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Published in the 1-15 Mar 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

ASI, SCWB tiff exacerbates
By Rizvi Syed Haider Abbas 

Lucknow: The face off between Archeological Survey of India (ASI) and Sunni Central Waqf Board (SCWB) continues unabated before the full bench headed by Justice Syed Rafat Alam, Justice Khem Karan and Justice Bhanwar Singh at Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court.

ASI was directed to excavate the Babri Masjid / Ram Janmbhoomi site in Ayodhya after the Ground Penetrating Survey's Report [GPSR] submitted on Feb 17, 2003. The excavation order came on March 5, 2003 and the final report of the excavation was submitted before the Court on Aug 22, 2003. Controversies marred the excavation process and even more are surrounding the ASI compilation of the report since Aug 22, 2003. Firstly the report was blatantly utilised by Vishwa Hindu Parishad [World Hindu Council] as a political tool to promote the cause of temple construction. This had come even without waiting for the completion of the the six- weeks time given to both parties they may have to file objections to the dispute. 
What came as surprise was that the ASI team leader had not even completed the proper indexing of the album and filed note books etc. ASI also did not provide index of the video cassettes and CDs and the original manuscript of the antiquity register was also not filed and a copy of the same does not show as to when was the same prepared and by whom. "If they don't have an ulterior motive to conceal the facts then they must state before the court as to who prepared it and when," contested Zafaryab Jilani, the counsel for SCWB.

The first application moved by SCWB on Nov 3, 2003 was for taking appropriate action against the ASI team leader for non compliance of orders passed on Aug 29, 2003 and Sep 24, 2003. The application had accused ASI of concealing photographs, antiquity register, video cassettes, the slides of the photographs. As a result of the application the Court passed an order arraigning ASI for its 'unbecoming and unwarranted' unnecessary delay in the disposal of objections against ASI report as comprehensive objections could not be filed without perusal of the entire record and photographs relating to excavations. On 29 Aug 2003 the court ordered the ASI to deposit all notes, filed books, photos within four days. 

What came as surprise was that the ASI team leader had not even completed the proper indexing of the album and filed note books etc. ASI also did not provide index of the video cassettes and CDs and the original manuscript of the antiquity register was also not filed and a copy of the same does not show as to when was the same prepared and by whom. "If they don't have an ulterior motive to conceal the facts then they must state before the court as to who prepared it and when," contested Zafaryab Jilani, the counsel for SCWB.

Initially the ASI was just paying lip-service to register its regret and was sorry for not having submitted the comrehensive report but later what ASI counsel R S Radhwa wrote to the court was pretty obtrusive, 'All required materials pertaining to the excavation at Ayodhya have been deposited. There was no direction by the Hon'ble court for deposition of digital photographs.'

"ASI has not expressed any regret for the lapse on its part, rather they have justified their action and hence the matter cannot be closed unless they give a proper explanation for non-compliance," said Zafaryab Jilani. The Court thereafter, passed an order directing ASI to file an affidavit that no paper / record prepared from the date of excavation till the submission of report remains with them within a week’s time. The order came on November 6, 2003.

SCWB did not sit idle and subsequently initiated a perjury application against ASI for withholding 'notes or papers' prepared during excavation period to which the Court directed ASI to submit an affidavit to the effect that no member of ASI team is in the possession of any notes or papers prepared during the excavation. In compliance of this R S Bisht, counsel for ASI filed an affidavit that he has enquired from all the forty-two members of the team and no one has got any notes or papers relating to the excavation period and the entire material related to the excavation has already been submitted in court. Another affidavit by Hari Manghi, leader of excavation team, says that the ASI team has no more documents and that all have been submitted. These two affidavits were filed on Jan 19, 2004 and only the next day SCWB filed objection on several grounds to show that ASI was concealing the real facts!

The objections filed by SCWB point out that it was not disclosed by the ASI in whose custody the hard disk of the computer was on which the report is said to have been prepared. This objection made the Court pose a query to ASI people and the ASI admitted that the computer was in their custody. A further query was made as to why it was not submitted before court yet - to which ASI had no answer! The court then directed ASI to deposit the hard disk along with CPU within two weeks.

