In a significant development that could have far-reaching ramifications, the Mathura district judge, who allowed the civil revision plea of Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi Trust and other private parties, has observed in his order that the provisions of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act 1991 were not applicable in the case because of Section 4(3) (b) of the 1991 Act.
The order also said a worshipper could file a suit as the next friend of a deity.
Responding to the order, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) said it vindicated its stand on the Mathura and Kashi temples. The lawyers of the Shahi Idgah said the Supreme Court should make its stand clear on the 1991 Act, or else the lower courts would continue to interpret it arbitrarily.
The petitioners, Bhagwan Shri Krishna Virajman, Ashthan Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi moved through next friend Ranjana Agnihotri, had argued the agreement reached between Shri Krishna Janmasathan Sev Sansthan and Shahi Idgah Trust in 1968 was fraudulent and it resulted in a compromise decree in 1974. In the agreement, the Society had conceded the ‘valuable property’ of the deity/ Trust to the Shahi Idgah Trust without having the right to enter into a compromise, the petitioners said.
The lawyers representing the Idgah Trust argued that the Society was an agent of the Trust and the compromise agreement was also subsequently registered.
District judge Rajeev Bharti reasoned as the decree was drawn before the commencement of the Act of 1991 and since the same is the subject matter of challenge in the suit moved by the petitioner, and, therefore, by virtue of Section 4 (3) (b) of 1991 Act, the Act shall not be applicable on this dispute.
Noting, "Nothing contained in sub-section (1) and sub-section (2) shall apply to any suit, appeal or other proceedings, with respect to any matter, referred to in sub-section (2) finally decided, settled or disposed of by a court, tribunal or authority before the commencement of this Act," Mr. Bharti said, "in light of the discussions made and the legal tenets on the mentioned question, this court is of the considered view that the provisions of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act 1991 are not applicable."
Mr. Bharti passed the order on Thursday but it was uploaded only on Saturday.
The suit that was dismissed by a lower court in September 2020, saying the plaintiffs being the devotees of Shri Krishna had no right to file the suit, had come up for revision.
The court said a worshipper, as the next friend of a deity, can file a suit for restoration of the religious rights of the deity.
‘Hear both sides’
The order further said the lower court committed illegality and asked it to hear both sides. “Whether the plaintiffs are entitled to maintain the suit would be determined only during the trial on the basis of evidence adduced by both the parties,” the order said.
While Hari Shankar Jain, the advocate of the petitioners in both the Mathura and Varanasi cases, welcomed the order, advocate Tanveer Ahmed who argued for the Shahi Idgah Trust said the Supreme Court should make its stand clear on the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act.
Legal observers said the order effectively meant that the Special Provisions Act did not come in the way of cases that sought a declaration on the period prior to 1991 and for enforcement of claim which was recognised before the Act came into being.
Vinod Bansal, VHP spokesperson, told The Hindu that the order vindicated the outfit’s stand on Mathura and Kashi temples. “The Act doesn’t come in the way of the investigation of truth. Even the Supreme Court has not put the survey in the Gyanvapi mosque on hold,” he said.
Mr. Bansal said at present Mathura and Kashi were on the VHP’s agenda but one could not say about the future. “It is not a Hindu-Muslim issue, every citizen should come forward in digging out the truth.”
Mr. Ahmed feared it would spiral into a series of pleas to correct the so-called historical wrongs. “In Mathura courts itself, 8-10 pleas have been filed. One has asked for a survey on the lines of the Gyanvapi mosque, another has sought a stoppage of worship in the Idgah. Such superfluous applications are filed to get media space which in turn entices many more Krishna and Vishnu bhakts to knock at the doors of the judiciary.”
Advocate and social activist Madhuvan Dutt Chaturvedi said the recent demand for demolition of Jama Masjid in Aligarh on the ground that it is built on public land, the call for changing the character of Qutub Minar, and fuelling the controversy around Taj Mahal despite the Allahabad High Court’s order show that there has been a concerted attempt to divert attention from real issues and arouse majoritarian sentiment. "The people of Mathura have always resisted the attempt to communalise the atmosphere as we had seen on December 6, 2021. I hope they would continue to thwart such attempts."