Gyanvapi Mosque Dispute #4: SC Decides to Keep Case Pending Till District Court Decision

Gyanvapi Mosque Dispute

A Special Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Surya Kant and P.S. Narasimha assembled for a short hearing on the Gyanvapi Mosque dispute at 2pm on July 21st, 2022. The Gyanvapi Mosque Management Committee challenged  the Allahabad High Court’s decision upholding the Varanasi Civil Court’’s Order forming an Enquiry Commission to assess the allegedly Hindu origins of the mosque. Within half an hour, the Bench decided to keep the matter pending.

In April 2022, influenced by the enquiry Commission members’ statements, the Varanasi Civil Court delivered an Order directing  the State authorities to protect the alleged shivling at the Gyanvapi site. Resultantly, the Mosque was sealed. On May 20th 2022, the Supreme Court clarified in measured terms that the District Judge’s Order meant the shivling must be protected without precluding Muslims from praying at Gyanvapi. The Court further removed the case from the City Civil Court and placed it in the ‘more seasoned’ hand of a District Judge. The SC ordered the District Judge Judge to hear the Mosque Management Committee’s complaint, which argued that the very inception of the Enquiry Commission was illegal.

Since the SC’s May 22nd Order, the District Judge has commenced hearings in the dispute. He is yet to hear arguments on the validity of the Order forming the enquiry Commission. Today’s hearing acted as an update for the SC on the developments at the District Court. 

SC Decides to Leave Case Pending Until District Court Judgment

At the beginning of the hearing, Justice Chandrachud stated the Bench’s intention to dispose of the Management Committee’s appeal at the SC. In agreement, Justice Surya Kant explained that the Management Committee’s main complaint was that the Commission was formed ‘ex-parte’—without giving them a chance to be heard.If the SC specifies that the District must hear all objections that the Management Committee would have made if it was heard before the Commission was formed, there was no reason to leave the case pending at the SC. The Bench noted that the District Judge is empowered to hear these objections under Order 7, Rule 11 and Order 26 of the Code of Civil Procedure, (1908). 

Senior Advocate Hufeza Ahmadi, appearing for the Management Committee, argued that the Court would indirectly be assuming that the Allahabad High Court’s decision to uphold the Order forming the Commission was correct if it dismissed the challenge to the Order. He stated that the High Court decision is wrong, since the Commission is clearly illegal. 

Noting that the Bench was unconvinced, Mr. Ahmadi argued that a dismissal would set bad precedent. In similar cases elsewhere, subordinate courts may feel emboldened to form such illegal commissions. While the High Court’s Judgment stated that the Commission’s findings were innocuous, Mr. Ahmadi disagreed. He argued that they had led to the mosque premises being sealed, changing a decades-old status quo. 

The Bench yielded, leaving the petition pending until the District Judge decides on the legality of the Order forming the Commission. 

The Bench briefly addressed two related petitions as well. One sought permission to worship the alleged shivling during the monsoon months. Another sought directions to carbon date the shivling and survey it with GPS. Bewildered by the lawyers’ decision to approach the Supreme Court for this relief while the main dispute was pending before the District Court, a chuckling Justice Chandrachud asked for the petitions to be withdrawn. 

The Court will hear this case next in October 2022.