The Supreme Court today stayed the Allahabad High Court’s Ayodhya verdict, describing as “strange” its order for a three-way division of the disputed land when none of the title-suit parties had sought partition.
The two-judge bench also ordered status quo at the site, which means both Hindus and Muslims retain their limited rights of worship and prayer there, although the Muslims have not been praying at the site because of the political situation.
The bench expressed strong reservations about the high court verdict of September 30 last year, which had allocated a third of the 2.77-acre disputed site to each of three litigants: the Sunni Central Wakf Board, Nirmohi Akhara and representatives of Ram Lalla.
“It’s a strange order. This is something surprising. Nobody prayed for partition. A new dimension was given by the high court,” said Justice R.M. Lodha, sitting alongside senior judge Justice Aftab Alam.
“It is a difficult situation now. The position is that it (the high court verdict) has created a litany of litigation. We will have to stay the operation of the judgment. Prima facie, this will have to be corrected at this level.”
The observations reopened the possibility that the case could entirely go one way or the other, and created a stir in the packed courtroom.
Although all the appellants — the wakf board, Akhara and Ram Lalla Virajman — had made the partition a key plank of their appeal against the high court verdict, none had expected the top court to say anything on this right at the beginning of arguments.
Today’s order bars all religious activities on the 67 acres surrounding the disputed plot that the Centre had acquired after the Babri Masjid demolition. It also freezes the official process of mapping each party’s share in the partition till the top court decides on the appeals.
Under the high court’s orders, all three parties had handed their partition proposals to the Centre, the statutory receiver of the disputed and acquired plots, and the hearings had begun in Lucknow.
Justice Lodha rejected lawyer Ravi Shankar Prasad’s request to only order status quo and not the stay. Prasad, counsel for Virajman, wanted the Lucknow proceedings to continue so that the partition order, if upheld later by the apex court, could be effected immediately.
The bench indicated it would hear the appeals after the summer recess and might allow new, interested parties to join the case. Legal sources said the case would take at least two years.
If it continues beyond two years, the case may go to another bench. Justice Alam retires in April 2013 and Justice Lodha in September 2014.
The high court verdict of September 30, 2010:
- Property to be divided between Hindus, Muslims
- 1/3 for Sunni Waqf Board, 1/3 for Nirmohi Akhara, 1/3 for Ram Lalla
- Hindus to get part where idols are kept
- Division of land to start in three months
- Building not used by Muslims to pray: Verdict
- Disputed structure cannot be treated as a mosque
- Sunni Waqf Board to appeal in Supreme Court
Submitted by Arup Govinda das, WVA Correspondent, India