The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the District Magistrate of Varanasi to protect the area where the ‘Shivling’ was claimed to be found, while striking down the curbs by a Varanasi trial court which ordered that the area inside the mosque complex be sealed, and Muslims restricted from entering the area to offer prayers. The top court clearly stated that its direction (to protect the area where Shivling was claimed to be found) shall not impede the entry of Muslims in the mosque for “offering namaz and religious observances.” The court also clarified that Muslims will be allowed to perform wazu (cleansing) as it is also a part of religious observance.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and PS Narasimha was hearing an appeal filed by the Committee of Management of Anjuman Intezamia Masajid challenging an Allahabad High Court order dismissing an appeal against allowing a court commissioner appointed by a civil court to inspect and conduct a survey and videography of the Gyanvapi Mosque. The petitioner has claimed that the order violated the Places of Worship Act, 1991, which prohibits any change in the character of religious places as they existed on August 15, 1947.
Directing the DM of Varanasi to protect the area inside the mosque from where Shivling was claimed to have been recovered, the top court also struck down the directions of the trial judge putting a cap of 20 people to enter the mosque complex and offering Namaz as it held that the Muslims’ right to prayer and religious observances should not be disturbed inside the mosque.
Appearing for the mosque committee, Huzefa Ahmadi had criticised the order of the Varanasi trial court to seal the area and place curbs on entry of Muslims at the mosque based on the claims of one petitioner. “The status quo is being sought to be altered in the garb of Commission proceedings,” Ahmadi had claimed in the course of the hearing. It was on his question that the bench clarified that it was allowing wazu as it was also a religious observance. “Is wazu not religious observance? We are protecting it,” the bench remarked when asked for directions to this effect.
The Solicitor General, appearing for the Uttar Pradesh government, opposed and asked the SC to order the wazu to be shifted elsewhere as it might cause a law and order situation if any feet touch the ‘Shivling.’ “If the area where Shivling is found is touched by feet then it will lead to law and order situation,” the SG said. To this, the top court orally remarked: “We have balanced it out”.
The top court further told Ahmadi that the bench has struck a balance. “We have excluded the three reliefs sought in the application. We have protected the spot where the Shivling was found. And we have clarified that this will not restrict the rights of Muslims. I think this is a balance,” Justice Chandrachud said.
The Supreme Court, however, refused to order a stay on proceedings before a single-judge bench of the Varanasi trial court with regard to the Gyanvapi survey and posted the matter for hearing on Thursday.
In a related development, the Varanasi court today sacked survey commissioner Ajay Kumar Mishra from his post for “leaking information” to the media and appointed Vishal Singh as his replacement while allowing two days’ additional time for the commission to submit its report. The findings of the commission were to be reported to the court by Tuesday. A three-day day videography survey at the Gyanvapi mosque ended on Monday.