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The Supreme Court is hearing an appeal to the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment that divided the disputed land title at Ayodhya among the Nirmohi Akhara (NA), Lord Ram and the Sunni Waqf Board. Since 6 August, the Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice Gogoi has been hearing the matter on a daily basis.

 

We provide an overview of the main arguments made during the first week of oral arguments. Senior advocates Sushil Kumar Jain and K Parasan argued on behalf of the NA and Lord Ram, respectively.  

 

For an introduction to the case, read this.

 

Timeline

Both senior advocates reminded the Bench of the timeline that led to the original suits.

  • 22/23 December 1949: Hindu idols were placed under Babri Masjid dome.
  • 29 December 1949: Faizabad Magistrate directs site to be placed under the custodial responsibility of the State.
  • 5 January 1950: The Chairman of the Municipal Board receives the disputed land.
  • 1959: Nirmohi Akhara files title suit
  • 1961: Sunni Waqf Board files title suit
  • 1989: Deoki N Agarwal files title suit on behalf of Lord Ram and Ram Janmabhoomi (birthplace of Ram)

 

The Nirmohi Akhara’s claim

SK Jain opened arguments on 6 August by introducing the Bench to the Nirmohi Akhara. He defined it as a religious establishment of a public character, which has held possession of the inner and outer courtyards of Babri Masjid. He clarified that the current dispute is limited to the inner courtyard. SK Jain submitted that the Nirmohi Akhara is seeking possession of the disputed site via a mandatory injunction (as opposed to a declaration) order.

 

On 7 August, the Bench emphasised that SK Jain needed to produce oral and documentary evidence to substantiate the NA’s possession claim. SK Jain sought to take the Bench through extracts of the evidence, produced in the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment. The Bench said this would not be sufficient and said it would return to him after hearing the other parties.

 

Lord Ram’s claim

On 9 August, K Parasaran sought to establish that divine presence could be established at the site independently of idols. Idols only appeared in December 1949, which would make Lord Ram’s possession claim younger than those of the other parties

 

On the issue of whether the site is Ram’s birthplace, K Parasaran sought to convince the court to place weight on the faith of worshippers. On 7 August, he submitted that millions of Hindus believe that the site is the Ram Janmabhoomi. 

 

He also argued that the site itself is a legal person. Historically, the courts have granted legal personhood to Hindu idols. On 7 and 9 August. K Parasaran sought to establish that the site is divine and hence should be treated as a juridical entity. The Allahabad High Court had validated this argument.

 

Barred by limitation

Both SK Jain and K Parasaran argued that the Sunni Waqf Board’s suit is barred by the Limitation Act, 1908. In other words, did the Board wait too long to file a suit? SK Jain on 6 August established that the limitation period began in December 1949, when the Faizabad magistrate issued its order and namaz subsequently ceased and argued that the limitation period was six years under Article 120 of the Act. The question arose whether the Waqf had suffered a 'continuing wrong' under Section 23 of the Act, which would result in the limitation period continuously refreshing. K Parasaran on 7 August disputed this, arguing that the continued presence of the idols at the site only constituted a continuous injury. The Bench questioned the validity of this distinction between wrong and injury.

 

The Nirmohi Akhara’s suit also may be barred by limitation. SK Jain of course argued that it was not. On 7 August, he introduced the novel argument that the limitation period never began because the Faizabad magistrate never issued a final order. He relied on Article 47 of the 1908 Act.  

 

On the other hand, K Parasaran submitted on 7 August that the Allahabad High Court had held that the Akhara’s suit is barred by limitation under Article 120 of the 1908 Act