments by Dhavan on reconsideration of the decision in Faruqui case remained inconclusive. The court posted the matter for hearing on April 6.

Earlier, the court had dashed the hopes of activists like Shyam Benegal and Teesta Setalvad to intervene in the sensitive Babri Masjid-Ram Temple land dispute case, making it clear that only the parties to the original lawsuits would be allowed to put forth their arguments.

The special bench of the apex court is seized of a total of 14 appeals filed against the High Court judgement delivered in four civil suits.

A three-judge bench of the Allahabad High Court, in a 2:1 majority ruling, had in 2010 ordered that the land be partitioned equally among three parties — the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla.