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SC extends order over protected area at Gyanvapi

The Supreme Court on Friday extended indefinitely the protection of a section of Varanasi’s Gyanvapi mosque complex where a Shivling was stated to have been found during a survey.

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud allowed the plea moved by some of the Hindu women who filed a suit before the Varanasi civil court seeking permission to worship at the Gyanvapi mosque, in view of the interim order of protection expiring on November 12.

“We direct that pending further orders, interim order dated May 17, which was extended on May 20, shall continue to remain in operation,” said the bench, which also included justices Surya Kant and PS Narasimha.

The court recorded that there was no objection to the extension of the protection order from the mosque management committee.

During the brief hearing, the bench permitted the Hindu parties to move an application before the Varanasi district judge for consolidation of all the lawsuits filed on the Gyanvapi row. It also directed the Hindu parties to file their replies within three weeks on the appeal filed by the management committee of the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid, challenging the Allahabad high court order on the appointment of an advocate commissioner to carry out the survey.

The order came after senior advocate Huzefa Ahmedi, appearing for the committee, argued that although their plea against the maintainability of the suit by the Hindu women was dismissed by a Varanasi civil court on September 12, their challenge to the appointment of the advocate commissioner was still subsisting. It was during the survey by the advocate commissioner that the Shivling was purportedly found.

Representing the Hindu side, senior counsel Ranjit Kumar and advocate Vishnu Jain contended that the petition before the Supreme Court may not survive since the committee is participating in the proceedings before the advocate commissioner.

Rebutting this, Ahmedi said that the factual position needs to be verified. “Prima facie, saying it is infructuous is not correct since if the appointment of the advocate commissioner falls then the case falls itself,” he added.

At this, the bench, for the time being, agreed to keep the matter pending and asked the Hindu side to submit replies to the applications moved by the mosque management committee in the matter. The court is expected to hear the case after four weeks.

The bench was dealing with an application by the Hindu women, pointing out that on May 17 the top court protected the area where the Shivling was said to have been found after the Varanasi civil court allowed a videographic survey of the mosque complex adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath temple.

The May 17 order of securing the area was to remain operational for a period of eight weeks after the disposal of an application moved by the Gyanvapi mosque management committee before the civil court.

This application by the mosque management committee sought dismissal of the Hindu women’s suit on grounds of maintainability and for being violative of the Places of Worship Act, 1991. However, the civil court rejected the mosque management committee’s plea on September 12 and decided to proceed with the suit. The eight-week period fixed by the apex court was triggered after that.

The top court is currently seized of a petition filed by the mosque management committee in May, opposing the suit of five Hindu women who demanded an unhindered right to worship Maa Shringar Gauri Sthal, a shrine for goddess Parvati located behind the western wall of the mosque complex.

The committee claims that the suit is barred by the provisions of the 1991 Act, which locks the position or “religious identity” of any place of worship as it existed on August 15, 1947. The committee had appealed against the April 2022 order of the Allahabad high court allowing the survey.

On May 20, the Supreme Court transferred the suit filed by the Hindu women from the Varanasi civil judge to the district judge for deciding the mosque management committee’s objections against the inquiry. It asked the district judge to first decide on the maintainability of the suit. Ascertainment of the religious character of a place may not be barred by the Places of Worship Act, 1991, the court observed on that day as it refrained from interfering with the Gyanvapi mosque survey.