1. These first appeals centre around a dispute between two religious communities both of whom claim ownership over a piece of land admeasuring 1500 square yards in the town of Ayodhya. The disputed property is of immense significance to Hindus and Muslims. The Hindu community claims it as the birthplace of Lord Ram, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The Muslim community claims it as the site of the historic Babri Masjid built by the first Mughal Emperor, Babur.
The lands of our country have witnessed invasions and dissensions. Yet they have assimilated into the idea of India everyone who sought their providence, whether they came as merchants, travellers or as conquerors. The history and culture of this country have been home to quests for truth, through the material, the political, and the spiritual. This Court is called upon to fulfil its adjudicatory function where it is claimed that two quests for the truth impinge on the freedoms of the other or violate the rule of law.
2. This Court is tasked with the resolution of a dispute whose origins are as old as the idea of India itself. The events associated with the dispute have spanned the Mughal empire, colonial rule and the present constitutional regime.
Constitutional values form the cornerstone of this nation and have facilitated the lawful resolution of the present title dispute through forty-one days of hearings before this Court. The dispute in these appeals arises out of four regular suits which were instituted between 1950 and 1989. Before the Allahabad High Court, voluminous evidence, both oral and documentary was led, resulting in three judgements running the course of 4304 pages. This judgement is placed in challenge in the appeals.
3. The disputed land forms part of the village of Kot Rama Chandra or, as it is otherwise called, Ramkot at Ayodhya, in Pargana Haveli Avadh, of Tehsil Sadar in the District of Faizabad. An old structure of a mosque existed at the site until 6 December 1992. The site has religious significance for the devotees of Lord Ram, who believe that Lord Ram was born at the disputed site. For this reason, the Hindus refer to the disputed site as Ram Janmabhumi or Ram Janmasthan (i.e. birth-place of Lord Ram). The Hindus assert that there existed at the disputed site an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Ram, which was demolished upon the conquest of the Indian sub-continent by Mughal Emperor Babur. On the other hand, the Muslims contended that the mosque was built by or at the behest of Babur on vacant land. Though the significance of the site for the Hindus is not denied, it is the case of the Muslims that there exists no proprietary claim of the Hindus over the disputed property.
4. A suit was instituted in 1950 before the Civil Judge at Faizabad by a Hindu worshipper, Gopal Singh Visharad seeking a declaration that according to his religion and custom, he is entitled to offer prayers at the main Janmabhumi temple near the idols.
5. The Nirmohi Akhara represents a religious sect amongst the Hindus, known as the Ramanandi Bairagis. The Nirmohis claim that they were, at all material times, in charge and management of the structure at the disputed site which according to them was a ‗temple‘ until 29 December 1949, on which date an attachment was ordered under Section 145 of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898. In effect, they claim as shebaits in service of the deity, managing its affairs and receiving offerings from devotees. Theirs is a Suit of 1959 for the management and charge of the temple’.
6. The Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Board of Waqf (―Sunni Central Waqf Board‖) and other Muslim residents of Ayodhya instituted a suit in 1961 for a declaration of their title to the disputed site. According to them, the old structure was a mosque which was built on the instructions of Emperor Babur by Mir Baqi who was the Commander of his forces, following the conquest of the subcontinent by the Mughal Emperor in the third decade of the sixteenth century.
The Muslims deny that the mosque was constructed on the site of a destroyed temple. According to them, prayers were uninterruptedly offered in the mosque until 23 December 1949 when a group of Hindus desecrated it by placing idols within the precincts of its three-domed structure with the intent to destroy, damage and defile the Islamic religious structure. The Sunni Central Waqf Board claims a declaration of title and, if found necessary, a decree for possession.
7. A suit was instituted in 1989 by a next friend on behalf of the deity (―Bhagwan Shri Ram Virajman‖) and the birth-place of Lord Ram (―Asthan Shri Ram Janmabhumi‖). The suit is founded on the claim that the law recognises both the idol and the birth-place as juridical entities. The claim is that the place of birth is sanctified as an object of worship, personifying the divine spirit of Lord Ram. Hence, like the idol (which the law recognises as a juridical entity), the place of birth of the deity is claimed to be a legal person, or as it is described in legal parlance, to possess a juridical status. A declaration of title to the disputed site coupled with injunctive relief has been sought.
