How Supreme Court Decreed The Title Suit Filed By Ram Lalla?
What the Supreme Court has essentially done in the Ayodhya case is that it has decreed the Suit filed by "Bhagwan Sri Ram Lala Virajman" in terms of prayer clauses (A) and (B) of the suit, subject to some directions. The conditions while decreeing the suit by Ram Lalla includes framing of a scheme and a trust for the construction of the temple at Rama Janmabhumi, the erstwhile disputed site.
Prayers in the Suit were: (a) A declaration that the entire premises of Sri Ram Janmabhumi described in Annexures I, II and III belong to the plaintiff-deities; and (b) A permanent injunction prohibiting the defendants from interfering with or obstructing the construction of a new temple at Sri Ram Janmabhumi after the demolition and removal of the existing buildings and structures.
Reliefs granted while decreeing the suits filed by Ram Lalla and while partly decreeing the suit filed by Sunni Board, along with the conditions imposed, may be read here.
Sunni Central Wakf Board's suit was partly decreed
Though it found that the Hindus have better case of possessory title, the Court noted that the Muslims were dispossessed upon the desecration of the mosque on 22/23 December 1949 which was ultimately destroyed on 6 December 1992 and there was no abandonment of the mosque by the Muslims. Invoking its powers under Article 142 of the Constitution, the Court said it must ensure that a wrong committed must be remedied. More on this may be read here.
"Justice would not prevail if the Court were to overlook the entitlement of the Muslims who have been deprived of the structure of the mosque through means which should not have been employed in a secular nation committed to the rule of law. The Constitution postulates the equality of all faiths. Tolerance and mutual co-existence nourish the secular commitment of our nation and its people.", it said while directing that land admeasuring 5 acres be allotted to the Sunni Central Waqf Board either by the Central Government out of the acquired land or by the Government of Uttar Pradesh within the city of Ayodhya. It further clarified that such handing over shall be conducted simultaneously with the handing over of the disputed site comprising of the inner and outer courtyards as a consequence of the decree in Suit 5.
Analysis of the Suit Filed By Ram Lalla
Part J and N of the judgment deals elaborately with Suit 5 i.e. the suit filed by Ram Lalla.
Ram Lalla A Juristic Personality, Ram Janam Sthan Is Not
Part J deals with the concept of Juristic Personality. The issue became relevant because the plaintiffs in one of the suits were the deity "Bhagwan Sri Ram Virajman" and "Asthan Sri Ram Janam Bhumi, Ayodhya". The court noted that legal personality of the first plaintiff (Bhagwan Sri Ram Virajman) as represented by the physical idols of Lord Ram at the disputed site is not contested by any of the parties. However, the novel argument raised by Senior Advocate K. Parasaran that 'Asthan Shri Ram Janam Bhumi', as a place of religious worship must be elevated to the status of a juristic person by virtue of the faith and belief of the worshippers was rejected by the Court. More on this may be read here.
It is quite interesting how the Supreme Court answered the questions about limitation of the suit filed by Ram Lalla.
Law of limitation cannot be ruled out on the basis of the theory of perpetual minority
The issue whether the suit can be held to be within limitation on the ground that a deity is a perpetual minor, was answered against the plaintiff. The Court agreed with the observations made by Justice S U Khan that an idol of a deity is not a perpetual minor for the purpose of limitation and debutter property can be lost through adverse possession.
"It is an established position that a deity cannot on the ground of being a perpetual minor stand exempted from the application of the Limitation Act. The applicability of the law of limitation cannot be ruled out on the basis of the theory of perpetual minority."
