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HC rejects plea challenging Varanasi court order allowing ‘puja’ in Gyanvapi mosque’s cellar

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Prayagra:  Hindu prayers will continue in the southern cellar of the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi, the Allahabad High Court said on Monday while dismissing a plea that had challenged the district court’s order to this effect.

Justice Rohit Ranjan Agarwal rejected two appeals filed by the mosque management committee challenging the Varanasi district judge’s January 17 order that appointed the district magistrate as the receiver of the “Vyas Tehkhana” or southern cellar of the mosque and January 31 order by which he allowed ‘puja’ to be performed there.

The high court said worship will continue in the “Vyas Tehkhana” of the mosque adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath temple.

Mohammad Yasin, joint secretary of Anjuman Intezamia Masajid, the committee that manages the affairs of the Gyanvapi, said that their lawyers are studying the judgement and they might approach the Supreme Court against the order.

Dismissing the appeals, Justice Agarwal said, “After going through the entire records of the case and considering the arguments of the parties concerned, the court did not find any ground to interfere in the judgment passed by the district judge on January 17, appointing the Varanasi district magistrate as the receiver of the property, as well as the order dated January 31 by which the district court permitted puja in the tehkhana.”

Going through the argument made by the Muslim side that the January 31 order was passed without any application, the high court said, “In the instant case, by order dated January 17 the composite prayer made in application was allowed, but only relief (a) was incorporated appointing receiver. Relief (b) allowing worship was added on January 31, 2024 after it was brought to the notice of the Court and order stood modified/ amended in terms of Sections 151/152 CPC.”

“I find that the challenge made to the order dated January 31 on the plea of res judicata is totally unfounded as the relief prayed by the plaintiff was granted on January 17, 2024 but part of it was not incorporated in the order which was subsequently modified/ amended,” Justice Agarwal said.

In its 54-page judgment, the court also noted, “Lastly, an attempt has been made to malign the image and impute motive to the order passed by the Court below on January 31, 2024 on the ground that the officer concerned had passed the order on the last working day.”

Justice Agrawal said that puja at that place has already been started and is going on thus there is no occasion to stop the same.

The high court judge had reserved his verdict in the matter on February 15 after hearing the counsel for the parties.

The mosque committee had moved the high court on February 2, hours after the Supreme Court refused to hear its plea against the district court order and asked it to approach the high court.

A survey conducted by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on the court’s order had suggested that the Gyanvapi mosque was constructed during Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s rule over the remains of a Hindu temple.

The district court ruled on January 31 that a Hindu priest can perform prayers before the idols in the southern cellar of the mosque.

The prayers are now being conducted by a Hindu priest nominated by the Kashi Vishwanath temple trust and the petitioner, who has claimed that his grandfather offered puja in the cellar till December 1993.

The district court had directed the local administration to make arrangements within seven days for prayers in the cellar. This would have involved “proper arrangements” with metal barricades at the complex.

The January 31 order of the district court was delivered on the plea of Shailendra Kumar Pathak, who had claimed that his maternal grandfather, priest Somnath Vyas, offered prayers in the cellar till December 1993.

He had said the puja was stopped during the tenure of then Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav after the Babri masjid in Ayodhya was demolished on December 6, 1992.

During the hearing, the Muslim side had contested the petitioner’s version. It had said no idols existed in the cellar and hence, there was no question of prayers being offered there till 1993.

The Muslim side had also countered the petitioner’s claim that the basement was under his grandfather’s control.

The petitioner had claimed that his family had the control of the cellar even during the British rule.

The said temple is called by the masjid committee as Gyanvapi mosque, the petitioner had said. There is a “tehkhana” (cellar) in the southern side of the subject building which is the principal seat of hereditary ‘pujari’ (priest) of Vyas family, the petition said.

The suit was filed against the action of the state government and district administration restricting the plaintiff to enter the said temple and fundamental right granted under Article 25 of the Constitution being infringed.

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