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Supreme Court had ordered status quo on 67.7 acres of land acquired by the central government in 1993, Modi regime says only 0.313 acres of this is disputed

Amid a growing clamour from the Hindu-right to begin construction of the Ram Mandir at the site where the Babri Masjid once stood in Ayodhya and just three months before the Lok Sabha polls commence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has moved the Supreme Court seeking dilution of its earlier order which had said that the Centre must maintain status quo on the 67.7 acres of land it had acquired at the site back in 1993.

The Supreme Court is still undecided on when it will begin hearing the petitions challenging the Allahabad High Court’s verdict of 2010 that had ordered transfer of the disputed site in three parts to the three competing claimants. However, the Centre wants the court to allow transfer of a major chunk of the land – except the 0.313 acres on which the Babri Masjid stood – to the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, one of the parties in the title suit which is leading the campaign for construction of the Ram Mandir.

“It is respectfully submitted that the acquisition took place in the year 1993 and 25 years have passed, the original landowners whose land, which were not in dispute but were still acquired, are entitled to get it back and the Central government is duty bound to restore/revert/hand over the same land,” reads the Centre’s application that was filed with the apex court registry, on Monday (January 28).

The prayer in the application reads: “Permit the Central government to restore/revert/hand over back superfluous/excess vacant land (other than the disputed land measuring 0.313 acres) to the owners/occupiers from whom the respective lands were acquired under the Act of 1993”. It may be recalled that the 67.7 acres of land at the Babri Masjid site and its vicinity was acquired by the Centre in 1993 through the controversial Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act.

“The Hon’ble Court be pleased to modify the order dated 31.3.2003 passed in the captioned matter so as to enable the central government to determine the exact extent of land required from out of the superfluous/excess land to ensure that successful party in the dispute pending regarding the ‘disputed land’ can have proper access to and enjoyment of rights in the disputed land. This applicant undertakes that each and every concern expressed by this Hon’ble Court in Ismail Faruqui (supra) and other judgments referred to above will be scrupulously taken care of,” the application states further.

The application by the Centre comes at a time when the ruling BJP’s parent organization – the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its ideological allies like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal have been demanding that the Modi government by pass the legal proceedings in the pending Ayodhya title suit and bring in an ordinance to enable construction of the Ram Mandir at the disputed site.

Though Prime Minister Modi had, in a recent interview, claimed that his government would wait for a resolution of the dispute by the Supreme Court before taking any steps that allow construction of the Ram Mandir, his colleagues in the government do not seem to share the same view.

The application comes days after Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad nearly commanded the Supreme Court to rule favourably for construction of the Ram Mandir. Stating that the court must begin proceedings in the title suit without delay, Prasad had said: “The Ayodhya case has been pending for the last 70 years. The Allahabad High Court order was in favour of the temple (in 2010), but then it is on hold in the Supreme Court now. This matter should be cleared soon.”

The law minister’s comment came close on the heels of the hearing in the case by a constitution bench being delayed once again due to the “non availability” of Justice SA Bobde, one of the judges on the five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi which was to begin proceedings in the case on January 29.

It is premature to state whether the top court will favourably rule on the Centre’s application given the sensitive and communally polarizing nature of the title suit. However, in the unlikely scenario of the court granting the Centre’s request, decks will be cleared for the Modi government to hand over at least 42 acres of the 67.7 acres of acquired land to its original owners – the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas. In such an event, at least the preliminary groundwork for construction of the Ram Mandir may commence before the Lok Sabha polls begin in April-May, giving the BJP a massive advantage at the hustings. The party can then reach out to the majority Hindu electorate and state that it was finally fulfilling its long-stated poll promise of ensuring that a massive Ram Mandir will be built at the Babri Masjid site which the Hindu-right believes was the exact spot where Lord Rama was born.

Read the petition here

—India Legal Bureau

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