Suit is instituted within the period of limitation
Having held thus, the bench addressed the fundamental issue as to whether Suit 5 is barred by limitation. The court, in this regard, agreed with Justice Agarwal in holding Suit 5 to be within limitation. The court summarized Justice Agarwal discussion on the limitation issue thus:
"Justice Sudhir Agarwal held that worship of the deities had continued and there was no action or inaction in respect of which the plaintiffs could claim a right to sue governed by a particular period of limitation. The learned judge held that in the preceding few hundred years, the only action which may have arisen to adversely affect the interest of the plaintiffs was the raising of the disputed structure. In spite of this, the place in dispute continued to be used by the Hindus for the purposes of worship. On the other hand, there is no mention of any Muslim having offered namaz from the date of the construction until 1856-57. In view of the above facts, there was no action for the Hindus to be aggrieved on a particular date, giving rise to a right to sue for the purposes of limitation. Consequently, the judge held that Suit 5 could not be held to be barred by limitation."
It further observed:
"Simply put, Suit 5 contains a plea that by virtue of the deity not being a party to the earlier suits, its interests and concerns were not being adequately protected in the earlier suits including those instituted by the Hindu parties. The reasons which weighed with Justice Agarwal in holding Suit 5 to be within limitation, to the extent summarised above, commend themselves for acceptance. On the basis of the above discussion, it must be held that Suit 5 is instituted within the period of limitation."
Another issue that arose in the suit filed by Ram Lalla was whether the judgment in Suit No. 61/280 of 1885 filed by Mahant Raghubar Das in the Court of Special Judge, Faizabad is binding upon the plaintiffs by application of the principles of estoppel and res judicata. Though the said suit was dismissed, the Sub-Judge at Faizabad accepted the possession and ownership of the Hindus of the area surrounding the wall of the Masjid. Suit was dismissed because a serious breach of law and order was apprehended.
Answering the issue of Res Judicata, the Court held:
(1) The earlier suit by Mahant Raghubar Das in 1885 was not in a representative capacity. Mahant Raghubar Das claimed himself to be the Mahant of the Janmasthan. He did not set up any plea as the Mahant of Nirmohi Akhara. The claim was personal to him.(2) Neither the plaintiff in Suit 4 nor the plaintiff deities in Suit 5 were parties to the earlier proceedings. The Suit of 1885 was not instituted in a representative capacity for and on behalf of the Hindus nor was there any pleading to that effect. Mahant Raghubar Das did not set up any claim to shebaiti rights nor did the adjudication deal with any claim of a shebaiti character. On the other hand, this forms the very basis of the claim in Suit 3 and of the defence to the maintainability of Suit 5 raised on behalf of Nirmohi Akhara. (3) The Trial Court while dismissing the Suit of 1885 had entered a finding that possession and ownership of the Chabutra vested in the Hindus. The suit was however dismissed on the ground that the grant of permission to raise a temple would involve a serious breach of law and order. The dismissal of the suit on this ground was affirmed in appeal by the District Judge. However, the finding in regard to possession and ownership of the Chabutra was rendered redundant and was accordingly directed to be struck off. The Judicial Commissioner confirmed the dismissal of the suit. Though, the Judicial Commissioner held that the Hindus seem to have a limited right of access to certain spots within the precincts of the adjoining mosque, he observed that there was nothing to establish that the plaintiff (Mahant Raghubar Das) is the proprietor of the land in question. This finding rendered in a suit to which neither the plaintiff-deities nor Nirmohi Akhara were parties cannot operate as res judicata against them. (4) The doctrine of res judicata seeks to prevent a person being vexed twice over in respect of a dispute founded on the same cause of action. The cause of action for the Suit of 1885 was, as seen earlier entirely, distinct. (5) The decision in the Suit of 1885 was in personam, based on the claim made by the plaintiff in that suit. Any observations in the judgment of the Judicial Commissioner will neither bind the deities (plaintiffs in Suit 5) who were not parties to the earlier proceedings nor the Hindus. Moreover, there was no adjudication in the Suit of 1885 in respect of the claim of title made by the Muslims in Suit 4.
