The verdict came after a long and arduous process during which the bench had to grapple with not just the law, but also history and archaeology. Edited excerpts from the 1,045-page judgment.
The facts, evidence and oral arguments of the present case have traversed the realms of history, archaeology, religion and the law. The law must stand apart from political contestations over history, ideology and religion. For a case replete with references to archaeological foundations, we must remember that it is the law which provides the edifice upon which our multicultural society rests.
The law forms the ground upon which multiple strands of history, ideology and religion can compete. By determining their limits, this court as the final arbiter must preserve the sense of balance that the beliefs of one citizen do not interfere with or dominate the freedoms and beliefs of another.
On January 26, 1950, we gave ourselves the Constitution of India, as an unwavering commitment to the values which define our society. At the heart of the Constitution is a commitment to equality upheld and enforced by the rule of law. Under our Constitution, citizens of all faiths, beliefs and creeds seeking divine provenance are both subject to the law and equal before the law. Every judge of this court is not merely tasked with but sworn to uphold the Constitution and its values.
The Constitution does not make a distinction between the faith and belief of one religion and another. All forms of belief, worship and prayer are equal. Those whose duty it is to interpret the Constitution, enforce it and engage with it can ignore this only to the peril of our society and nation. The Constitution speaks to the judges who interpret it, to those who govern who must enforce it, but above all, to the citizens who engage with it as an inseparable feature of their lives.
In the present case, this court is tasked with an adjudicatory task of unique dimension… The court does not decide title on the basis of faith or belief but on the basis of evidence. The law provides us with parameters as clear but as profound as ownership and possession. In deciding title to the disputed property, the court applies settled principles of evidence to adjudicate upon which party has established a claim to the immovable property.
On the balance of probabilities, there is clear evidence to indicate that the worship by the Hindus in the outer courtyard continued unimpeded in spite of the setting up of a grill-brick wall in 1857. Their possession of the outer courtyard stands established together with the incidents attaching to their control over it.
As regards the inner courtyard, there is evidence on a preponderance of probabilities to establish worship by the Hindus prior to the annexation of Oudh by the British in 1857. The Muslims have offered no evidence to indicate that they were in exclusive possession of the inner structure prior to 1857. After the setting up of the grill-brick wall, the structure of the mosque continued to exist and there is evidence to indicate that namaz was offered within its precincts.
The report of the Waqf Inspector of December 1949 indicates that Muslims were being obstructed in free and unimpeded access to mosque for the purposes of offering namaz. However, there is evidence to show that namaz was offered in the structure of the mosque and the last Friday namaz was on 16 December 1949.
The exclusion of the Muslims from worship and possession took place on the intervening night between 22/23 December 1949 when the mosque was desecrated by the installation of Hindu idols. The ouster of the Muslims on that occasion was not through any lawful authority but through an act which was calculated to deprive them of their place of worship.
After the proceedings under Section 145 of CrPC 1898 were initiated and a receiver was appointed following the attachment of the inner courtyard, worship of the Hindu idols was permitted. During the pendency of the suits, the entire structure of the mosque was brought down in a calculated act of destroying a place of public worship. The Muslims have been wrongly deprived of a mosque which had been constructed well over 450 years ago.
… the three-way bifurcation by the High Court was legally unsustainable. Even as a matter of maintaining public peace and tranquillity, the solution which commended itself to the High Court is not feasible. Dividing the land will not subserve the interest of either of the parties or secure a lasting sense of peace and tranquillity.
Suit 5 has been held to be maintainable at the behest of the first plaintiff (the deity of Lord Ram) who is a juristic person. The third plaintiff (next friend) has been held to be entitled to represent the first plaintiff. We are of the view that on the one hand a decree must ensue in Suit 5, Suit 4 must also be partly decreed by directing the allotment of alternate land to the Muslims for the construction of a mosque and associated activities.
We are of the view that… the allotment of land to the Muslims is necessary because… the Muslims were dispossessed upon the desecration of the mosque which was ultimately destroyed on December 6, 1992. There was no abandonment of the mosque by the Muslims. This court in the exercise of its powers under Article 142 of the Constitution must ensure that a wrong committed must be remedied.
Justice would not prevail if the court were to overlook the entitlement of the Muslims, who have been deprived of the structure of the mosque through means which should not have been employed in a secular nation committed to the rule of law. Tolerance and mutual co-existence nourish the secular commitment of our nation and its people.