8. These suits, together with a separate suit by Hindu worshippers were transferred by the Allahabad High Court to itself for trial from the civil court at Faizabad. The High Court rendered a judgment in original proceedings arising out of the four suits and these appeals arise out of the decision of a Full Bench dated 30 September 2010. The High Court held that the suits filed by the Sunni Central Waqf Board and by Nirmohi Akhara were barred by limitation. Despite having held that those two suits were barred by time, the High Court held in a split 2:1 verdict that the Hindu and Muslim parties were joint holders of the disputed premises. Each of them was held entitled to one third of the disputed property. The Nirmohi Akhara was granted the remaining one third. A preliminary decree to that effect was passed in the suit brought by the idol and the birth-place of Lord Ram through the next friend.
9. Before deciding the appeals, it is necessary to set out the significant events which have taken place in the chequered history of this litigation, which spans nearly seven decades.
10. The disputed site has been a flash point of continued conflagration over decades. In 1856-57, riots broke out between Hindus and Muslims in the vicinity of the structure. The colonial government attempted to raise a buffer between the two communities to maintain law and order by set ting up a grill-brick wall having a height of six or seven feet. This would divide the premises into two parts: the inner portion which would be used by the Muslim community and the outer portion or courtyard, which would be used by the Hindu community. The outer courtyard has several structures of religious significance for the Hindus, such as the Sita Rasoi and a platform called the Ramchabutra. In 1877, another door was opened on the northern side of the outer courtyard by the colonial government, which was given to the Hindus to control and manage. The bifurcation, as the record shows, did not resolve the conflict and there were numerous attempts by one or other of the parties to exclude the other.
11. In January 1885, Mahant Raghubar Das, claiming to be the Mahant of Ram Janmasthan instituted a suit1 (―Suit of 1885‖) before the Sub-Judge, Faizabad. The relief which he sought was permission to build a temple on the Ramchabutra situated in the outer courtyard, measuring seventeen feet by twenty-one feet. A sketch map was filed with the plaint. On 24 December 1885, the trial judge dismissed the suit, `noting that there was a possibility of riots breaking out between the two communities due to the proposed construction of a temple. The trial judge, however, observed that there could be no question or doubt regarding the possession and ownership of the Hindus over the Chabutra.
On 18 March 1886, the District Judge dismissed the appeal against the judgment of the Trial Court2 but struck off the observations relating to the ownership of Hindus of the Chabutra contained in the judgment of the Trial Court. On 1 November 1886, the Judicial Commissioner of Oudh dismissed the second appeal3, noting that the Mahant had failed to present evidence of title to establish ownership of the Chabutra. In 1934, there was yet another conflagration between the two communities. The domed structure of the mosque was damaged during the incident and was subsequently repaired at the cost of the colonial government
1 (OS No. 61/280 of 1885)
2 Civil Appeal No. 27/1885
3 No 27 of 1886
12. The controversy entered a new phase on the night intervening 22 and 23 December 1949, when the mosque was desecrated by a group of about fifty or sixty people who broke open its locks and placed idols of Lord Ram under the central dome. A First Information Report (FIR) was registered in relation to the incident. On 29 December 1949, the Additional City Magistrate, Faizabad-cum Ayodhya issued a preliminary order under Section 145 of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898 (CrPC 1898), treating the situation to be of an emergent nature. Simultaneously, an attachment order was issued and Priya Datt Ram, the Chairman of the Municipal Board of Faizabad was appointed as the receiver of the inner courtyard. On 5 January 1950, the receiver took charge of the inner courtyard and prepared an inventory of the attached properties. The Magistrate passed a preliminary order upon recording a satisfaction that the dispute between the two communities over their claims to worship and proprietorship over the structure would likely lead to a breach of peace. The stakeholders were allowed to file their written statements. Under the Magistrate‘s order, only two or three pujaris were permitted to go inside the place where the idols were kept, to perform religious ceremonies like bhog and puja. Members of the general public were restricted from entering and were only allowed darshan from beyond the grill-brick wall.