The court found that there is adequate basis in the material contained in the ASI report to lead to the following conclusions:
(i) The Babri mosque was not constructed on vacant land; (ii) The excavation indicates the presence of an underlying structure below the disputed structure; (iii) The underlying structure was at least of equal, if not larger dimensions than the disputed structure; iv) The excavation of the walls of the underlying structure coupled with the presence of pillar bases supports the conclusion of the ASI of the presence of a structure underlying the disputed structure; (v) The underlying structure was not of Islamic origin; (vi) The foundation of the disputed structure rests on the walls of the underlying structure; and (vii) Artefacts, including architectural fragments which have been recovered during excavation have a distinct non-Islamic origin. Though individually, some of the artefacts could also have been utilised in a structure of Buddhist or Jain origins, there is no evidence of the underlying structure being of an Islamic religious nature. The conclusion which has been drawn by the ASI that the nature of the underlying structure and the recoveries which have been made would on stylistic grounds suggest the existence of temple structure dating back to the twelfth century A.D. would on a balance of probabilities be a conclusion which is supported by evidence. The conclusion cannot be rejected as unsupported by evidence or lying beyond the test of a preponderance of probabilities, which must govern a civil trial. Caveats
The Court added that he ASI report must be read with the following caveats:
(i) Though the excavation has revealed the existence of a circular shrine, conceivably a Shiva shrine dating back to the seventh to ninth century the underlying structure belongs to twelfth century A.D. The circular shrine and the underlying structure with pillar bases belong to two different time periods between three to five centuries apart; (ii) There is no specific finding that the underlying structure was a temple dedicated to Lord Ram; and (iii) Significantly, the ASI has not specifically opined on whether a temple was demolished for the construction of the disputed structure though it has emerged from the report that the disputed structure was constructed on the site of and utilised the foundation and material of the underlying structure.
Historians' report which is prior to the report of ASI, cannot carry any significant degree of weight
On 13 May 1991, four historians prepared a document which is titled: 'Babri Mosque or Rama's Birth Place? Historians ' Report to the Indian Nation'. The conclusions in the study were: (i) No evidence exists in the texts to indicate that before the eighteenth century any veneration was attached to a spot in Ayodhya as being the birth site of Lord Ram; (ii) There are no grounds for supposing that a temple of Lord Ram, or any temple, existed at the site where Babri Masjid was built in 1528-29; (iii) The legend that Babri Masjid occupied the site of Lord Ram's birth did not arise until the late eighteenth century; and that a temple was destroyed to build a mosque was not asserted until the beginning of the nineteenth century; and (iv) The 'full-blown legend'of the destruction of the temple at the site of the birth of the Lord Ram and Sita Ki Rasoi dates to 1850 after which there is a 'progressive reconstruction of imagined history, based on faith'. This report were relied on by the Muslim side.
The court, while examining them, observed that it was not necessary for the High Court to make observations in regard to the personal standing and qualifications of the historians. It held:
Having said this, it is evident from the report of the four historians that they did not have the benefit of inspecting the material on the basis of which Dr B B Lal had conducted his research in 1979. But that apart and more significantly, the report by the historians pre-dates the material which has emerged in the form of the ASI report which was prepared during the pendency of the suit in pursuance of the directions of the High Court. Since the four historians did not have the benefit of that material which has now been assessed by this Court in the earlier segment of this judgment, it is not necessary to carry the matter any further save and except to clarify that the historians' report which is prior to the report of ASI, cannot carry any significant degree of weight, since they have not had the benefit of analysing the material which has emerged from the ASI report. The inferences which have been drawn by the historians in regard to the faith and belief of the Hindus in the birth-place of Lord Ram constitute their opinion. Evidence having been led in the suits, this Court cannot rest a finding of fact on the report of the historians and must evaluate the entirety of the evidence.
Question of Title
The Court noted that, in the absence of historical records with respect to ownership or title, the court has to determine the nature and use of the disputed premises as a whole by either of the parties. In determining the nature of use, the court has to factor in the length and extent of use.For this, the Court referred to Section 110 of Indian Evidence Act which espouses the principle that title follows possession. The provision postulates that where a person is shown to be in possession, and a question arises as to whether that person is the owner, the law casts the burden of disproving ownership on the individual who affirms that the person in possession is not the owner. The bench noted that the claims to title have to be judged from the perspective of long and continued possession.
