Ayodhya verdict
Highlights from the judgment delivered by the five-judge Constitution Bench.

The Supreme Court on Saturday pronounced its 1045-page judgment in the long drawn out Ayodhya dispute. The five-judge Constitution Bench, in a unanimous judgment, handed over the disputed land to the Hindu parties and ordered that alternate land in Ayodhya, measuring five acres, be given to the Muslim parties. 

The possession of the disputed land has, for now, been given over to the Centre. The Centre has been directed to formulate a scheme for a Board of Trustees for the construction of the temple at the disputed site. The disputed 2.77 acre land, which includes the inner and outer courtyards, will be handed over by the Centre to the trustees. The Centre will also hand over the rest of the land to the trustees.  

Here are the key highlights from the judgment delivered on Saturday: 

SC on Ram Janmasthan birth place of Lord Ram 

The Supreme Court judgment was followed by a 116-page addendum over whether the disputed structure is the holy birthplace of Lord Ram as per the faith, belief and trust of the Hindus.

The addendum mentions that in the period prior to 1528 AD, “there was sufficient religious texts, which led the Hindus to believe the present site of Ram Janma Bhumi as the birthplace of Lord Ram".

The addendum concludes with: 

“Faith and belief of the Hindus as depicted by the evidence on record clearly establish that the Hindus belief that at the birth place of Lord Ram, the Mosque was constructed and three-dome structure is the birth place of Lord Ram. The fact that Hindus were by constructing iron wall, dividing mosque premises, kept outside the three-dome structure cannot be said to alter their faith and belief regarding the birth place of Lord Ram. The worship on the Ram Chabutra in the outer courtyard was symbolic worship of Lord Ram who was believed to be born in the premises,” the Supreme Court noted in its addendum to the judgment.

Interestingly, just before the addendum, the SC judgment notes: “One of us, while being in agreement with the above reasons and directions, has recorded separate reasons on ‘Whether the disputed structure is the birth-place of Lord Ram according to the faith and belief of the Hindu devotees’.”

Legal person

One of the main issues that the Supreme Court had to contend with was whether Ram, the deity, and the spot, Ram Janma Bhumi, could be legal persons — entitled to all the rights and duties as a human, by law. However, the identity of the deity as a juridical person was not under question, and was represented by a “friend” over the course of the hearings. 

Why Ram, the deity was taken as a legal personality: The court stated that Hindu idols are conferred with legal personality to help adjudicate disputes. 

“The existence of the idol is merely a question of form, or corpus, and the legal personality of the first plaintiff [the deity] is not dependent on the continued existence of the idol. At the heart of the present dispute are questions pertaining to the rightful manager of the deity and the access of the devotees of Lord Ram to the idols,” the court said, upholding that the deity is a legal personality. 

Why Ram Janam Bhumi was not: Lawyers argued that the land in itself had to be taken into account — and urged that there was a difference between the land being a deity, the land being the abode of a deity, and the land being the property of a deity. One of the lawyers said that if the land in itself was considered as a legal person, it renders questions of any kind of possession agreement unnecessary. And if so, the land could not be divided, and any kind of division would be destruction of the deity itself. 

The lawyer for the Muslim party the Sunni Muslim Waqf Board, however, said that making immovable property a legal person is not supported by law and “that conferring legal personality on land would be an innovation leading to the insulation of land from any form of adjudication."

The court stated that whether or not the site is a legal person does not take away from the belief and faith of Hindus, and does not take away from its significance. 

It said that immovable property (the land, in this case), by its very nature may be divided, and can have an owner. If this land was recognised as a legal person, it would lose these characteristics. 

Making a distinction between why the deity was recognised and the land will not be, the judgment stated that there was a larger purpose in the case of the deity — “to ensure the execution and protection of the pious purpose set out by a donor and the ultimate protection of the beneficial interest of the worshippers.”

In the case of the land, however, it would have consequences that have no connection pertaining to the case. 

“The elevation of land to the status of a juristic person fundamentally alters its characteristics as immoveable property, a severe consequence against which a court must guard. Nor is it a valid safeguard to postulate that the court will decide on a case to case basis where a particular immoveable property should have a juristic status,” the court stated. 

It further added that something is conferred with a juristic personality where it’s necessary or is convenient — but in the present case, the law is equipped to handle the case without conferring juristic personality. 

“There is therefore no merit in the argument that faith and belief, and the protection of faith and belief alone may necessitate the conferral of legal personality on the second plaintiff. On the contrary, there exists a substantial risk with adopting this argument,” the court said. 