While determining the area of land to be allotted, it is necessary to provide restitution to the Muslim community for the unlawful destruction of their place of worship. Having weighed the nature of the relief which should be granted to the Muslims, we direct that land admeasuring five acres be allotted to the Sunni Central Waqf Board either by the Central government out of the acquired land or by the Government of Uttar Pradesh within the city of Ayodhya. This exercise, and the consequent handing over of the land to the Sunni Central Waqf Board, shall be conducted simultaneously with the handing over of the disputed site comprising of the inner and outer courtyards.
Section 6 of the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act, 1993, empowers the Central government to direct that the right, title and interest… shall vest in the authority or body or trustees of any trust which is willing to comply with the terms and conditions as government may impose.
It would be necessary to direct the Central government to frame a scheme… to set up a trust or any other appropriate mechanism to whom the land would be handed over. The scheme shall incorporate all provisions necessary to vest power and authority in relation to the management of the trust or the body chosen for the vesting of the land.
We have rejected the objection of Nirmohi Akhara and of the Sunni Central Waqf Board to the maintainability of Suit 5 which was based on their plea that Nirmohi Akhara is a shebait. Nirmohi Akhara‘s claim to be a shebait stands rejected. However, having regard to the historical presence of Nirmohi Akhara at the disputed site and their role, it is necessary for this court to take recourse to its powers under Article 142 to do complete justice. Hence, we direct that in framing the scheme, an appropriate role in the management would be assigned to the Nirmohi Akhara.
Article 142: Why does it find mention in Ayodhya verdict?
Even though the Supreme Court had dismissed Nirmohi Akhara’s suit as it was barred by limitation, Article 142 allowed it to intervene. The Article states that “Supreme Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction may pass such decree or make such order as is necessary for doing complete justice in any cause or matter pending before it”. “Subject to the provisions of any law made in this behalf by Parliament, the Supreme Court shall, as respects the whole of the territory of India, have all and every power to make any order for the purpose of securing the attendance of any person, the discovery or production of any documents, or the investigation or punishment of any contempt of itself,” it adds. The Akhara had challenged the Allahabad High Court’s 2010 judgment, saying that they had been devotees of Lord Ram for centuries and wanted shebait rights over the temple (the one in which the property of temple is vested) and argued that they had rights in the capacity of a manager of the deity’s property. Analytics claimed that previously, Article 142 has been used to bring justice to various deprived sections of society or to protect the environment. For instance, it was used for the cleansing of the Taj Mahal, the marble of which was getting yellow due to sulphur fumes from surrounding industries.
Major parties involved in the case
Gopal Singh Visharad
Gopal Singh Visharad, in 1950, was the first to approach court for the dispute. Visharad, a resident of Ayodhya, filed a case in the court of the civil judge, Faizabad, seeking permission to worship the deities installed at “Asthan Janma Bhoomi”. After his death in 1986, his son Rajendra Singh has been representing him in the case.
Nirmohi Akhara was one of the parties to receive a third of the disputed site in the 2010 judgement by the Allahabad High Court. It is one of the fourteen akharas recognised by the Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad. The Nirmohi Akhara’s claim over the disputed site goes back to 1885. Reports say its then mahant, Raghubar Das, had instituted a suit against the administration of Faizabad, the district in which Ayodhya is located. However, the court dismissed this. It again moved the Faizabad civil court in December 1959 claiming ownership of the disputed structure.
Deoki Nandan Agarwal
Deoki Nandan Agarwal, a senior advocate and retired Allahabad High Court judge, filed a writ petition at the High Court on July 1, 1989 seeking his appointment as Ram Lalla’s ‘sakha’ (friend). The court appointed him the ‘sakha’ the day his petition was admitted. As ‘Ram sakha’, Agarwal filed civil suit no 5 on behalf of the deity at Ram Janmabhoomi and Asthan Janmabhoomi, where Ram Lalla was represented as plaintiff no 1. After his death on April 8, 2002, a retired history professor at Banaras Hindu University (BHU), T P Verma, was appointed the next ‘sakha’. Triloki Nath Pandey took charge as Ram sakha in early 2010 after Verma applied for retirement from the status.
Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha
Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha, one of the main litigants in the Ayodhya title suits, moved the Supreme Court in December 2010 to challenge the 2010 Allahabad High Court order. The political party sought partial annulment of the high court’s verdict. It has been against any division of the site. The Hindu Mahasabha was founded in 1915 to “protect the rights of the Hindu community in British India”. Despite being one of the oldest political party in India, its influence on Indian politics has remained only marginal.
