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Court orders status quo in mosque dispute

Jaipur (The Hindu, 17 Aug.): In a new twist to the demolition of a 16th century mosque in Asind, a civil court in Bhilwara district has ordered maintenance of the status quo in the Sawai Bhoj temple complex, where the mosque was situated, till August 28. The interim order was passed on a civil suit filed by the Sawai Bhoj Temple Trust and others.

The temple trust had rejected an agreement reached with the Muslim community on August 6 for referring the issue of rebuilding the demolished mosque to the Rajasthan Waqf Board to seek its opinion on the mosque's status and whether its site could be shifted. It filed a suit seeking injunction against the Collector, the Waqf Board and others.
The trust and 25 other plaintiffs belonging to the Gurjar community - which controls the temple - have urged the court to issue a permanent injunction restraining the defendants from building the mosque in the temple complex, destroying any structure in the complex and interfering in any manner to alter the status quo.

The Additional District Judge of Gulabpura, Baldeo Puri Goswami - hearing the case in his camp court at Shahpura on Tuesday - directed that the status quo in the temple complex would be maintained till August 28 and posted the matter for further hearing on that date. The court had issued summons to all the defendants on August 10.

The way the Gurjars have obtained a favourable order from the civil court has left both the State Government and the Waqf Board baffled. In an attempt to evolve a ``consensus'', the Government was trying its best to make the Gurjar community see reason and persuade it for reconstruction of the mosque, while asking Muslims to give an undertaking that they would not offer prayers in it if and when it was rebuilt. Though the Gurjar leaders had agreed at a peace committee meeting on August 6 to refer the matter to the Waqf Board - since it is the highest body for Waqf properties in the State - they added a rider to the terms of reference, saying the terms would be finalised after approval by a 31-member committee of the temple trust.

Later, in a shocking turnaround, the Gurjar community denied the existence of any mosque and rejected the demand for its reconstruction. The trust and some influential members of the community have moved the court with the contention that the structure pulled down was in fact a ``dhooni'' - hermitage - of the community's monk, Baba Roopnath, who used to meditate there.

Waqf Board bewildered
The Waqf Board is bewildered by the court's interim order having been passed despite the fact that the Waqf Act, 1995, explicitly bars the jurisdiction of civil courts in respect of any dispute or question relating to a Waqf property. Section 85 of the Waqf Act states that no such suit or legal proceedings shall lie in a civil court, as such matters will be determined only by the Tribunal established for the purpose.

Both the State Government and the Waqf Board have filed their replies to the application for temporary injunction in the court, pointing out that the Asind mosque had been mentioned in column 39 of ``registered property'' declared by the Official Gazette published on July 14, 1966. Though the mosque had been abandoned thereafter, the discontinuation of prayers in it did not alter its status as a mosque.

The State Government's reply - filed by the Sub- Divisional Magistrate, Gulabpura - has termed the Gurjars' claim of the demolished structure not being a mosque ``false and misleading''. ``The mosque is hundreds of years old and its records are available with the Waqf Board,'' the six-page reply stated, and added that it was a symbol of ``communal harmony''. It denied that the Government was exerting any undue pressure on Gurjars and contended that the temple complex did not belong to the Gurjar community alone and it had no right to destroy the old buildings and make alterations. ``The case is not maintainable because the plaintiffs have no right to demolish a place of worship and hurt religious sentiments of others,'' the reply said.

The Waqf Board's reply referred to a circular issued by the Rajasthan High Court in September 1997 directing the presiding officers of all subordinate courts to comply strictly with Sec. 85 of the Waqf Act and not entertain any suit with respect to the Waqf properties. It had also asked the presiding officers to transfer all such cases instituted in their courts after January 1, 1996 - the date of commencement of the Act - to the Waqf Tribunal.

In view of the explicit provision laid down in the law as well as the High Court's circular, the Waqf Board contended that the Additional District Judge had no jurisdiction to entertain any suit relating to the Asind mosque. It also pointed out that no civil court was empowered to hear a matter relating to a property until a criminal case registered about an offence relating to it was finally disposed of.

On the criminal side, the police had registered a case under Sections 147 (rioting), 295-A (outraging religious feelings) and 427 (mischief) of Indian Penal Code a day after the demolition of the mosque, but the culprits are still at large. Meanwhile, the accused have moved applications seeking anticipatory bail in the court of the Additional Sessions Judge of Gulabpura, and the court stayed their arrest till August 22.

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