The Union Government’s application regarding the ‘superfluous land’ around the disputed site at Ayodhya in the Supreme Court yesterday raises several questions not including the political motives behind it. One question concerns the size of the disputed area as mentioned in the petition. The other concerns maintaining status quo.
Looking at the reports of the Union Government’s application in the Supreme Court to return the non-disputed area acquired by it in 1993 following the Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992, it appears that there is no consensus on the size of the disputed site. Several reports indicate the area to measure 2.77 acres, whereas other reports cite the Union Government’s figure of 0.313 acres. What further complicates matters is that none of the Court’s Orders or Judgements cited in the government’s petition make any mention of the size of the disputed area, whereas the total acquired area of 67.703 acres is mentioned. The only indication of the location of the disputed area are the revenue numbers 159 and 160. So where did the figures of 2.77 and 0.313 acres come from?
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At paragraph 5 of the Allahabad High Court’s 2010 Judgement – which is being appealed against in the Supreme Court – the Court states; “Broadly, the measurement of the disputed area is about 130X80 sq. Feet.” Later submissions mentioned in the Judgement lead one to believe that the disputed area was acquired by the government of Uttar Pradesh through a notification on October 7, 1990. The area acquired consisted of parts of plot numbers 159, 160, 171 and 172, which measured in total 2.7744 acres. The High Court charted the history of the notification as being challenged by Mohd. Hashim and other parties. The Court struck down the notification in December 1992.
It ought to be noted that these figures mentioned by the High Court do not pertain solely to the structure of the mosque, but to the entire complex including the land on which the makeshift Ram Chabutra stood. In which case, one could presume that the figure 0.313 acres mentioned in the government’s application refers solely to the area where the mosque used to be. If this is the case, then it would appear that the government is tacitly supporting the encroachment of the compound while the matter is sub judice.
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However, in paragraph 3 of the application as uploaded on Bar and Bench, the government mentions that, “The “disputed land” is comprised in the area admeasuring 0.313 acres over which the structure [including the premises of the internal and outer courtyards of such structure], commonly known as Ramjanmabhoomi – Babri Masjid stood in Village Kot Ramchandra in Ayodhya, in Pargana Haveli Avadh, in Tehsil Faizabad of the State of U.P. [hererinafter referred to as “the disputed land”]” This certainly makes the matter more confusing.
The government in its application has referred to the Order passed by the Supreme Court on March 31, 2003, in Mohd. Aslam @ Bhure v. Union of India and Ors. The Order pertained to maintaining status quo till the dispute is disposed off in the Allahabad High Court. The application also relies heavily on the 1994 Judgement in Ismail Faruqui v Union of India, where the Supreme Court upheld the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act to the extent that the government acquired excess land to achieve the object of the Act, i.e. avoid further communal tensions. However, the Court also mentioned that determining how much excess area ought to be acquired is a matter of policy, and not a matter for judicial scrutiny.
Since the Allahabad High Court disposed off the suit in 2010, one could assume that the Order of status quo accordingly lapsed. However, the Order passed by the Supreme Court on May 9, 2011, during the first hearing of the appeal against the Allahabad High Court’s 2010 decision stated;
“... we are pleased to note that there is complete unanimity on maintaining status quo and all the parties are in agreement that order may be passed for maintaining status quo on the disputed site and on the adjoining land.”
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The Court then elaborated on what maintaining status quo would entail, i.e. in the decision in Ismail Faruqui, the right to worship in the disputed area would be curtailed. Regarding the Orders passed in Mohd. Aslam @ Bhure, no religious activity would be allowed on the total area of 67.703 acres acquired by the government under the 1993 Act.
What complicates the matter of status quo is that the government in its application has argued that since it is not a party in the title suit which is on appeal, it is not bound by the Order for status quo. However, the fact does remain that the government was a party to both the suits in which an Order for maintaining status quo was made. The present appeal only extends the duration of the previous Orders.