Another objection by SCWB was where were 'the notes prepared during the study and observation of the excavated objects, destroyed and on whose order'? To this the Court took a strong exception and asked ASI to tell as to when and on whose order the notes were destroyed. It was also mentioned in the objections that 'whether the chapters written by three or four persons were dictated-jointly on the computer directly and typed directly …. And whether they had any notes with them while giving dictation or typing on the computer and when were these chapters completed'?
"The report was tabled on August 22, 2003 and the excavation was completed on Aug 7, 2003. An order for depositing the record was passed on Aug 19, 2003 then, who gave the orders to destroy these notes, asks Jilani.

ASI counsel RP Mehrotra said that it was quite possible that for 'secrecy reasons' the notes might have been destroyed. The Court then asked him to give the same in writing. It may be mentioned that ASI report speaks about three or four persons to be the authors of each chapter of the report. ASI report is a 574 page document based upon nine chapters but, surprisingly no author is named after the last chapter which is its Summary and Conclusion. The objection is also whether all these persons who have written different chapters of the report were associated with the study and observation of the excavated objects?

Another objection raissed by SCWB is that when and by whom the last chapter was prepared. The objection furthermore says that 'when notes were prepared by ASI team after study and observation of the excavated objects then who had fed them in the computer? Was it done by the same person or by a computer operator. Whether notes were fed in full or the summary of the same was fed?

SCWB has also asked as to what is the exact date when the final report was prepared or whether it was prepared in Ayodhya or New Delhi? ASI however maintains that day to day details were fed in the computer in Ayodhya and therefore ASI destroyed the notes.

A two-week time was granted by the Court to file additional objections if any and two-week time was granted to the other side [Hindu parties] to file a reply, if any. SCWB has again filed additional objections on Feb 3, 2004.

Another order came when counsels to the parties had informed the Court that some of the trenches may be filled by sand bags and shamyana existing over the same may be removed. The Court accepted and directed ASI to submit a list of all such trenches after consulting the parties which could be filled up. Both the parties agreed that western side trenches may be filled by the sand bags. Furthermore the Court has also allowed application that Mahant Suresh Das could be substituted in place Mahant Paramhans Das. Mahant Suresh Das is his disciple and Mahant in his place. Paramhans died on Aug 1, 2003. The order for substitution came on Jan 21, 2004.

Another application by Nirmohi Akhara counsel RL Verma appearing on behalf of plaintiff - applicant Shyam Sunder Mishra made a prayer before Court that oral statement of Mishra may be recorded in Faizabad because he is 88 years old and not in a position to undertake journey from Ayodhya to Lucknow for giving evidence. 

Zafaryab Jilani, appearing on behalf of the defendant opposed the prayer and said the statement of the above witness could be recorded at Lucknow and the reason given in the application is not sufficient for his examination in Faizabad.

The court took into account the old age of the witness and his frailty and that it was not possible for him to stay in Lucknow because he has to discharge several religious functions in the temple and he himself prepares food which he takes only after offering bhog to the deity. The Court directed his statement to be recorded in Faizabad and appointed an Officer on Special Duty (OSD) Narendra Prasad as Commissioner to record his statements. 

The district judge was further directed to make necessary security arrangements for court room and safe custody of records and depute officials whose presence may be necessary to facilitate the examination. The district magistrate and SSP of Police of Lucknow and Faizabad were directed to take suitable steps for the security of the records, Commissioner and the staff accompanying him. The order came on Jan 19, 2004. 

What will be the outcome of the tussle between the SCWB and the ASI is still very unpredictable, but one thing is for sure; SCWB has been successful in thwarting the moves of ASI, in order to bring in, a totally transparent picture of excavation of Ayodhya and leave nothing to be concealed or otherwise. Not surprisingly, VHP has given up making fresh references to ASI report, as if, it was a green signal for temple construction.

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