SC allows ‘puja’ to continue at ‘Vyas Tehkhana’ adjoining Gyanvapi Mosque in UP

New Delhi, Apr 1 (UNI) The Supreme Court on Monday directed both parties to maintain ‘status quo’ with respect to the performance of Hindu worship at the ‘Vyas Tehkhana’ and observance of Namaz by Muslims in the rest of the Gyanvapi Mosque in Uttar Pradesh, as per the previous order passed by the district court in January 2024.

On January 17, the District Court appointed the District Magistrate as a receiver of the Tehkhana. On January 31, the District Court modified this order and passed a mandatory injunction allowing rituals by a priest to be nominated by the plaintiffs and the Board of Trustees of the Kashi Viswanath temple.

A bench comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dr DY Chandchrachud Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra directed that the ‘Hindu religious worship at the Tehkhana should be in terms of the order passed by the District Court on January 31, 2024, and subject to the custody of the receiver (District Magistrate) in terms of the earlier order passed on January 17, 2024’.

The Court further directed that ‘this status quo cannot be altered without obtaining prior permission from the Supreme Court’.

The case pertains to a Special Leave Petition filed by the Gyanvapi mosque committee challenging the orders of the Varanasi District Court and the Allahabad High Court allowing the performance of Hindu religious rituals at a Tehkhana (cellar) of the mosque.

The case relating to the ‘Vyas tehkahana’ is that it is located in the southern section of the Gyanvapi mosque’s enclosed complex. For over two centuries and till 1993, the Vyas family had been performing prayers and conducting various rituals within the tehkhana.

The rituals were stopped in December 1993 by the State Government, headed by the then Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav of Samajwadi Party.

A suit filed by the Vyas family to allow them Puja at the premises as they were the hereditary priests who had performed rituals at the location.

Senior Advocate Shyam Divan appearing for the Vyas family submitted that the points of access to the tehkhana (cellar) where religious observances have been permitted by the trial judge are distinct from the access to the mosque.

While the access to the tehkhana is from the southern side, the access to the mosque for the purposes of offering namaz is from the stairs on the northern side, Mr Divan contended. He further submitted that the Vyas family claims its ownership of the Tehkhana and seeks to perform religious worship there.

Mr Divan contended that as an interim measure they were granted a working arrangement that the temple trust was allowed to carry out religious observances in the centre, the Senior Advocate contended.

He further emphasized that the order of the trial judge appointing a receiver and allowing of a priest nominated by the plaintiff and the Kasi Viswanath trust is a well-reasoned order and during the course of an earlier proceedings which culminated in a decree of 1937. There is a judicial recognition of the existence of the tehkhana and their right until 1993, when the locks were placed both by the State administration and by the Vyas family, it continued to be in the possession of the Hindus.

In pursuance of the order of the trial judge, puja of the idols has commenced since January 31 2024 and this arrangement need not be disturbed, Divan contended.

The bench, after seeing the Google Earth images of the structures, observed ‘that the entry gates of both temple and Mosque are from different directions. The bench said since the entry to the tehkhana is from the southern side while the entry to the Mosque for the purposes of offering namaz is from the northern side, there seems to be no reason for a conflict’.

Appearing for the Gyanvapi mosque committee Senior Advocate Mr Hufeza Ahmadi said that the order of the District Court appointing the receiver and allowing the puja was made under extraordinary circumstances, that is, on the brink of the judge’s retirement.

On the last day when the judge was demitting office, the order was modified to grant a mandatory injunction, even though no application was given seeking such a relief. On an oral mention, the order was modified and mandatory injunction was allowed. Seeking to stay the District Court order, Mr Ahmadi said, “this is an extraordinary case to stay the entire order.”

Mr Ahmadi sought a stay on the performance of puja within the mosque’s premises contending that the lower courts had appointed the receiver and allowed the puja at the premises of ‘Vyas Tehkhana’ which is a full-fledged relief given to the Hindu parties instead of an interim relief.

Mr Ahmadi submitted that for grant of a mandatory injunction, there needs to be a ‘tearing urgency’. But, in the present case, no such condition was available. Mr Ahmadi said considering the 30-year-long deadlock, the plaintiffs were not in possession from 1993 till 2023 so there was no urgency for the District Court to pass such an order. Where was the tearing urgency when the plaintiff waited for 30 years?

Mr Ahmadi contended that the District Court’s order on appointing the receiver was pronounced on the last day when the judge was demitting office, the order was modified to grant a mandatory injunction even without any application just on an oral mention, this was extraordinary and the entire order of the district court should be stayed, Mr Ahmadi contented.

After hearing arguments from both parties, the Supreme Court refused to grant any relief to the Mosque Committee.

The Court said, “After analysing the material placed on record, the Mosque committee has failed to make out any case for interfering in January 17, 2024, and January 31, 2024, orders appointing the District Magistrate, Varanasi as Receiver and arranging to carry out worship and rituals in Vyas tehkhana (cellar) under his supervision by the priest as appointed’.

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