M Siddiq (D) ThrLrs
Mahant Suresh Das &Ors (2019)
|CITATION||Civil Appeal Nos 10866-10867 of 2010 2019 SCC Online 1440|
|Court||Supreme Court of India|
|Bench||Former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi , Justice Bobde, Justice Chandrachud, Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice Abdul Nazeer.|
|Petitioner||M.Siddiq (Deceased); Maulana Asshad Rashidi; Sunni Central Board of Waqfs;[i]|
|Respondent||Mahant Suresh Das and Others[ii]; Nirmohi Akhara; Bhagwan Shri RamLallaVirajman; The State of Uttar Pradesh; District Collector (Faizabad); City Magistrate (Faizabad); Superintendent of Police (Faizabad); All India Hindu Mahasabha; Arya MahaPraseshik Sabha; All India Sanatan Dharam Sabha|
On the day of 9th of November 2019, the Supreme Court of India delivered its unanimous per curiam judgment in the case of Ayodhya Title Dispute. While the whole country had eyes on the decision finalised in the matter, it has to be focused upon that the decision disposed of multiple appeals and that while we live in a secular country, religions have a root and this root cannot be ignored and yet not involved while deciding matters. The following text is a brief overview of the same historical and an all-time precedent- Ayodhya Verdict
According to the Sanskrit epic Ramayana, Ayodhya is the birthplace of Lord Rama, it is in present-day Uttar Pradesh. As per ancient Hindu beliefs, there stood a mandir ‘temple’ to mark the same. Although it was demolished in 1528 by Mughal emperor Babur where he built a mosque instead and called it Babri Masjid. Since a long time now there is an ever-growing tussle as the disputed property is of great significance to both the groups, Hindus and Muslims. The documentation of this site goes back as far as the year 1528, the Babri Masjid was constructed on orders of first Mughal emperor, Babur. Although it is believed by the virtue of local traditions that it was built after destroying the temple at the birth spot of Rama.
In 1859 followed by a communal clash the British administration separated the site by denominating the areas of worship for Hindus and Muslims. This was followed by the filing of the first legal suit in the matter, by Mahant Das in 1885. In spite of which there was no legal progress. The case was dismissed and so was the appeal. For many years there were no legal fights over this disputed property, in 1934 a communal riot took place and this resulted in the partial demolition of the structure by Hindus.
In the night of 22nd December 1949, idols were placed inside the mosque, it was alleged to be done by a group of Hindus, both sides to the dispute filed civil suits. The government declared the area as ‘disputed property’ and FIR was filed on the same day. The building was locked and the property was received by the then MahaNagarpalika President, Priya Ram Datta.
Suits in Independent India-
The first suit was filed by Hindu Mahsabha leader Gopal Singh Visharad in 1950, his prayers included rights to perform pooja in the inner courtyard of the premises. The civil court granted the injunction and allowances were provided on the same day.
The second suit was filed in the same year by Pramahans Ramchandra Das which was followed by the third suit in 1959, almost nine years later filed by the NirmohiAkhada, both praying for the rights of management of the premises from the receiver.
Two years later, in 1961, the fourth suit was filed by Sunni Central Waqf Board along with the other defendants in the earlier suits, praying for the removal of idols and taking over the possession of the mosque.
On July 1, 1989, the fifth suit was filed by former Allahabad High Court Judge Deoki Nandan Agarwal as “next friend” of Ram Lala Virajman (the deity, deemed a minor legal person) before the civil judge in Faizabad. It prayed that the whole site is handed over to Ram Lala for the construction of a new temple. The decision of the Allahabad High Court came out in Sep 2010, the decision by a 2:1 majority, the Court ruled a three-way division of the area in dispute, this division was ordered between Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram LallaVirajman, (which entered the litigation in 1989 through next best friend Deoki Nandan Agarwal, a former judge of the High Court of Allahabad).
Division 1: The inner courtyard, where the dome once stood, was allotted to the deity.
Division 2: The Ram Chabutra and Sita Rasoigot allotted to theNirmohi Akhara.
Division 3: Adjustments from the extra land in and around, acquired by the govt was given to the Muslim side. Each side was ordered to give entry and exit rights to the other, such adjustments were expected from all the three parties.
Although all the parties unsatisfied by the decision approached the Supreme Court and got this order stayed.
The Court framed 16 issues (along with multiple sub-issues under the[iii] the judgment). The issues before the Supreme Court are explained and listed below in short-
- The Allahabad High Court judgment, dividing the Ayodhya land title between the three parties i.e, the Sunni Waqf Board, Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla, is valid or not?
- Are the Suit No. 3 and 4 barred by limitation, under the Limitation Act, 1908?
- Is the Ram Janmabhoomi a juristic entity of it’s kind even if the idols are absent, and if it is so, is it protected from the possession claims?
