The Central government on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to allow it to restore the acquired "superfluous" excess land adjacent to the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid area to its rightful owners in Ayodhya after carving out the exact extent of land necessary to access the disputed area.
The 67.703-acre land, mainly belonging to Hindus, is vested with the Centre as its custodian under the Acquisition of Certain Area in Ayodhya Act of 1993.
The government is asking the court to modify its March 2003 decision in the case of Mohd Aslam alias Bhure, who had filed a writ petition challenging some aspects of the acquisition.
It was also in the Bhure case, in an interim order on March 14, 2002, the court made it clear that "no religious activity of any kind by anyone either symbolic or actual including bhumipuja or shila puja , shall be permitted or allowed to take place" in 67.7 acres of the land.
In 2003, the court ordered status quo on the land acquisition. Justice Rajendra Babu, in a judgment, concluded that the disputed Babri Masjid area of 0.313 acre and the acquired adjacent land of over 67 acres were both intrinsic to each other. The court held that the future use of the acquired land would depend on the outcome of the then pending title dispute in the Allahabad High Court. The acquisition of 67.7 acres was incidental to the outcome of the title dispute.
Pronouncing its judgment in the title suits in September 2010, the High Court ordered a three-way division of the disputed area. Subsequently, both the Hindu and Muslim side appealed to the Supreme Court against the High Court judgment. Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has now formed a Constitution Bench to hear the title suit appeals after a hiatus of over seven years.
Now, in this modification application, the Centre has drawn the court's attention to the fact that Ram Janam Bhoomi Nyas, which rightfully owns the majority of the acquired land adjacent to the 0.313 acres of the disputed area, wants its land back.
Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas' application
The Centre said the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas has filed an application claiming its land measuring approximately 42 acres (out of the 67.703 acre acquired) is superfluous.
To facilitate this, the government asked the court to allow it to "restore/revert/hand over back superfluous/excess/vacant land (other than the land admeasuring 0.313 acres) to owners/occupiers from whom the land was acquired under the Act of 1993."
The government wanted the court to "modify the order of March 31, 2003 so as to enable the Central Government to determine the exact extent of land required from out of superfluous excess land to ensure that the successful party in the dispute pending regarding the disputed land can have property access to and enjoyment of rights in the disputed land."
Government cites Ismail Farooqui judgment
The government sought the modification of the 2003 Bhure verdict on the basis of the apex court's direction in its March 2002 Ismail Farooqui judgment.
The government argued that the Farooqui judgment gave enough room for return of the acquired "excess" land. It said that "at a later stage when the exact area acquired which is needed for achieving the professed purpose of acquisition can be determined, it would not merely be permissible but also desirable that the superfluous excess area is released from acquisition and reverted to its earlier owner".
The validity of the 1993 Act had in been challenged in the Ismail Farooqui case.
The Centre made the land acquisition in 1993 after it found it "necessary to maintain communal harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst the people of India."
The preamble to the Ayodhya Act of 1993 said "it was considered necessary to acquire the site of the disputed structure and suitable adjacent land for setting up a complex which could be developed in a planned manner wherein a Ram temple, a mosque, amenities for pilgrims, a library, museum and other suitable facilities can be set up."
In Ismail Farooqui verdict, the court agreed with the government that the acquisition of the adjacent land was necessary to "ensure that the final outcome of adjudication should not be rendered meaningless by the existence of properties belonging to Hindus in the vicinity of the disputed structure in case the Muslims are found entitled to the disputed site."
The court explained that the acquisition was done to prevent a scenario in which the Muslim community succeeded in the title dispute and their access to the disputed site was "thwarted by denial of proper access to and enjoyment of rights in the disputed area by exercise of rights of ownership of Hindu owners of the adjacent properties."
The court, in the Ismail Farooqui verdict, said that though at first blush the acquisition "may appear to be a slant against Hindus, yet on closer scrutiny it is not so since it is for the larger national purpose of maintaining and promoting communal harmony and in consonance with the creed of secularism."
Now this modification application points to the court's own words in the Ismail Farooqui judgment that it is the duty of the Centre to restore superfluous land acquired to its owners.