The Supreme Court today refused to issue an order to stay the Varanasi civil court-ordered survey of the Kashi Vishwanath temple– Gyanvapi masjid complex ordered by the Varanasi court, which the management of the Anjuman-e-Intezamia Masjid had sought from the apex court by way of a petition. A bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Nuthalapati Venkata Ramana said, “We could not pass any order today.”
Senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, the lawyer appearing for the petitioner, urged the Supreme Court to hear the case urgently and issue an order to maintain the status quo. “We need an urgent hearing into the matter and need a stay on the survey of the Kashi Vishwanath temple–Gyanvapi masjid complex ordered by the Varanasi court,” Ahmadi told the court today without much success.
“A survey has been directed in relation to the Varanasi property. This is covered under the Places of Worship Act. Now, the court has ordered a court commissioner to conduct a survey. This has been a mosque since time immemorial,” Ahmadi submitted.
The Supreme Court said, however, that the court would look into “all the papers”. The CJI asked for documents from the petitioner, instructing their lawyer to file a fresh plea before it based on the papers.
The CJI said: “We have not seen the papers. We don’t even know what is the matter. I don’t know anything… how can I pass an order? I will read and then pass orders…let me see.”
The committee of management of the Anjuman-e-Intezamia Masjid based in Varanasi had moved the Supreme Court, seeking a stay on the survey of the mosque that history says was built by force over the Kashi Vishwanath temple under instructions from Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb after a civil court in Varanasi ordered the survey, as five Hindu petitioners had appealed to it to grant them their right to worship a deity that has been suppressed by the mosque.
What Supreme Court was asked to stay
The Varanasi court had last month ordered an inspection of the premises through advocate commissioner Ajai Kumar Mishra. The civil court order was affirmed by the Allahabad High Court on 26 April.
The women asked for year-long access to pray at a shrine behind the western wall of the mosque complex. The site is currently opened for prayers once a year. The women also want permission to pray to other “visible and invisible deities within the old temple complex”.
A day ago, the civil court had ordered a full survey of the Gyanvapi Mosque complex, rejecting the demands of the mosque management to limit the inquiry to certain parts of the precincts and remove the present surveyor.
The Varanasi civil judge retained Mishra as the advocate commissioner, who had been appointed last month to carry out the survey while adding two more lawyers, Vishal Singh and Ajay Pratap Singh, to the commission that will inspect and conduct videography and collect evidence regarding the alleged existence of Hindu deities. It directed Mishra and Vishal Singh to conduct the survey.
In the order, the civil judge clarified that the advocate commissioners would have the right to collect evidence from any part of the mosque complex and that no hindrance shall be caused by anyone in the conduct of this exercise.
Making Varanasi district magistrate and police commissioner personally accountable, the court directed that the district administration and the police must render all cooperation to the advocate commissioners and ascertain that the survey is completed as soon as possible. It ordered that the district officials and police be authorised to break open any lock if required.
“If anybody creates impediment in the exercise by the court commissioners, the district administration must register a first information report (FIR) and take strict action. In any condition, the court commissioner’s exercise shall not stop,” said the court order, seeking the commission’s report on 17 May.
In its order, the civil judge also pulled up the Varanasi district administration for not complying with the court’s order in letter and spirit. It added the survey would have been concluded by now had the district administration rendered its full cooperation.