- Determination of title:
(a) was there an existence of a temple structure beneath the disputed structure?
(b)who is supposed to hold possessory rights over the outer courtyard and inner courtyard?
- Sections 6 and 7 of The Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act, 1993:
Section 6: Power of Central Govt. to vest authority of an area in a body/ trust
Section 7: Management of property by a trust.
- Article 142, 144 of the Limitation Act, 1908: Limitation period for suits of possession is stated as under this Act as 12 years.
- Section 145 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 explains the provision of Procedure where dispute concerning land or water is likely to cause a breach of peace
- Article 120 of the Limitation Act, 1908– a residuary provision: Article 120 (of Old Limitation Act, 1908) states that only when the defendant threats so as to infringe or hinder the right of the plaintiff in the suit, after six years of the said knowledge, it would be automatically barred.
- Masjid Shahid Ganj(AIR 1940 PC 116)
- SankaranaryananIyer v Poonanathswami Temple (AIR 1949 Mad 721)
- Gopal KishnajiKetkar vs Mohammed Haji Latif(AIR 1954 SC 5).
The judgement was delivered in this matter by the Supreme Court on 9th November 2019. There was also an additional opinion – titled ‘addenda’ on the same issue- whether the disputed property was actually the birthplace of Lord Ram.
The crux of the final judgement is- the title of the disputed property was awarded to the deity, Shri Ram Virajman, and a perpetual injunction was also issued against the other parties for smooth construction of a new temple on the same land. This order was although subject to conditions-
Possession of the site was ordered to remain with the Central Government until the property was finally issued in a trust, which would also be responsible for the management of the construction of a new temple. The Union Government was allotted a period of 3 months from the date of the judgment to build a proper and accurate scheme under the provisions of Sections 6 and 7 of the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act, 1993.
It was also held by the Court that Sunni Waqf Board should be allotted alternate 5-acre site in Ayodhya for the construction of a mosque.
The primary question before the Court was to address the issue of limitation period i.e, whether suits were filed within the legally permissible time limit. On the Maintainability of the suits- It was held that all the suits except suit 3 (the one filed by Nirmohi Akhara)are within the limitation period[iv]
On the question of suit 3, the Court noted that the cause of action had arisen in the month of January, the year 1950 when the receiver took custody of the disputed property. Now, the Akhara claimed that it had shebaitship rights over the temple. Even though the suit was only filed in December 1959, more than 9 years after the arousal of the cause of but still the suit was legitimate because – a suit for possession has a limitation period of 12 years.
The Court immediately rejected Akhara’s argument that the suit no. 3 is to be considered as a suit for possession falling under the ambit of either Article 142 or Article 144 of the Limitation Act, 1908. Because for the two Articles to apply, the suit should have been filed for restoration of possession[v], instead, the suit was filed aggrieved by the order of the Magistrate passed under Section 145 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898. By virtue of which, the applicable limitation period for the suit was 6 years[vi]and not total 12 years as claimed by the Akhara, held the Court.
The suit 4 filed by the Sunni Waqf Board, was considered as a valid one and within the limitation period as the cause of action had arisen on 23 December 1949 while the suit was filed on 18 December 1961. The Court observed that the suit was one for possession and hence, feel under the ambit of Article 142.
The suit 5 was filed in the year 1989 after all the primary suits and the Court still held it to be valid as within the limitation period.[vii]
It was also held that the 1885 suit does not attract the concept of Res judicata
Res judicata: a matter that has been adjudicated by a competent court and therefore may not be pursued further by the same parties[viii]
The Court decided to reject the argument of the Sunni Waqf Board in particular in the 1885 suit which was in turn filed by a ‘Mahant’ of the Nirmohi Akhara and this created a legal objection to the filing of suits 3 and 5. Hence, the suit was considered as valid and could not be rejected on the principle of Res-judicata.
It was further held that the Nirmohi Akhara does not enjoy theshebaitship rights
The meaning of ashebait is- an entity that is entrusted with the proper representation of a deity and proper management of its rights. Hence, Theshebait also has the right to sue in cases of property recovery of the deity. In its judgment, the Bench came up with two questions to test the principle of locus standi of the ‘next friend’ in suit 5, whether the right was to be given to the Nirmohi Akhara for being shebait or Deoki Agarwal:
- Can the Nirmohi Akhara be considered as the de facto shebait?
- To also analyse whether the Nirmohi Akhara always acted in the good faith and interests of the deity?
