New Delhi: Facing growing pressure to move swiftly on the Ram temple issue, the Modi government Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to allow it to return the “non-disputed” surplus land acquired around the disputed structure in Ayodhya to a Hindu trust and other original owners, in a significant move ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
The move could see some form of construction of a Ram temple by Hindu groups if the handover is allowed, amid pressure from the RSS and Hindutva groups on the Centre to facilitate this step.
In its 33-page application, the Centre sought modification of the apex court’s 2003 order to permit it to return 67.390 acres of ‘non-disputed’ surplus/superflous land around the disputed Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid structure in Ayodhya to the original owners. The court had held that unless the dispute is resolved, status quo has to be maintained over surplus land.
The application claimed that only 0.313 acre of land was disputed. The 0.313-acre land, on which the disputed structure stood before it was demolished by ‘kar sevaks’ December 6, 1992, was within a compound measuring 2.77 acres.
After the destruction of the Babri Masjid mosque that triggered Hindu-Muslim riots across the country leaving about 2,000 people dead, the then Congress government acquired 67.703 acres, including the land measuring 2.77 acres, through a legislation in 1993.
In its application, the Centre sought modification of the apex court order of March 31, 2003 by which it was directed to maintain the “status quo” with regard to entire land including the non-disputed acquired plots.
“The applicant (Centre) is filing this application seeking permission of this court to permit the applicant to fulfil the duty to revert/restore/hand over the excess/superfluous land acquired under the Acquisition of Certain Areas of Ayodhya Act, 1993,” it said.
The move by the Centre came even as the apex court is set to hear 14 appeals against the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgement, delivered in four civil suits, that the 2.77-acre land be partitioned equally among three parties — the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla. The Centre said the Ram Janambhoomi Nyas (a trust to promote construction of Ram Temple) had sought return of excess land acquired to the original owners.
“One party namely Ram Janmbhoomi Nyas whose land measuring approximately 42 acres [which is a part of the superfluous/excess land] was acquired, has moved an application relying on the constitution bench judgment of this court,” it added.
Defending the move, the BJP said the Centre is not touching the disputed area and indicated that any return of the undisputed land could pave the way for construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya.
Senior BJP leader and Union minister Prakash Javadekar said only 0.313 acre of land is disputed, noting its title suit is yet to be decided. “Today government has taken a very important in-principle decision to return the excess land which was acquired in 1994 to the original land owners. One of the land owners of 42 acres out of 67 acres land is Ram Janambhoomi Nyas. Government wants to return the land to its original owners and they want to build the Ram temple there,” Javadekar told reporters.
He maintained that the BJP has always said that a temple should be built in Ayodhya through a legal route and government’s step is a legal step. “We are confident that the government will get permission from the court at the earliest.”
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) said the Centre’s move was a step in the right direction. In a statement, VHP working president Alok Kumar said the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas had obtained the land for the construction of the Ram temple.
“This land belongs to Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas and is not under any litigation. This is a step in the right direction and the organisation welcomes it.”
But the CPI(M) alleged that the move was aimed at appeasing the Sangh Parivar ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. In a statement, the party’s politburo said it was a ‘devious’ effort on the part of the government to ‘pre-empt’ the decision of the Supreme Court.
Dubbing the Centre’s move as an “insidious attempt”, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen(AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi accused it of trying everything in their capacity to prevent a fair and independent adjudication of the Babri Masjid dispute.
“Threatening the judicial process like this is another (failed) attempt to save BJP from their rapidly diminishing political fortunes,” he tweeted.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath hailed the Centre’s move. “We welcome this initiative of the Central government. We should get permission to start work on the undisputed piece of land,” he said in Allahabad.
UP government spokesperson Siddhartnath Singh said the Centre is working on all aspects within the ambit of Constitution to fulfil the long-pending aspirations of the people.
Ruling out any pressure from the Dharam Sansad or due to the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, Singh said the legal procedure is being followed as the hearing on the temple issue is set to start now in the Supreme Court.
Asked if the temple construction could start before the polls, he said, “I can merely say that government wants the temple be built at the earliest as the issue is connected with the people.”
Referring to the order of March 31, 2003, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in its application said the apex court instead of “confining the order of status quo to the disputed land” had extended the restraining order to adjacent acquired land also.
The Centre also referred to the Supreme Court’s verdict in the 1994 Ismail Faruqui case, saying the top court had observed that if the Centre wanted to return the acquired land to its original owners then it may do so.
“The Constitution Bench of this Court has held that the superfluous area which is other than the disputed area of 0.313 acres shall be reverted/ restored to its original owners,” the plea said.