4 ―Section 145. Procedure where dispute concerning land, etc, is likely to cause breach of peace
- Whenever a District Magistrate, or an Executive Magistrate specially empowered by the Government in this behalf is satisfied from a police-report or other information that a dispute likely to cause a breach of the peace exists concerning any land or water of the boundaries thereof, within the local limits of his jurisdiction, he shall make an order in writing, stating the grounds of his being so satisfied, and requiring the parties concerned in such dispute to attend his Court in person or by pleader, within a time to be fixed by such Magistrate, and to put in written statements of their respective claims as respects the fact of actual possession of the subject of dispute…
The institution of the suits
13. On 16 January 1950, a suit was instituted by a Hindu devotee, Gopal Singh Visharad 5, (―Suit 1‖) before the Civil Judge at Faizabad, alleging that he was being prevented by officials of the government from entering the inner courtyard of the disputed site to offer worship. A declaration was sought to allow the plaintiff to offer prayers in accordance with the rites and tenets of his religion (Sanatan Dharm) at the ― main Janmabhumi‖, near the idols, within the inner courtyard, without hindrance. On the same date, an ad-interim injunction was issued in the suit. On 19 January 1950, the injunction was modified to prevent the idols from being removed from the disputed site and from causing interference in the performance of puja. On 3 March 1951, the Trial Court confirmed the adinterim order, as modified. On 26 May 1955, the appeal6 against the interim order was dismissed by the High Court of Allahabad.
14. On 5 December 1950, another suit was instituted by Paramhans Ramchandra Das 7 (Suit 2) before the Civil Judge, Faizabad seeking reliefs similar to those in Suit 1. Suit 2 was subsequently withdrawn on 18 September 1990.
15. On 1 April 1950, a Court Commissioner was appointed in Suit 1 to prepare a map of the disputed premises. On 25 June 1950, the Commissioner submitted a report, together with two site plans of the disputed premises which were numbered as Plan nos 1 and 2 to the Trial Court. Both the report and maps indicate the position at the site and are reproduced below:
Report of the Commissioner
I was appointed a commissioner in the above case
to prepare a site plan of the locality and building in suit on
scale. Accordingly, in compliance with the order of the
court, I visited the locality on 16.4.50 and again on
30.4.50 after giving due notice to the counsel of the
parties, and made necessary measurements on the spot.
On the first day of my visit none of the parties were
present, but on the second day defendant no. 1 was
present with Shri Azimullah Khan and Shri Habib Ahmad
Khan counsel. At about noon defendant no. 1 presented
an application, attached herewith, when the measurement
work had already finished.
Plan No. I represents the building in suit shown by
the figure ABCDEF on a larger scale than Plan no.II,
which represents the building with its locality.
A perusal of Plan No.I would show that the
building has got two gates, one on the east and the other
on the north, known as ―Hanumatdwar and ―Singhdwar‖
respectively. The ―Hanumatdwar is the main entrance
gate to the building. At this gate there is a stone slab fixed
to the ground containing the inscription ―1-Shri Janma
Bhumi nitya yatra,‖ and a big coloured picture of Shri
Hanumanji is placed at the top of the gate. The arch of
this entrance gate, 10‘ in height, rests on two black
kasauti stone pillars, each 4‘ high, marked a and b,
containing images of ―Jai and Vijai‖ respectively engraved
thereon. To the south of this gate on the outer wall there
is engraved a stone image, 5‘ long, known as ―Varah Bhagwan.‖
The northern gate, known as ―Singhdwar,‖ 19‘6‖ in height,
has got at its top images of Garura in the middle and two lions one on each side.
On entering the main gate there is pucca floor on the
eastern and northern side of the inner building, marked by
letters GHJKL DGB on the north of the eastern floor there
is a neem tree, and to the south of it there is the bhandara
(kitchen). Further south there is a raised pucca platform,
17‘ x 21‘ and 4‘ high, known as ―Ram Chabutra,‖ on which
stands a small temple having idols of Ram and Janki
installed therein. At the south-eastern corner E there is joint neem-pipal tree, surrounded by a semi-circular pucca platform, on which are installed marble idols of
Panchmukhi Mahadev, Parbati, Ganesh and Nandi.
On the northern floor there is a pucca platform, 8‘ x 9‘,
called ―Sita Rasoi.‖ On this platform there is a pucca
chulha with chauka and belna, made of marble, affixed by
its side. To the east of the chulha there are four pairs of
marble foot prints of Ram, Lakshman, Bharat & Shatrunghna.
