Friday, Mar 07, 2003
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By J. Venkatesan
A five-judge Constitution Bench comprising Justice S. Rajendra Babu, Justice S.S.M. Quadri, Justice M.B. Shah, Justice Santosh N. Hegde and Justice Doraiswamy Raju, reserved judgment at the conclusion of the day-long arguments by the Solicitor-General, Kirit Raval, for the Centre and counsel for other parties.
Mr. Raval maintained that the status quo order passed by a three-judge Bench last year banning any type of religious activities on the undisputed land ran counter to the 1994 judgment and hence it should be vacated.
Reading the relevant portions of the 1994 judgment, Mr. Raval said, while upholding the acquisition of 2.77 acres of the disputed Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid area and the 67.703 acres of undisputed land, the court had ordered the status quo only in respect of the disputed area.
Mr. Raval asserted that the Government was committed to obeying the 1994 judgment and maintaining the status quo at the disputed area till the adjudication of the title suits in the Allahabad High Court.
Even as Mr. Raval gave the assurance, the Bench observed: "Similar status quo assurances were given to the court, but what happened to them?"
When Mr. Raval submitted a map to the court, the Bench asked in a lighter vein: "Why has the Centre chosen yellow colour to highlight the disputed area?'' Mr. Raval responded by saying, "I have marked the disputed area in yellow and the undisputed area in saffron colour."
He said the Government was committed to preserving secularism but, at the same time, it could not ignore the repeated requests of a particular community for utilisation of the undisputed land for religious purposes as Ayodhya was their religious hub.
"We have to give due weightage to their demand if it is within the four corners of law", he said, adding, "to say that we should not consider such a demand is too extremist a view".
He said that as per the 1994 judgment, it was permissible for the Government to give back the acquired undisputed land once it determined the area required for the purpose of giving access to the disputed site. As per the provisions of the 1993 Acquisition Act, the Government, as the absolute owner of the undisputed land, could transfer its management to a trust at any stage till the adjudication of the title suits by the High Court and there was no embargo on this.
The Solicitor-General also clarified that there was no party before the Government to whom a portion of the land could be given. "The other community should not take a rigid stand and ask for the continuance of the status quo on the undisputed land," he said and pleaded for vacating the status quo order.
Pointing out that the interim order was passed last year on a particular situation, Mr. Raval said the petition filed by Mohd. Aslam Bhure had become infructuous and should be dismissed.
The Additional Solicitor-General, R.N. Trivedi, appearing for the Uttar Pradesh Government, supported the Centre's plea for vacation of the status-quo order.
Appearing for the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, senior counsel Kapil Sibal said the status quo had been maintained both on the disputed as well as the undisputed land for 10 years. And to alter the status quo, there had to be some substantial change in circumstance, but nothing had been said or any plan of action put forward by the Government.
Reading through the 1994 judgment, Mr. Sibal asserted that both the disputed and undisputed land were acquired in 1993 to facilitate a proper access to the disputed site which should be handed over to the rightful owners only after the adjudication of the title suits by the High Court.
Senior counsel Siddharth Shankar Ray, appearing for the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Wakf Board, senior counsel Rajeev Dhavan for the Babri Masjid Action Committee and senior counsel O.P. Sharma for the petitioner, said the status quo order should continue till the disposal of the title suits pending before the High Court. They said the object of the acquisition would be frustrated if the order was vacated.
Appearing for the VHP, senior counsel P.S. Misra said the VHP wanted the Government to hand over the undisputed area to a trust or any authority as it would facilitate carrying out of rituals, which were being conducted now with great difficulty. He said a roof over the idols could be built and "even Muslims could come forward and build it and we will welcome it."
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