Ayodhya case: Supreme Court raises doubts on ASI findings

Counsel for Sunni Wakf Board Meenakshi Arora questioned the inferences of the Survey

Updated - September 26, 2019 10:23 pm IST

Published - September 26, 2019 12:34 pm IST - New Delhi

On Wednesday, senior advocate Meenakshi Arora, representing the Muslim parties, questioned the authorship of the summary of the ASI report./ File

On Wednesday, senior advocate Meenakshi Arora, representing the Muslim parties, questioned the authorship of the summary of the ASI report./ File

Supreme Court judge, Justice S.A. Bobde, said on Thursday that the court cannot be expected to re-construct the history of the Babri Masjid site from ruins, and dropped the penny that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) findings may not be “authoritative”.

The oral remarks from the judge, who is part of the Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, came when the Muslim side argued that if the Hindu side could infer a grand temple from materials uncovered in the ASI excavations at the Babri Masjid site in 2003, nothing prevented the Muslim parties from deducing the pre-existence of an Eidgah mosque at the very same spot.

‘Conjecturing so much’

Senior advocate Meenakshi Arora, for the Sunni Wakf Board, pointed to how the ASI report even inferred there was a circular shrine, believed to be of the sixth century and dedicated to Lord Shiva at the site. “We are inferring so much… conjecturing so much,” she rued about the nature of the court hearings which reached their 32nd consecutive day.

“We cannot reconstruct what happened from the ruins, that is why we want expert opinions,” Justice Bobde reacted.

“This (about the shrine) is there in the ASI report… It is the ASI which is saying there was a shrine. The experts (ASI) themselves are inferring. That is why archaeology is an inexact science. We dig and we imagine our past,” Ms. Arora said.

“The ASI cannot be considered authoritative,” Justice Bobde suddenly remarked, at which Ms. Arora immediately responded: “If that’s so, I rest my case!”

Ms. Arora has been all along arguing that the ASI report is riddled with “inherent, palpable” inferences, which contradict each other.

Analysis of materials

The report had suggested the pre-existence of a massive, multi-pillared structure — believed to be a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Ram and thus proof of his birth at the spot — at the Babri Masjid site. Ms. Arora, however, went on to reveal that the ASI report also has references to finding “Islamic material” during the excavation.

“Lime surkhi is used in some of the materials dug up by the ASI. Lime surkhi is synonymous with the Mughal construction. It is not possible to find the use of lime surkhi in the construction of structures believed to be built centuries before the entry of the Mughal sultanate,” Ms. Arora explained.

The senior lawyer, for the Board, said the ASI did not even bother to test the pottery shards unearthed during the excavation.

On pillar bases

Ms. Arora debunked the inference that a multi-pillared massive, stand-alone super-structure pre-existed the Babri mosque. The ASI had conjectured this from around 50 pillar bases found in various levels of soil underneath, she claimed. She said the pillar bases were found to be placed unevenly and varied in size up to three to four times.

Justice Ashok Bhushan on the Bench reacted sharply to Ms. Arora at this point. “You cannot impose modern engineering standards on constructions built 1000 years ago,” Justice Bhushan said.

But Ms. Arora continued her attack of the ASI report, referring to experts who had called the drawing of the 85-pillared hall which was supposed to have been underneath the Babri mosque as “fanciful”.

“There was a preconceived idea of 85-pillared hall under the Babri mosque land. B.B. Lal [who led the ASI dig] was the one who propagated the idea of a multi-pillar hall. The ASI conjecturised local claims of a huge hall. Pillar bases are not in alignment, but only a fancy drawing,” she submitted.

She said the pillar bases may have even been brickbat deposits as there was no trace of any pillars themselves. The fact that these bases were found at four different levels would also give rise to the inference that there was no one massive multi-storied structure but several structures, not necessarily religious ones, built eras apart, one on top of the other.

Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, also for the Sunni Waqf Board, submitted that they did not want to question the authorship of the ASI report and graciously apologised for delving into the claim on Wednesday.

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