The pucca courtyard in front of the inner (main) building is
enclosed by walls NHJK intercepted by iron bars with two
iron bar gates at O and P as shown in the Plan no.I. At the
southern end of this Courtyard there are 14 stairs leading
to the roof of the building, and to the south of the stairs
there is a raised pucca platform 2‘ high, having a urinal
marked U at its south-west corner. There are three arched
gates, X,Y and Z leading to the main building, which is
divided into three portions, having arches at Q and R.
There is a chhajja (projected roof) above the arch Y. 31.
The three arches, Y, Q and R are supported on 12 black
kasauti stone pillars, each 6‘ high, marked with letters c to
n in Plan no. I. The pillars e to m have carvings of kamal
flowers thereon. The pillar contains the image of Shankar
Bhagwan in Tandava nritya form and another disfigured
image engraved thereon. The pillar J contained the
carved image of Hanumanji. The pillar N has got the
image of Lord Krishna engraved thereon other pillars have
also got carvings of images which are effaced.
In the central portion of the building at the north-western
corner, there is a pucca platform with two stairs, on which
is installed the idol of Bal Ram (infant Ram).
At the top of the three portions of the building there are
three round domes, as shown separately in Plan no.I,
reach on an octagonal base. There are no towers, nor is
there any ghusalkhana or well in the building.
Around the building there is a pucca path known as
parikrama, as shown in yellow in Plan Nos.I & II. On the
west of the parikrama, the land is about 20‘ low, while the
pucca road on the northern side is about 18‘ low.
Other structures found on the locality have been shown in
Plan no.II at their proper places.
The land shown by letters S and T is covered by huts and
dhunis of sadhus. Adjacent to and south of the land shown by letter T, there is a raised platform, bounded by walls, 4‘ 6‖ high, with a passage towards west, known as
The pucca well, known as ―Sita koop‖ has got a tin shed
over it, and a stone slab is fixed close to it with the
inscription ―3-Sita koop‖. To the south – west of this well
there is another stone slab fixed into the ground with the
inscription ―4-Sumitra Bhawan‖. On the raised platform of
Sumitra Bhawan there is a stone slab fixed to the ground,
marked, carved with the image of Shesh nag.
The names of the various samadhis and other structures
as noted in Plan No. II were given by sadhus and others
present on the spot.
Plans nos.I and II, which form part of this report, two
notices given to parties counsel and the application
presented by defendant no.1 are attached herewith.
I have the honour to be,
Your most obedient servant,
Shiva Shankar Lal,
5 Regular Suit No 2 of 1950. Subsequently renumbered as Other Original Suit (OOS) No 1 of 1989.
6 FAFO No 154 of 1951
7 Regular Suit no 25 of 1950 (subsequently renumbered as Other Original Suit (OOS) No 2 of 1989)
16. On 17 December 1959, Nirmohi Akhara instituted a suit8 through its Mahant (―Suit 3‖) before the Civil Judge at Faizabad claiming that its ―absolute right of managing the affairs of the Janmasthan and the temple had been impacted by the Magistrate‘s order of attachment and by the appointment of a receiver under Section 145. A decree was sought to hand over the management and charge of the temple to the plaintiff in Suit 3.
17. On 18 December 1961, the Sunni Central Waqf Board and nine Muslim residents of Ayodhya filed a suit9 (―Suit 4‖) before the Civil Judge at Faizabad seeking a declaration that the entire disputed site of the Babri Masjid was a public mosque and for the delivery of possession upon removal of the idols.
18. On 6 January 1964, the trial of Suits 1, 3 and 4 was consolidated and Suit 4 was made the leading case.
19. On 25 January 1986, an application was filed by one Umesh Chandra before the Trial Court for breaking open the locks placed on the grill-brick wall and for allowing the public to perform darshan within the inner courtyard. On 1 February 1986, the District Judge issued directions to open the locks and to provide access to devotees for darshan inside the structure. In a Writ Petition 10 filed before the High Court challenging the above order, an interim order was passed on 3 February 1986 directing that until further orders, the nature of the property as it existed shall not be altered.
8 Regular Suit No 26 of 1959 (subsequently renumbered as OOS No. 3 of 1989)
9 Regular Suit No. 12 of 1961 (subsequently renumbered as OOS No. 4 of 1989)
10 Civil Misc. Writ No. 746 of 1986
20. On 1 July 1989, a Suit11 (―Suit 5) was brought before the Civil Judge, Faizabad by the deity (Bhagwan Shri Ram Virajman) and the birth-place (Asthan Shri Ram Janam Bhumi, Ayodhya), through a next friend for a declaration of title to the disputed premises and to restrain the defendants from interfering with or raising any objection to the construction of a temple. Suit 5 was tried with the other suits.
