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Supreme Court of India disallows 'symbolic' worship at the Babri site

New Delhi, March 13: The Supreme Court today ordered that status quo must be maintained at the disputed site of the demolished Babri Mosque in Ayodhya. The court rejected a government plea that "symbolic" worship should be allowed at the disputed land. 

A three-judge bench of the apex court said there should be no activity and no puja [worship] on the land which was acquired by the government of India in 1993 in complaince with court orders that the government should keep the land in its custody until a final court verdict is issued. The Bench comprised Justice BN Kirpal, Justice GB Pattanaik and Justice VN Khare.

The Supreme Court's 1994 ruling had said the Union government cannot please any organisation like the VHP by gifting it the acquired 67 acres of land adjacent to the demolished Babri Masjid in Ayodhya unless the title of the disputed land was settled first. The Court subsequently ordered status quo, as on January 7, 1993, to be maintained at the site.

The handing over of even "undisputed" portions of the land to any one community prior to the settlement of the title to the disputed portion would presumably not be in "consonance with the creed of secularism" which prohibits preferential treatment towards any one religion, the Court had observed.

The Court had also said today the Union government would be a statutory "receiver" of the disputed properties and could only hand over possession in accordance with the courts' decisions. It, however, explained that the statutory freeze "does not curtail" the Muslims' right to offer prayers there but "reduces the Hindus' right to offer prayers" at the site of the demolished mosque. However, this part of the court order is not obeyed since Muslims are not allowed even to approach the demolished mosque site.

Delivering the the 1994 judgement Justice AM Ahmadi and Justice SP Bharucha, had observed: "Secularism is absolute. The State should not treat religions differently on the ground that public order requires it."

An earlier Supreme Court order, issued after a similar government plea for 'symbolic' puja at the site, had ended up in the demolition of the Babri Mosque on December 6, 1992. 

The apex court today threw out the government's plea made by the solicitor general of India, Mr Soli Sorabjee, that puja could be permitted for three hours at a site 300 metres away from the disputed spot in the acquired undisputed land. The puja, he said would be done by 60-70 sants [monks] and no 'karsevaks' [temple volunteers] will be allowed to enter the acquired land. Appropriate security arrangements would be made for the performance of the puja and nobody other than the sants would be allowed to enter, he said. The law and order was strictly enforced and no outsider will be allowed to enter Ayodhya, Sorabjee further submitted. 

The apex court asked the solicitor general how it can be allowed when the court has already passed an order in 1994 in which it had said that status quo should be maintained. 

Sorabjee had no answer to this question. The attorney general was asked by the government of India to be present in the court when the case came up for hearing. Several Muslim and secular parties had approached the court to issue orders for the maintainance of the status quo in view of the imminent violation of the court's previous order. Hindu extremists led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP - World Hindu Organisation) had planned to start construction of their disputed temple at the disputed land on March 15. 

The government stand in front of the apex court has angered a number of the coalition alliance (NDA) partners, since other parties were not consulted about this stand. A number of the ruling alliance partners had made it clear that will reconsider their support to the government if the VHP was allowed to go ahead with its controversial plans on March 15.

After mass protests by Muslims and other secular parties and organisations the construction plan was amended. The new plan envisaged performance of puja on March 15 and start construction on June 2. Since the government is run by the extremists' own political party, the BJP, this plan had a chance to go through because the government did not object to it as is evident from Prime Minister Vajpayee's earlier pronouncements and the stand taken today by the solicitor general of India. But the Gujarat pogrom, which were spearheaded by the same VHP, has put paid to these plans which aim at creating a new status quo.

The Supreme Court order today said "we direct that on 67.73 acres of land located on the plot number 159/160 in village Ramchandrapuram vested in central government no religious activities of any nature by anyone including Bhoomi Pujan [earth worship], Shila Poojan [brick worship] and Shila Daan [brick gifting] shall be allowed till further orders".

On the other hand, the lower house of Parliament (Lok Sabha) was adjourned this morning over the Ayodhya issue amid pandemonium and slogan-shouting by the Opposition members. The Opposition was protesting against the statement made by Uttar Pradesh Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri yesterday that there was no harm in doing puja at Ayodhya. The governor belongs to the extremist Hindu organisation, the RSS. Congress leader Jaipal Reddy raised objections to the fact that the government had made a petition to the Supreme Court that puja be allowed at Ayodhya. 

The VHP chief Ashok Singhal told reporters in Ayodhya that their Friday programme would confine itself to offering a 'shila' (carved pillar) after a prayer outside the disputed site. He said Ram Janmbhoomi Nyas (temple trust) President Mahant Ramchandra Paramhans Das would lead about 2000 people and offer the shila to the Centre's Receiver in Ayodhya. The 'Ramsewaks' (volunteers) would court arrests if authorities denied them permission. Earlier these same people had threatened to defy court orders and topple the government.

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