Thus, the question of title was adjudicated after marshaling the entirety of the evidence, in the suits by Ram Lalla and Sunni Board.The Court, after examining the evidence adduced in both the suits came to the the conclusion that the Hindus have established a clear case of a possessory title to the outside courtyard by virtue of long, continued and unimpeded worship at the Ramchabutra and other objects of religious signficance. The Hindus and the Muslims have contested claims to the offering worship within the three domed structure in the inner courtyard. It observed thus:
All the evidence indicates that a reasonable inference based on a preponderance of probabilities can be made that there was continuum of faith and belief of the Hindus that the 'Garbh-Grih' was the place of birth of Lord Ram both prior to and after the construction of the wall. The use of the area within the railing by the Muslims was contentious and their access to the inner courtyard was landlocked; the only access being through the two gates to the outer portion and the area which were in the control of the Hindus.
It noted thus:
"(i) The disputed site is one composite whole. The railing set up in 1856-7 did not either bring about a sub-division of the land or any determination of title; (ii) The Sunni Central Waqf Board has not established its case of a dedication by user; (iii) The alternate plea of adverse possession has not been established by the Sunni Central Waqf Board as it failed to meet the requirements of adverse possession; (iv) The Hindus have been in exclusive and unimpeded possession of the outer courtyard where they have continued worship; (v) The inner courtyard has been a contested site with conflicting claims of the Hindus and Muslims; (vi) The existence of the structure of the mosque until 6 December 1992 does not admit any contestation. The submission that the mosque did not accord with Islamic tenets stands rejected. The evidence indicates that there was no abandonment of the mosque by Muslims. Namaz was observed on Fridays towards December 1949, the last namaz being on 16 December 1949; (vii) The damage to the mosque in 1934, its desecration in 1949 leading to the ouster of the Muslims and the eventual destruction on December 1992 constituted a serious violation of the rule of law; and (viii) Consistent with the principles of justice, equity and good conscience, both Suits 4 and 5 will have to be decreed and the relief moulded in a manner which preserves the constitutional values of justice, fraternity, human dignity and the equality of religious belief.
The court clarified that it has not decided title on the basis of faith or belief but on the basis of evidence, but on settled principles of evidence to adjudicate upon which party has established a claim to the immovable property. Having observed thus it said:
"On the balance of probabilities, there is clear evidence to indicate that the worship by the Hindus in the outer courtyard continued unimpeded in spite of the setting up of a grill-brick wall in 1857. Their possession of the outer courtyard stands established together with the incidents attaching to their control over it. As regards the inner courtyard, there is evidence on a preponderance of probabilities to establish worship by the Hindus prior to the annexation of Oudh by the British in 1857. The Muslims have offered no evidence to indicate that they were in exclusive possession of the inner structure prior to 1857 since the date of the construction in the sixteenth century. After the setting up of the grill-brick wall, the structure of the mosque continued to exist and there is evidence to indicate that namaz was offered within its precincts. The report of the Waqf Inspector of December 1949 indicates that Muslims were being obstructed in free and unimpeded access to mosque for the purposes of offering namaz. However, there is evidence to show that namaz was offered in the structure of the mosque and the last Friday namaz was on 16 December 1949."
The court disagreed with the three way partition ordered by the Allahabad High Court observing that the suit was not for partition.It finally held:
"Suit 5 has been held to be maintainable at the behest of the first plaintiff (the deity of Lord Ram) who is a juristic person. The third plaintiff (next friend) has been held to be entitled to represent the the first plaintiff. We are of the view that on the one hand a decree must ensue in Suit 5, Suit 4 must also be partly decreed by directing the allotment of alternate land to the Muslims for the construction of a mosque and associated activities. "