21. On 10 July 1989, all suits were transferred to the High Court of Judicature at Allahabad. On 21 July 1989, a three judge Bench was constituted by the Chief Justice of the High Court for the trial of the suits. On an application by the State of Uttar Pradesh, the High Court passed an interim order on 14 August 1989, directing the parties to maintain status quo with respect to the property in dispute.
22. During the pendency of the proceedings, the State of Uttar Pradesh acquired an area of 2.77 acres comprising of the disputed premises and certain adjoining areas. This was effected by notifications dated 7 October 1991 and 10 October 1991 under Sections 4(1), 6 and 17(4) of the Land Acquisition Act 1894 (Land Acquisition Act). The acquisition was for ‗development and providing amenities to pilgrims in Ayodhya‘. A Writ Petition was filed before the High Court challenging the acquisition. By a judgment and order dated 11 December 1992, the acquisition was set aside.
23. A substantial change took place in the position at the site on 6 December 1992. A large crowd destroyed the mosque, boundary wall, and Ramchabutra. A makeshift structure of a temple was constructed at the place under the erstwhile central dome. The idols were placed there. 11 Regular Suit No. 236 of 1989 (subsequently renumbered as OOS No. 5 of 1989)
Acquisition by the Central Government and Ismail Faruqui‘s case
24. The Central Government acquired an area of about 68 acres, including the premises in dispute, by a legislation called the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act 1993 (―Ayodhya Acquisition Act 1993‖). Sections 3 and 4 envisaged the abatement of all suits which were pending before the High Court.
Simultaneously, the President of India made a reference to this Court under Article 143 of the Constitution. The reference was on ―(w)hether a Hindu temple or any Hindu religious structure existed prior to the construction of the Ram Janam Bhoomi and Babari Masjid (including the premises of the inner and outer courtyards on such structure) in the area on which the structure stands….
25. Writ petitions were filed before the High Court of Allahabad and this Court challenging the validity of the Act of 1993. All the petitions and the reference by the President were heard together and decided by a judgment dated 24 October 1994. The decision of a Constitution Bench of this Court, titled Dr M Ismail
Faruqui v Union of India12 held Section 4(3), which provided for the abatement of all pending suits as unconstitutional. The rest of the Act of 1993 was held to be valid. The Constitution Bench declined to answer the Presidential reference and, as a result, all pending suits and proceedings in relation to the disputed premises stood revived. The Central Government was appointed as a statutory receiver for the maintenance of status quo and to hand over the disputed area in terms of the adjudication to be made in the suits. The conclusions arrived at by the Constitution Bench are extracted below:
―96. … (1)(a) Sub-section (3) of Section 4 of the Act abates all
pending suits and legal proceedings without providing for an
alternative dispute resolution mechanism for resolution of the
disputes between the parties thereto. This is an extinction of
the judicial remedy for resolution of the dispute amounting to
negation of rule of law. Sub-section (3) of Section 4 of the Act
is, therefore, unconstitutional and invalid.
(1)(b) The remaining provisions of the Act do not suffer from
any invalidity on the construction made thereof by us. Subsection (3) of Section 4 of the Act is severable from the
remaining Act. Accordingly, the challenge to the constitutional
validity of the remaining Act, except for sub-section (3) of Sec. 4, is rejected.
(2) Irrespective of the status of a mosque under the Muslim
law applicable in the Islamic countries, the status of a mosque
under the Mahomedan Law applicable in secular India is the
same and equal to that of any other place of worship of any
religion; and it does not enjoy any greater immunity from
acquisition in exercise of the sovereign or prerogative power
of the State, than that of the places of worship of the other
(3) The pending suits and other proceedings relating to the
disputed area within which the structure (including the
premises of the inner and outer courtyards of such structure),
commonly known as the Ram Janma Bhumi – Babri Masjid,
stood, stand revived for adjudication of the dispute therein,
together with the interim orders made, except to the extent
the interim orders stand modified by the provisions of Section
7 of the Act.
