In an unanimous verdict, the Supreme Court on Saturday paved the way for the construction of a Ram Temple at the disputed site at Ayodhya, and directed the Centre to allot an alternative 5-acre plot to the Sunni Waqf Board for building a new mosque at a "prominent" place in the holy town in Uttar Pradesh.
In one of the most important and most anticipated judgements in India's history, a 5-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi put an end to the more than a century old dispute that has torn the social fabric of the nation.
"The faith of the Hindus that Lord Ram was born at the demolished structure is undisputed," the court said in its 1,045-page verdict in the politically-sensitive Ram Janmbhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute case.
The disputed site in Ayodhya was occupied by the 16th century Babri mosque which was destroyed by Hindu kar sevaks on December 6, 1992. The demolition had triggered communal riots.
The court said the new mosque should be constructed at a "prominent site" and a trust should be formed within three months for the construction of the temple at the site many Hindus believe Lord Ram was born.
The bench, also comprising Justices S A Bobde, D Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer, said possession of the disputed 2.77 acre land rights will be handed over to the deity Ram Lalla, who is one of the three litigants in the case. The possession, however, will remain with a central government receiver.
The verdict was pronounced on 14 appeals filed in the apex court against the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment, delivered in four civil suits, that the 2.77-acre land in Ayodhya be partitioned equally among the three parties -- the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla.
The bench said the high court wrongly decided the title suit by resorting to partitioning of the disputed land in three parts.
"The verdict is very balanced and it is a victory of people," said C S Vaidyanathan, lawyer for deity 'Ram Lalla'. But, the Sunni Waqf Board, one of the main parties, said it was not satisfied and will seek a review.
"The verdict holds no value for us, It has lot of contradictions," Zafaryab Jilani, lawyer for the Board, told reporters.
The Nirmohi Akhara said it has no "regrets" regarding the verdict.
Home Minister Amit Shah appealed to all communities to accept the verdict and maintain peace and remain committed for 'Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat' while Defence Minister Rajnath Singh urged everyone to take the verdict with equanimity and magnanimity. The Congress said it respects the verdict and is in favour of construction of Ram temple.
Former VHP president Praveen Togadia said giving Ram Lalla's birth land for Ram Temple is a salute to the sacrifice of lakhs of workers.
Prominent Muslim leaders appealed for peace and harmony even as they expressed surprise.
"I was surprised to see the ruling and it's beyond my understanding. I feel there were enough evidences in favour of the mosque but these were not taken into consideration," Mufti Abul Qasim Nomani, the current Mohtamim (Vice-Chancellor) of the Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband, told PTI.
Security was tightened at communally sensitive places across the country with policemen keeping a hawk's vigil.
Prohibitory orders were issued across the national capital to maintain public order, according to Delhi Police while an emergency Operations Centre was set up in Lucknow to keep an eye on reports from media, social media and other sources on the verdict.
As Justice Gogoi read out the operative part of the verdict for 45 minutes, people belonging to both Hindu and Muslim communities in Ayodhya sat glued before Television sets, while the tech-savvy youth kept a tab on their mobiles phones.
Directing allotment of alternative land to Muslims to build a new mosque, the court said the Hindus have established their case that they were in possession of outer courtyard and the UP Sunni Central Waqf Board has failed to establish its case.
The court said the extensive nature of Hindus worshipping at outer courtyard at the disputed site has been there, and the evidence suggests the Muslims offered Friday prayers at mosque which indicates that they had not lost possession of the site.
It said that despite obstruction caused in offering prayers at Mosque, the evidences suggest that there was no abandonment in offering prayers.
The court further said the underlying structure below the disputed site at Ayodhya was not an Islamic structure, but the Archaeological Survey of India(ASI) has not established whether a temple was demolished to build a mosque.
It said that terming the archaeological evidence as merely an opinion would be a great disservice to the ASI.
The court also said that the Hindus consider the disputed site as the birthplace of Lord Ram and even Muslims say this about that place.
The bench said the existence of Sita Rasoi, Ram Chabutra and Bhandar grih are the testimony of the religious fact of the place.
The court further said however that the title cannot be established on the ground of faith and belief and they are only indicators for deciding the dispute.