The Supreme Court of India. Photo: Pinakpani/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday, May 13, refused to pass an order on an appeal seeking to stay a Varanasi court’s recent order calling for an inspection of the Gyanvapi mosque, located near the Kashi Vishwanath temple complex in Uttar Pradesh’s Varanasi, the Indian Express reported.

Senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, appearing on behalf of the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee, the caretaker committee of the mosque, brought the matter before the apex court on Friday. Ahmadi argued that the Varanasi court’s verdict stood in contradiction of the Places of Worship Act, 1991.

The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, says the religious character of place of worship will continue as it existed on on August 15, 1947, and:

“No person shall convert any place of worship of any religious denomination or any section thereof into a place of worship of a different section of the same religious denomination or of a different religious denomination or any section thereof.”

The same act says “conversion, with its grammatical variations, includes alteration or change of whatever nature.”

The Act expressly excluded the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case from its purview. In 2019, the Supreme Court through a verdict settled the title matter in favour of the main Hindu plaintiff.

However, a bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana said that the court would have to examine the files of the case before listing the matter for hearing.

In response, Ahmadi sought a status quo order to stop the survey from going forward. However, CJI Ramana said that the court cannot grant the same since it wasn’t apprised of the facts of the case.

“Without knowing anything, how can I?…Let me see the file,” the Express quoted him as saying.

Ahmadi pressed on, saying that the survey is currently underway and that the “penny might drop”. However, the CJI continued to hold that he would have to examine the case file before passing any order.

Five Hindu women had filed a petition with the Varanasi court in question seeking year-round access to what they claimed to be the Maa Shringar Gauri shrine located behind the western wall of the mosque complex. On April 8 this year, the court, while hearing their petition, had ordered an inspection of the mosque premises, which was to include videography of the site. The team was to be headed by advocate commissioner Ajay Kumar Mishra.

A report of this survey was to be submitted on May 10. However, the Masjid Committee objected to any videography within the premises of the religious site. It appealed the local court’s decision before the Allahabad high court on April 21, the same was denied.

The survey began on May 6, amid heavy security. However, there were disruptions due to the ongoing objections against videography. Thereafter, the Masjid Committee filed an application before the Varanasi court alleging potential biases in favour of the petitioners on the part of Mishra and called for his replacement.

On May 12, the court delivered its verdict on this application, wherein it ordered for videography to continue and ruled against Mishra’s replacement. It did, however, appoint two additional advocate commissioners – Ajay Singh and Vishal Singh – to assist in conducting the survey.

The verdict also said that the video survey will proceed, despite the objections. Moreover, the court has said that the district administration should file first information reports (FIR) against any individual who obstructs the survey.

A report of the exercise will have to be submitted by May 17.

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