(4) The vesting of the said disputed area in the Central
Government by virtue of Section 3 of the Act is limited, as a
statutory receiver with the duty for its management and
administration according to Section 7 requiring maintenance
of status quo therein under sub-section (2) of Section 7 of the
Act. The duty of the Central Government as the statutory
receiver is to handover the disputed area in accordance with
Section 6 of the Act, in terms of the adjudication made in the
suits for implementation of the final decision therein. This is
the purpose for which the disputed area has been so
acquired (5) The power of the courts in making further interim orders in
the suits is limited to, and circumscribed by, the area outside
the ambit of Section 7 of the Act.
(6) The vesting of the adjacent area, other than the disputed
area, acquired by the Act in the Central Government by virtue
of Section 3 of the Act is absolute with the power of
management and administration thereof in accordance with
sub-section (1) of Section 7 of the Act, till its further vesting in
any authority or other body or trustees of any trust in
accordance with Section 6 of the Act. The further vesting of
the adjacent area, other than the disputed area, in
accordance with Sec. 6 of the Act has to be made at the time
and in the manner indicated, in view of the purpose of its
(7) The meaning of the word “vest” in Section 3 and Section 6
of the Act has to be so understood in the different contexts.
(8) Section 8 of the Act is meant for payment of compensation
to owners of the property vesting absolutely in the Central
Government, the title to which is not in dispute being in
excess of the disputed area which alone is the subject matter
of the revived suits. It does not apply to the disputed area,
title to which has to be adjudicated in the suits and in respect
of which the Central Government is merely the statutory
receiver as indicated, with the duty to restore it to the owner
in terms of the adjudication made in the suits.
(9) The challenge to acquisition of any part of the adjacent
area on the ground that it is unnecessary for achieving the
professed objective of settling the long standing dispute
cannot be examined at this stage. However, the area found to
be superfluous on the exact area needed for the purpose
being determined on adjudication of the dispute, must be
restored to the undisputed owners.
(10) Rejection of the challenge by the undisputed owners to
acquisition of some religious properties in the vicinity of the
disputed area, at this stage is with the liberty granted to them
to renew their challenge, if necessary at a later appropriate
stage, in cases of continued retention by Central Government
of their property in excess of the exact area determined to be
needed on adjudication of the dispute.
(11) Consequently, the Special Reference No. 1 of 1993
made by the President of India under Art. 143(1) of the
Constitution of India is superfluous and unnecessary and
does not require to be answered. For this reason, we very
respectfully decline to answer it and return the same (
12) The questions relating to the constitutional validity of the
said Act and maintainability of the Special Reference are
decided in these terms.
12 (1994) 6 SCC 360
The proceedings before the High Court
26. The recording of oral evidence before the High Court commenced on 24 July 1996. During the course of the hearings, the High Court issued directions on 23 October 2002 to the Archaeological Survey of India (―ASI‖) to carry out a scientific investigation and have the disputed site surveyed by Ground Penetrating Technology or Geo-Radiology (―GPR‖). The GPR report dated 17 February 2003 indicated a variety of ―anomalies‖ which could be associated with ― ancient and contemporaneous structures‖ such as pillars, foundations, wall slabs and flooring extending over a large portion of the disputed site. In order to facilitate a further analysis, the High Court directed the ASI on 5 March 2003 to undertake the excavation of the disputed site. A fourteen-member team was constituted, and a site plan was prepared indicating the number of trenches to be laid out and excavated. On 22 August 2003, the ASI submitted its final report. The High Court heard objections to the report.
27. Evidence, both oral and documentary, was recorded before the High Court. As one of the judges, Justice Sudhir Agarwal noted, the High Court had before it 533 exhibits and depositions of 87 witnesses traversing 13,990 pages.
Besides this, counsel relied on over a thousand reference books in Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, Persian, Turkish, French and English, ranging from subjects as diverse as history, culture, archaeology and religion. The High Court ensured that the innumerable archaeological artefacts were kept in the record room. It received dozens of CDs and other records which the three judges of the High Court have marshalled.