Mahant Suresh Das
Mahant Das seeks the same permission from the SC as Gopal Singh Visharad, i.e., to worship at the disputed site. He represents the Ayodhya-based Digambar Akhara. In 1950, the then mahant of the Akhara, Paramhans Ram Chandra Das, had filed a petition in the Faizabad court.
Akhil Bhartiya Sri Ram Janam Bhoomi Punarudhar Samiti
The Samiti is one of the defendants in a lawsuit filed by a Muslim party. A petition challenging the 2010 high court verdict was also filed by the Samiti. The petition was admitted in the Supreme Court in August 2011. Later, a SC bench tagged the plea with the main case.
M Siddiq is the original litigant in the case. He was the general secretary of the Jamiat-ul Ulema-i Hind in Uttar Pradesh. The Jamiat’s maulana Ashhad Rashidi became the petitioner after Siddiq’s death. The petition filed by him on behalf of the Jamiat became the title suit in the Ayodhya case.
Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board
Sunni Central Waqf Board claims possession of the mosque. It had filed a suit in the Faizabad civil court in 1961, demanding possession of the site and removal of idols from the mosque premises.
Mohammad Hashim Ansari
Hashim Ansari was one of the oldest litigant in the Babri Masjid case. He was associated with the Babri Masjid case since 1949, being among the persons arrested for breaching public order after idols of Lord Ram were placed in the mosque. In 1961, he along with six others, became the main plaintiff in the ‘Ayodhya title suit’ filed by the Sunni Central Waqf Board. Born in Ayodhya, Ansari’s father was a tailor who owned a shop in the Shringar Haat area. He died in 2016. His son Iqbal Ansari became the petitioner after his death.
A resident of Faizabad, Haji Misbahuddeen was among the few Muslim locals of Ayodhya who were impleaded as defendants in the suits filed by the Hindu parties. Before him, his grandfather Shahabuddin and father Ziauddin had contested the case.
Haji Phenku was among the prominent defenders in the case during the early phase. One of the biggest property owners in Ayodhya at the time, Phenku was among the five local Muslim men named as defendants one of the case. After his death in 1960, his son Haji Mahboob Ahmad replaced him as the defendant.
Farooq Ahmad is also among the oldest litigants in the case. He died in December 2014 and was replaced by his youngest son Mohammad Umar. Ahmad’s father was one of the original complainant regarding the placing of the idols of Lord Rama in Babri Masjid in December 1949.
Shia Central Board of Waqf
The Shia waqf board claims the Babri Masjid to be its property, saying that the masjid was constructed by Babur’s commander Mir Baqi, a Shia. The board has moved Supreme Court against a 1946 trial court ruling that had ruled the Babri Masjid to be a Sunni property.
Case in numbers
40 Number of days the bench heard the case. It was the second longest in SC’s history
1,045 Number of pages the verdict ran into
45 Minutes in which the verdict was pronounced
13,990 Pages depositions of witnesses traversed
2.77 Acre of land that was in dispute
533 Documentary exhibits, including religious texts, travelogues, archaeological excavation reports, photographs of the site prior to demolition of the mosque perused by the bench
Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde
He will succeed Ranjan Gogoi as the next Chief Justice of India. He had served as an additional judge in the Bombay High Court in 2000, the Chief Justice of Madhya Pradesh High Court in 2002 and was elevated to the SC in April 2013. He had earlier said that this case was sensitive and also one of the most crucial cases ever
Justice DY Chandrachud
Born to YV Chandrachud, the longest-serving CJI of India, Justice DY Chandrachud was appointed as an SC judge in May 2016 by former president Pranab Mukherjee. He has served in Bombay High Court, and the Allahabad High Court. He is likely to become the CJI in 2022
Justice Ashok Bhushan
He started off his career in the late 1970s. Earlier in his life, Justice Bhushan practised as an advocate in the Allahabad High Court, following which he was elevated to the post of judge in April 2001. He had also served in the Kerala High Court in July 2014 and took charge as Acting Chief Justice. He was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2016
Justice Abdul Nazeer
He has been one of the most sought after judges in matters involving religion. He started practising as an advocate in February 1983 and in February 2017, Justice Nazeer was elevated to the Supreme Court after serving as a judge in the Kerala High Court. He was part of a multi-faith bench that heard the triple talaq case.