SC on findings of Archaeological Survey of India 

While the Supreme Court also said that title claims cannot be based on archaeological findings, archaeological evidence cannot be brushed aside as mere conjecture and hypothesis. The SC stated that while the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) report did mention the presence of a pre-existing structure, the report has left unanswered whether a Hindu temple had been demolished to pave way for the construction of the mosque. 

“A finding of title cannot be based in law on the archaeological findings which have been arrived at by ASI. Between the twelfth century to which the underlying structure is dated and the construction of the mosque in the sixteenth century, there is an intervening period of four centuries. No evidence has been placed on the record in relation to the course of human history between the twelfth and sixteen centuries,” the Supreme Court said. 

“No evidence is available in a case of this antiquity on (i) the cause of destruction of the underlying structure; and (ii) whether the pre-existing structure was demolished for the construction of the mosque. Title to the land must be decided on settled legal principles and applying evidentiary standards which govern a civil trial,” the SC added. 

How Muslims failed to prove possession: 

The judges observed that while the Sunni Waqf Board has stated that the mosque was constructed in the 16th century, there was no evidence of possession or use till the 19th century. 

“That is why the provision postulates that where a person is shown to be in possession, and a question arises as to whether that person is the owner,  the law casts the burden of disproving ownership on the individual who affirms that the person in possession is not the owner,” the court stated . 

It stated that travelogues in the 17th century and 18th century provide a detailed account of worship at the deity’s said place of birth. 

It also stated that prior to December 1949, Muslims had not been completely ousted. 

The court went on to say that there is evidence for the worship of Hindus in the outer as well as inner courtyard. 

“The Muslims have offered no evidence to indicate that they were in exclusive possession of the inner structure prior to 1857 since the date of the construction in the sixteenth century,” the court stated. 

Nirmohi Akhara not a shebait

One of the five suits the court was hearing was of Nirmohi Akhara, a group of ascetics, who claimed to be devotees of Lord Ram for many centuries, and wanted shebait rights over the land — the one in whom the property of the temple is vested, (regarded as vested with the deity) and has rights in the capacity of a manager of the deity’s property. The Nirmohis claim that they were, at all material times, in charge and management of the structure at the disputed site. 

The Supreme Court held that the Nirmohi Akhara’s suit was barred by limitation. According to the law, to get possession of land, a suit must be filed within 12 years. However, Nirmohi Akhara’s suit was filed beyond time prescribed under the Limitations Act, 1963. 

The court also rejected Nirmohi Akhara’s claim to be a shebait of the disputed land. However, taking the historical presence of Nirmohi Akhara at the disputed site and their role, the court directed an appropriate role be assigned to the Nirmohi Akhara in the trust that will be formed to oversee the construction of the temple at the site. This direction was taken under Article 142 of the Constitution, which states: “Supreme Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction may pass such decree or make such order as is necessary for doing complete justice in any cause or matter pending before it...”

Destruction of Babri Masjid a breach of SC orders

In its judgment, the Supreme Court called the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 “an egregious violation of the rule of law.”

“On 6 December 1992, the structure of the mosque was brought down and the mosque was destroyed. The destruction of the mosque took place in breach of the order of status quo and an assurance given to this Court. The destruction of the mosque and the obliteration of the Islamic structure was an egregious violation of the rule of law,” the SC said. 

Allahabad High Court legally unsustainable, ‘defies logic’

A three-judge bench comprising of SU Khan, Sudhir Agarwal, and Dharam Veer Sharma of the Allahabad High Court in September 2010 said that both Hindus and Muslims are joint title holders of the land. One-third was given to each of the parties — Nirmohi Akhara, Ram Lalla and the Sunni Muslim Waqf Board. 

The SC said that HC judgment followed the provisions of Section 110 of the Evidence Act — which states that the burden of proof lies on the one questioning the ownership — came to the conclusion that the disputed site should be equally distributed between the three parties.

It also stated that the suit filed in the High Court was not one of partition. “It granted reliefs which were not the subject matter of the prayers in the suits. In the process of doing so, it proceeded to assume the jurisdiction of a civil court in a suit for partition, which the suits before it were not,” the court stated. 

There is another serious flaw in the entire approach of the High Court in granting relief of a three-way bifurcation of the disputed site, which the court termed ‘defies logic’.

“The claim by the Nirmohi Akhara was as a shebait who claimed a decree for management and charge. On its own case, Nirmohi Akhara could not have been granted an independent share of the land,” it stated. 

Furthermore, the court added that the trifurcation of land was legally unsustainable and not feasible.

“Even as a matter of maintaining public peace and tranquility, the solution which commended itself to the High Court is not feasible. The disputed site admeasures all of 1500 square yards. Dividing the land will not subserve the interest of either of the parties or secure a lasting sense of peace and tranquillity,” the SC stated.