The decision of the High Court
28. On 30 September 2010, the Full Bench of the High Court comprising of Justice S U Khan, Justice Sudhir Agarwal and Justice D V Sharma delivered the judgment, which is in appeal. Justice S U Khan and Justice Sudhir Agarwal held ―all the three sets of parties‖ – Muslims, Hindus and Nirmohi Akhara – as joint holders of the disputed premises and allotted a one third share to each of them in a preliminary decree. Justice S U Khan held thus:
Accordingly, all the three sets of parties, i.e. Muslims, Hindus and Nirmohi Akhara are declared joint title holders of the property/ premises in dispute as described by letters A B C D E F in the map Plan-I prepared by Sri Shiv Shanker Lal, Pleader/ Commissioner appointed by Court in Suit No.1 to the extent of one third share each for using and managing the same for worshipping. A preliminary decree to this effect is passed.
However, it is further declared that the portion below the central dome where at present the idol is kept in makeshift temple will be allotted to Hindus in final decree.
It is further directed that Nirmohi Akhara will be allotted share including that part which is shown by the words Ram Chabutra and Sita Rasoi in the said map.
It is further clarified that even though all the three parties are declared to have one third share each, however if while allotting exact portions some minor adjustment in the share is to be made then the same will be made and the adversely affected party may be compensated by allotting some portion of the adjoining land which has been acquired by the Central Government.
The parties are at liberty to file their suggestions for actual partition by metes and bounds within three months.
List immediately after filing of any suggestion/ application for preparation of final decree after obtaining necessary instructions from Hon’ble the Chief Justice.
Status quo as prevailing till date pursuant to Supreme Court judgment of Ismail Farooqui (1994(6) Sec 360) in all its minutest details shall be maintained for a period of three months unless this order is modified or vacated earlier.
Justice Sudhir Agarwal partly decreed Suits 1 and 5. Suits 3 and 4 were dismissed as being barred by limitation. The learned judge concluded with the following directions:
(i) It is declared that the area covered by the central dome of
the three domed structure, i.e., the disputed structure being
the deity of Bhagwan Ram Janamsthan and place of birth of
Lord Rama as per faith and belief of the Hindus, belong to
plaintiffs (Suit-5) and shall not be obstructed or interfered in
any manner by the defendants. This area is shown by letters
AA BB CC DD in Appendix 7 to this judgment.
(ii) The area within the inner courtyard denoted by letters B C
D L K J H G in Appendix 7 (excluding (i) above) belong to
members of both the communities, i.e., Hindus (here
plaintiffs, Suit-5) and Muslims since it was being used by both
since decades and centuries. It is, however, made clear that
for the purpose of share of plaintiffs, Suit-5 under this
direction the area which is covered by (i) above shall also be included.
(iii) The area covered by the structures, namely, Ram
Chabutra, (EE FF GG HH in Appendix 7) Sita Rasoi (MM NN
OO PP in Appendix 7) and Bhandar (II JJ KK LL in Appendix
7) in the outer courtyard is declared in the share of Nirmohi
Akhara (defendant no. 3) and they shall be entitled to
possession thereof in the absence of any person with better
(iv) The open area within the outer courtyard (A G H J K L E F
in Appendix 7) (except that covered by (iii) above) shall be
shared by Nirmohi Akhara (defendant no. 3) and plaintiffs
(Suit-5) since it has been generally used by the Hindu people
for worship at both places.
(iv-a) It is however made clear that the share of muslim
parties shall not be less than one third (1/3) of the total area
of the premises and if necessary it may be given some area
of outer courtyard. It is also made clear that while making
partition by metes and bounds, if some minor adjustments are
to be made with respect to the share of different parties, the
affected party may be compensated by allotting the requisite
land from the area which is under acquisition of the
Government of India.
(v) The land which is available with the Government of India
acquired under Ayodhya Act 1993 for providing it to the
parties who are successful in the suit for better enjoyment of
the property shall be made available to the above concerned
parties in such manner so that all the three parties may utilise
the area to which they are entitled to, by having separate
entry for egress and ingress of the people without disturbing
each others rights. For this purpose the concerned parties
may approach the Government of India who shall act in
accordance with the above directions and also as contained
in the judgement of Apex Court in Dr. Ismail Farooqi (Supra).
(vi) A decree, partly preliminary and partly final, to the effect
as said above (i to v) is passed. Suit-5 is decreed in part to
the above extent. The parties are at liberty to file their
suggestions for actual partition of the property in dispute in
the manner as directed above by metes and bounds by
submitting an application to this effect to the Officer on
Special Duty, Ayodhya Bench at Lucknow or the Registrar,
Lucknow Bench, Lucknow, as the case may be.
