The Supreme Court of India has today passed a historic verdict which has finally decided the 491-year old Ayodhya-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute. After languishing in Courts for the last 134 years, a final verdict has been now pronounced by the apex court over this dispute. It is pertinent to mention here that the Allahabad High Court had passed a judgment in 2010, trifurcating the disputed site in Ayodhya into three parts, whereby the disputed site was to be divided equally among the Nirmohi Akhara, Ram Lalla and the Sunni Waqf Board. The disputed site was therefore divided in the ratio 2:1 between the Hindu parties and the Muslim parties.
It was against this 2010 verdict of the Allahabad High Court that the parties to the dispute preferred appeals to the Supreme Court. When it comes to the operative portion of the Allahabad High Court judgment, that is, trifurcation of the disputed site between the Hindu parties and the Sunni Waqf Board, the Supreme Court has explicitly overruled that portion of the Allahabad High Court in its unanimous verdict. The Supreme Court has stated that the Allahabad High Court was wrong in dividing the site into three parts. The Supreme Court has instead, decreed the disputed 2.77-acre land in favour of deity Ram Lalla. On the other hand, the apex court has also directed the Centre and the Uttar Pradesh government to allot 5 acres of suitable alternate land at a prominent place in Ayodhya for the construction of a mosque.
While the operative portion of the apex court judgment has the effect of overruling the Allahabad High Court verdict that was passed almost a decade ago, the Constitution bench of the Supreme Court headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi and also consisting of Justices S A Bobde, D Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and Abdul Nazeer, has also taken a different stance on a key aspect of the Ayodhya dispute. While the Allahabad High Court verdict had held that Lord Ram’s birthplace was a juristic person, the Supreme Court has taken the view that Ram Janmabhoomi is not a juristic person but the deity is a juridical person. It said, ”Legally unsustainable… dividing the land will not subserve the interest of either of the parties or secure a lasting sense of peace and tranquillity.”
In its judgment, the apex court has relied upon ASI-findings to hold that the Babri Masjid was not constructed on vacant land.
It also held that the underlying structure was a non-Islamic structure. The Supreme Court also said that there was ample archaeological evidence to prove the existence of a temple at the disputed site. However, the Court further said that the ASI has not established whether a temple was demolished to build the Mosque. The Allahabad High Court was not unanimous on this point though it had unanimously decided upon trifurcation of the disputed site. While Justices Sharma and Sharma of the full bench of the Allahabad High Court had concluded that a Hindu-like structure was demolished to build the Babri Masjid on the disputed site, Justice Khan had opined– “No temple was demolished for constructing the mosque. Mosque was constructed over the ruins of temples which were lying in utter ruins since a very long time before the construction of mosque and some material thereof was used in construction of the mosque.” Therefore, even though not unanimously, but by a majority opinion, the Allahabad High Court had taken the view that a Hindu-like structure was demolished in order to build the Babri Mosque. Therefore on this aspect, the Supreme Court judgment overrules the Allahabad High Court verdict in the sense that the apex court has unanimously held that there is no evidence of the demolition of a temple to build the Babri Masjid.
The essence of the apex court verdict is that it has finally decided the rights of the parties by looking at the disputed site as one composite whole. The five-judge bench has unanimously arrived at the conclusion that the railing set-up in 1856-1857 did not bring about a sub-division of the land, nor did it lead to the determination of title. In this respect, it differs greatly from the Allahabad High Court judgment, whose very essence was the joint title of the Hindu and Muslim parties to the disputed property.