The Supreme Court of India has granted the Muslim side an interim stay on the Varanasi Court’s July 21 order directing the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to conduct a scientific investigation of the Gyanvapi premises, excluding the stayed areas. The apex court said that the Varanasi Court’s order should not be enforced till July 26, 5 pm.
The court’s three-judge bench, comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra, passed the order to allow some breathing time to the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee to move the Allahabad High Court for challenging the Varanasi Court’s order. The court has asked the Muslim side to move the Allahabad High Court tomorrow, July 25, and requested the Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court to allow a hearing for them before the interim order expires on July 26.
The Muslim side’s counsel, Senior Advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, informed the court that ASI had initiated scientific survey proceedings on Gyanvapi premises today, July 24. The counsel argued that the excavation of the structure would cause irreversible damage to the structure. The counsel further alleged that the trial court’s order contravened the Supreme Court’s earlier order deferring the scientific investigation to be carried out on Gyanvapi premises.
However, the Hindu side’s counsel, Senior Advocate Shyam Divan, informed the court that the Supreme Court’s earlier order was in the context of the ‘Shiva Linga’ found in the Gyanvapi premises. The counsel further submitted that the trial court’s order has specifically excluded the ‘Shiva Linga’ from the scope of ASI’s scientific investigation.
The Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta concurred with advocate Shyam Divan’s submissions and said that the top court’s previous order concerned the carbon dating of the ‘Shiva Linga,’ which the Muslim side claims is a fountain. The Solicitor General submitted that the court’s earlier order was in view of the possible damage to the structure, however, the trial court’s order does not relate to any ‘invasive procedure.’
The Muslim side’s counsel claimed that the ASI plans to conduct an excavation at the disputed structure. However, the Hindu side’s counsel clarified that the order referred to non-invasive processes like Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR).
However, Ahmadi protested, “No, they will excavate. Please see the order…it says that director of ASI is directed to GPR survey, excavation, dating method wherever required…” He further added, “When the order expressly says excavation, how can my learned friends say that there is no invasive procedure … At least give us reasonable time.”
The Solicitor General further informed the court, after taking instructions from ASI, that “not a brick of the structure” would be removed. “Only measurements, photography, radar imaging is on. But not a brick has been touched or will be touched at least for a week… no structural changes,” he added. He further submitted that the ASI is not even contemplating invasive procedures at the disputed structure for at least a week. “It’s not even in contemplation for at least a week. In a matter where the maintainability of IA is doubtful, kindly see what impact this order by SC will have on hearing in HC. Only radar imaging is being done…” he said.
The Supreme Court decided to grant an interim stay on the Varanasi Court’s order till July 26, 5 pm, to allow the Muslim side to move the Allahabad High Court to challenge the order.
Notably, on July 24 morning, an ASI team began the scientific survey of the Gyanvapi premises. The ASI team reached Varanasi with the necessary equipment on Sunday, July 23. The survey began at about 7 am. The Varanasi Court, on July 21, directed the ASI to conduct the scientific survey/investigation of the Gyanvapi premises, excluding the areas excluded by the Supreme Court, and submit a report on August 4.
The survey is being conducted for the disputed structure even as the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee moved the Supreme Court to challenge the Varanasi Court’s order. The Muslim side is boycotting the survey, with the management committee’s joint secretary SM Yasin stating, “We have boycotted the ASI survey. Neither we, nor our advocate are present there (in the Gyanvapi premises) during the ASI survey. We are not participating in it.”
Meanwhile, the Hindu side has welcomed the survey. One of the petitioners, Sohan Lal Arya, said, “This is a very glorious moment for us for the Hindu community and crores of Hindus… The survey is the only possible solution to this Gyanvapi issue,” in an interview with ANI.
Varanasi Court Directs ASI to Survey Gyanvapi Premises
On July 21, a Varanasi Court directed the Director of the ASI to undertake a scientific investigation/excavation of the Gyanvapi premises, excluding the areas sealed by the Supreme Court to ascertain whether the present structure was constructed over a pre-existing Hindu temple. The court further directed the ASI to investigate the age and nature of the construction of the western wall of the structure. The court directed the ASI to submit the report by August 4 and scheduled the case for the next hearing on the same date.
The court’s District Judge, AK Vishwesha, pronounced the order in the Hindu worshippers’ application seeking a scientific investigation of the Gyanvapi premises. The applicants contended that a “glorious, magnificent temple” dedicated to Bhagwan Shiva existed at the disputed site which was destroyed by Muslim invaders.
The court noted that the application seeks to prove that the facts mentioned in the plaint are corroborated through scientific evidence collected by a fact-finding expert agency. The court noted that the ASI is a premier institution, equipped with infrastructure and instruments to conduct a GPR survey and find out the age and nature of the construction.
“In my view, if ASI will be directed to hold survey and scientific investigation at the property in question and submit report then it will help in just and proper disposal of the case and true facts will come before this Court. I am also of the view that objections, filed by defendant no.4 are unfounded and without any substance,” the court said.
“In my view, the law laid down in the above mentioned ruling is not applicable here because scientific investigation by ASI seems to be necessary in this case so that true facts relating to this case can come before the Court and this Court can arrive at just and reasonable conclusion,” the court further added, referring to Allahabad High Court’s ruling in Sri Kant v Mool Chand and others (2019) as put forth by the respondent.
The court allowed the plaintiff’s application and directed the Director of ASI to undertake a scientific investigation/excavation of the Gyanvapi premises, excluding the areas sealed by the Supreme Court to ascertain whether the present structure was constructed over a pre-existing Hindu temple. The court directed that the entire survey proceedings must be photographed and videographed.
The court further directed the ASI to investigate the age and nature of the construction of the western wall of the structure. The court also directed that the Director of ASI must ensure that the disputed structure must not be damaged and remains unharmed.