(vii) For a period of three months or unless directed
otherwise, whichever is earlier, the parties shall maintain
status quo as on today in respect of property in dispute.”
Justice D V Sharma decreed Suit 5 in its entirety. Suits 3 and 4 were dismissed as being barred by limitation. Justice D V Sharma concluded:
Plaintiff‘s suit is decreed but with easy costs. It is hereby
declared that the entire premises of Sri Ram Janm Bhumi at
Ayodhya as described and delineated in annexure Nos. 1 and
2 of the plaint belong to the plaintiff Nos. 1 and 2, the deities.
The defendants are permanently restrained from interfering
with, or raising any objection to, or placing any obstruction in
the construction of the temple at Ram Janm Bhumi Ayodhya
at the site, referred to in the plaint.‖
The parties preferred multiple Civil Appeals and Special Leave Petitions before this Court against the judgment of the High Court.
Proceedings before this Court
29. On 9 May 2011, a two judge Bench of this Court admitted several appeals and stayed the operation of the judgment and decree of the Allahabad High Court. During the pendency of the appeals, parties were directed to maintain status quo with respect to the disputed premises in accordance with the directions issued in Ismail Faruqui. The Registry of this Court was directed to provide parties electronic copies of the digitised records.
30. On 10 September 2013, 24 February 2014, 31 October 2015 and 11 August 2017, this Court issued directions for summoning the digital record of the evidence and pleadings from the Allahabad High Court and for furnishing translated copies to the parties. On 10 August 2015, a three judge Bench of this Court allowed the Commissioner, Faizabad Division to replace the old and worn out tarpaulin sheets over the makeshift structure under which the idols were placed with new sheets of the same size and quality.
31. On 5 December 2017, a three judge Bench of this Court rejected the plea that the appeals against the impugned judgement be referred to a larger Bench in view of certain observations of the Constitution Bench in Ismail Faruqui. On 14 March 2018, a three judge Bench heard arguments on whether the judgment in Ismail Faruqui required reconsideration. On 27 September 2018, the three judge Bench of this Court by a majority of 2:1 declined to refer the judgment in Ismail Faruqui for reconsideration and listed the appeals against the impugned judgement for hearing.
32. By an administrative order dated 8 January 2019 made pursuant to the provisions of Order VI Rule 1 of the Supreme Court Rules, 2013, the Chief Justice of India constituted a five judge Bench to hear the appeals. On 10 January 2019, the Registry was directed to inspect the records and if required, engage official translators. On 26 February 2019, this Court referred the parties to a Court appointed and monitored mediation to explore the possibility of bringing about a permanent solution to the issues raised in the appeals. On 8 March 2019, a panel of mediators comprising of (i) Justice Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla, a former Judge of this Court; (ii) Sri Sri Ravi Shankar; and (iii) Mr Sriram Panchu, Senior Advocate was constituted. Time granted to the mediators to complete the mediation proceedings was extended on 10 May 2019.
Since no settlement had been reached, on 2 August 2019, the hearing of the appeals was directed to commence from 6 August 2019. During the course of hearing, a report was submitted by the panel of mediators that some of the parties desired to settle the dispute. This Court by its order dated 18 September 2019 observed that while the hearings will proceed, if any parties desired to settle the dispute, it was open for them to move the mediators and place a settlement, if it was arrived at, before this Court. Final arguments were concluded in the batch of appeals on 16 October 2019. On the same day, the mediation panel submitted a report titled ―Final Report of the Committee‖ stating that a settlement had been arrived at by some of the parties to the present dispute. The settlement was signed by Mr Zufar Ahmad Faruqi, Chairman of the Sunni Central Waqf Board.
Though under the settlement, the Sunni Central Waqf Board agreed to relinquish all its rights, interests and claims over the disputed land, this was subject to the fulfilment of certain conditions stipulated. The settlement agreement received by this Court from the mediation panel has not been agreed to or signed by all the parties to the present dispute. Moreover, it is only conditional on certain stipulations being fulfilled. Hence, the settlement cannot be treated to be a binding or concluded agreement between the parties to the dispute. We, however, record our appreciation of the earnest efforts made by the members of the mediation panel in embarking on the task entrusted by this Court. In bringing together the disputants on a common platform for a free and frank dialogue, the mediators have performed a function which needs to be commended. We also express our appreciation of the parties who earnestly made an effort to pursue the mediation proceedings.