In case both the questions were answered in affirmative, the Court could not be approached by any other entity to sue on behalf of the deity. The Nirmohi Akhara claimed shebaitship as it lacked a formal deed which mentioned how it was entrusted with the management rights of the diety. The precedent in Sankaranaryanan Iyer v. Poonanathswami Temple[ix]the Court expected the Akhara to present the history of continuous management over the disputed property. While assessing the same, the Court also elaborated on the essentials for demonstrating shebaitship, as it could be a de jure (legal) or de facto (in practice) shebaitship. The Court also observed that the shebaithship claimed by Nirmohi Akhara that is, de facto shebait may be removed without any analysis of any kind of demonstration of a “misconduct”[x]. In effect, this meant that the ‘next friend’ in suit 5 did not have to demonstrate that the Nirmohi Akhara was guilty of “misconduct”.
After analysing and considering all the above-mentioned points, the Court held that the Nirmohi Akhara had failed to prove its claim of de facto shebaitship of the idols and disputed area. Thereby, the Court decided that the ‘next friend’ in suit 5 will hereafter enjoy all the rights to sue on behalf of the deities of the disputed area.
On the matter of Determination of title, it was held that Ram Janmabhoomi does not have juristic personality
It was argued that the land (Ram Janmabhoomi) itself was a juristic entity and had legal personality hence, it could not be subject to the possession claims of other parties. Because a juristic entity cannot be owned, neither can it be divided.
To reach a decision on this point of law, the Bench first identified what artificial legal personhood is. A juristic person is recognised by law as a subject which embodies rights, entitlements, liabilities and duties.[xi] Considering the Hindu juristic entities, the Court observed that traditionally legal nature of a person has been granted to Hindu idols and hence the Court came to the conclusion that only the Court could devise whether to give effect to what a Hindu juristic entity is believed by the Hindu religion.[xii] In essence, the law treats a Hindu idol as a manifestation of a pious or charitable purpose. The bench ruled that the deity was not a juristic entity.
Another point of the question was whether the Hindu deity Ram Lalla had legal rights. By reading extensive witness statements and historical travelogues, it was understood that the Hindu population in an astonishingly large number believes that the idol is, in reality, an embodiment of Shri Ram. Hence, a very different decision was reached to that if Hindus could prove continuous possession of the idol; the property could be vested as understood in the idol.
Further, the Bench also observed that to recognise an immovable property like a land area as a juristic entity, it would be to set precedent to alter the essential characteristic of the definition of immovable property referred in Masjid Sahidganj v. S. G. P. Committee, Amritsar[xiii]
It observed that to confer upon property legal rights would be to afford said property “legal impregnability by placing it outside the reach of the law”. Hence, it concluded that granting land legal rights has “no nexus to the limited purpose for which juristic personality is conferred”[xiv]
Now another primary argument of the Hindu parties was to assert their claim that the disputed structure was actually constructed over a Hindu temple. To understand this the report of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) report was analysed .that the underlying structure was a Lord Ram temple.
Although the ASI report left the Court with an open critical question that whether a temple was destroyed for the construction of the disputed area as the presence of continuous structural activity is still observed.
It was also held that even if there was a pre-existing temple, the meres existence of it is not sufficient to claim. It did so by observing that the facts, background, and circumstance of the title dispute revolved around and in multiple centuries. The existence of a temple was traced back to as early as the 12th century.
The Court held that there was neither a dedication of waqf nor the creation of a waqf by the user.
The Possessory rights over inner and outer courtyard were also emphasized upon by the Court
With respect to the question of the outer courtyard, the Court held that the Hindu population has enjoyed continuous and uninterrupted possession of the property. There was continuous worship by Hindus in the outer courtyard. Specific points of Hindu worship (Ram Chabutra, Sita Rasoi and Bhandar) were also taken into account. All these instances cumulatively negated the claim by Muslims that they had once a settled possession of the area of the outer courtyard.
The inner courtyard, however, was disputed and neither party convinced the Court successfully that it had rights of possession. Hence, it was held that while the inner courtyard contained the mosque, the Sunni Waqf Board had failed to prove that it had been itself dedicated as waqf.
After a rigorous evaluation of the evidence by both parties, Court held that “with respect of the possessory claim of the Hindus to the composite whole of the disputed property stands on a better footing than the evidence adduced by the Muslims”. Hence, the award was titled in favour of the deity.
[iii] page 82Civil Appeal Nos 10866-10867 of 2010
[iv] Page 316Civil Appeal Nos 10866-10867 of 2010
[v] Page 300Civil Appeal Nos 10866-10867 of 2010
[vi] Article 120
[vii] Page 479 to 480Civil Appeal Nos 10866-10867 of 2010
[viii] Definition by Oxford Languages
[ix](AIR 1949 Mad 721),
[x] Gopal KishnajiKetkarvs Mohammed Haji Latif[AIR 1954 SC 5]
[xi] Page 126Civil Appeal Nos 10866-10867 of 2010
[xii] Page 161Civil Appeal Nos 10866-10867 of 2010
[xiii][AIR 1940 PC 116).
[xiv] Page 218Civil Appeal Nos 10866-10867 of 2010