Supreme Court refuses to stay ‘puja’ in southern cellar of Gyanvapi complex at Varanasi : The Tribune India

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Supreme Court refuses to stay ‘puja’ in southern cellar of Gyanvapi complex at Varanasi

Three-judge Bench led by CJI DY Chandrachud orders status quo; issues notice to Hindu side

Supreme Court refuses to stay ‘puja’ in southern cellar of Gyanvapi complex at Varanasi

The order came on Anjuman Intezamia Masajid Committee’s plea against an Allahabad High Court verdict upholding a Varanasi court’s order allowing Hindu prayers in the southern cellar of the mosque—adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath temple. PTI file



Tribune News Service

Satya Prakash

New Delhi, April 1

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to stay ongoing ‘puja’ in the southern cellar of Gyanvapi mosque complex at Varanasi adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath temple even as it ordered that the status quo shall not be disturbed by either of the parties without its permission.

“At this stage, bearing in mind the fact that namaz is being offered by Muslim communities unhindered after the orders of the district court and the High Court, and that prayers in tehkhana (cellar) is limited to Hindu priests, it’s important to maintain the status quo, so that both communities can perform religious worship...” a three-judge Bench led by CJI DY Chandrachud ordered

The Bench – which also included Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra – made it clear that the status quo “shall not be disturbed by either of the parties without obtaining the previous sanction and leave of this court (top court).”

While ordering status quo at the disputed site, the Bench issued notice to the Hindu side on Anjuman Intezamia Masajid Committee’s plea for stay puja at southern cellar.

“The religious observances by the Hindus shall be in terms of directions contained in the order dated January 31, 2024, subject to the custody of the receiver as specified in the earlier order dated Jan 17, 2024,” ordered the Bench.

Asking the Hindu side to file its response to the plea by April 30, the Bench posted the matter for further hearing in the third week of July.

The order came on Anjuman Intezamia Masajid Committee’s plea against an Allahabad High Court verdict upholding a Varanasi court’s order allowing Hindu prayers in the southern cellar of the mosque—adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath temple. The committee manages the affairs of the Gyanvapi mosque, Varanasi.

On behalf of the committee, senior counsel Huzefa Ahmadi demanded an absolute stay on puja at the cellar, saying bit by bit the committee will lose the entire site given the way petitions were being filed in the trial court where 20 suits were pending.

Senior advocate Shyam Diwan and advocate Vishnu Shankar Jain, representing the Hindu side, opposed the prayer for stay, saying there was no need for interference by the top court at this juncture.

“This is a personal right as far as the Vyas family is concerned. For generations, they have been the pujaris. The final relief is not yet granted by the Court,” Diwan submitted.

The Allahabad High Court had on February 26 dismissed the committee’s petition against the district court’s January 31 order allowing Hindus to offer prayers in the southern cellar.

“Article 25 of the Constitution of India grants freedom of religion. The Vyas family, which continued performance of religious worship and rituals in the cellar could not be denied access by oral order. A citizen’s right guaranteed under Article 25 cannot be taken away by arbitrary action of the State,” the high court had said in its judgment.

The prayers are being conducted by a Hindu priest nominated by the Kashi Vishwanath Temple Trust and petitioner Shailendra Kumar Pathak, who claimed that his maternal grandfather Somnath Vyas, also a priest, offered prayers in the cellar till December 1993. He had claimed that his family had the control of the cellar even during British rule.

The high court had said that the Uttar Pradesh Government’s 1993 decision to stop the Hindu rituals inside the “Vyas Tehkhana”—located at the southern cellar of Gyanvapi—was “illegal”.

The worship rituals were stopped by “illegal action of the state without there being any order in writing”, the high court had noted while rejecting two appeals filed by the mosque management committee against the Varanasi District Judge’s January 17 order—that appointed the district magistrate as the receiver of the “Vyas Tehkhana”—and the January 31 order by which the judge allowed ‘puja’ to be performed there. The worship will continue in the “Vyas Tehkhana” of the mosque, the HC had said.

The Archaeological Survey of India – which conducted a survey on the court’s order—had concluded that the Gyanvapi mosque was constructed over the remains of a Hindu temple during Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s rule.

The Hindu side maintained that the puja in the southern cellar was stopped in the aftermath of the December 6, 1992 demolition of Babri mosque in Ayodhya when Mulayam Singh Yadav was the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister.

The Muslim side had contested the petitioner’s version before the trial court, contending there was no question of prayers till 1993 as no idols existed in the cellar.

 

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