Seeks approval to give back 67.390 acres non-disputed land to owners
In a significant move ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, the Centre on Tuesday moved the Supreme Court seeking modification of its 2003 order to allow it to return to original owners the 67.390 acres of “non-disputed” acquired land around the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid structure in Ayodhya. The 0.313 acres plot, on which disputed structure stood before it was demolished by kar sevaks on December 6, 1992, was within the 2.77 acres plot.
The Government had acquired 67.703 acres, including the 2.77 acres, through a legislation in 1993 but the Supreme Court had ordered a status quo in 2003 on the entire land in Ayodhya where the 16th Century mosque stood before it was demolished in 1992. The Babri Masjid stood on 0.313 acres of these 67 acres, which constitutes the disputed land.
The application filed by the BJP-led NDA Government on Tuesday claimed that only 0.313 acres land on which the disputed structure stood before the demolition was disputed portion of the land.
The Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas (RJN) is the owner of as much as 42 acres of the acquired non-disputed land. The organisation is a trust that was formed to promote and oversee the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya.
“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,” the plea said. It sought modification of the apex court order of March 31, 2003, by which the Central Government was directed to maintain the “status quo” with regard to entire land, including the non-disputed acquired plots. The Modi Government in its 33-page application said modification would enable it to determine “the exact extent of land required from out of the superfluous/excess land to ensure that the successful party in the dispute pending regarding the “disputed land” can have proper access to and enjoyment of rights in the disputed land”.
The petition comes the day the Supreme Court was supposed to begin the long-anticipated hearing on the Ayodhya title dispute case, but the court cancelled the hearing due to the unavailability of one of the judges on the five-judge Constitution Bench. Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, this writ petition is being seen as the BJP-led Government’s move to reaffirm its commitment towards building a Ram temple in Ayodhya.
The Centre’s petition comes at a time when the newly formed Constitution Bench is set to hear the title dispute. This Bench initially comprised Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices SA Bobde, NV Ramana, UU Lalit and DY Chandrachud, and was scheduled to hear the matter on January 10. However, Justice UU Lalit recused himself from the case. This was after Senior Advocate Rajiv Dhavan, who represents the Sunni Waqf Board, pointed out that Justice Lalit had represented former UP CM Kalyan Singh, in a contempt of court case 24 years ago.
Referring to the earlier order of March 31, 2003, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) 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.
The plea has said the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas had sought return of excess land acquired in 1991 to original owners. “One party namely Ram Janmabhoomi 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,” the plea said.
“The applicant is seeking permission of this court to discharge its duty as earmarked in the judgment of the Constitution Bench by suitably modifying/vacating the order dated 31.3.2003,” the plea said.
The Centre has said in its plea that it has no objection in returning the land to its actual owners.
Fourteen appeals have been filed in the apex court against the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment, 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.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who on Saturday had said that the matter should be handed over to the State Government so that it can be resolved “within 24 hours”, welcomed the Centre’s move and said, “We welcome the move by the Centre. We have been saying that we should get permission to use the undisputed land.”
Meanwhile, describing the Centre’s plea in the Supreme Court to return excess land acquired by it in Ayodhya to their original owners as “insidious”, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi said the NDA Government was trying to prevent fair adjudication of the dispute. “This insidious attempt by the Central Government should not be ignored. They’re trying everything in their capacity to prevent a fair and independent adjudication of the Babri Masjid dispute,” the All India Majilis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader tweeted.