M Siddiq (d) through LRs v. Mahant Suresh Das and others ((2019) 4 SCC 641)
M Siddiq (d) through LRs v. Mahant Suresh Das and others
(2019) 4 SCC 641
Supreme Court of India
Constitutional Bench - Hon’ble Chief Justice (Former) Ranjan Gogoi , Hon’ble Chief Justice (Present) SA Bobde , Hon’ble Justice Ashok Bhushan , Hon’ble Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Hon’ble Justice S.A. Nazeer
ALSO KNOWN AS
Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case
POINT OF CONSIDERATION
Right to Freedom of Religion envisaged as under Article 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India
These appeals are centred around a dispute between two religious communities both of whom claim ownership over a piece of land admeasuring 1500 square yards in the town of Ayodhya. The disputed property is of immense significance to Hindus and Muslims. The Hindu community claims it as the birthplace of Lord Ram, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The Muslim community claims it as the site of the historic Babri Masjid built by the first Mughal Emperor, Babur.
The disputed land forms part of the village of Kot Rama Chandra or, as it is otherwise called, Ramkot at Ayodhya, in Pargana Haveli Avadh, of Tehsil Sadar in the District of Faizabad. An old structure of a mosque existed at the site until 6 December 1992.
A suit was instituted in 1950 before the Civil Judge at Faizabad by a Hindu worshipper, Gopal Singh Visharad seeking a declaration that according to his religion and custom, he is entitled to offer prayers at the main Janmabhoomi temple near the idols.
The Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Board of Waqf (Sunni Central Waqf Board) and other Muslim residents of Ayodhya instituted a suit in 1961 for a declaration of their title to the disputed site.
A suit was instituted in 1989 by a next friend on behalf of the deity (Bhagwan Shri Ram Virajman) and the birth-place of Lord Ram (Asthan Shri Ram Janmabhumi). The suit was founded on the claim that the law recognises both the idol and the birth-place as juridical entities.
These suits, together with a separate suit by Hindu worshippers were transferred by the Allahabad High Court to itself for trial from the civil court at Faizabad. The High Court rendered a judgment in original proceedings arising out of the four suits and these appeals arise out of the decision of a Full Bench dated 30 September 2010.
The High Court held that the suits filed by the Sunni Central Waqf Board and by Nirmohi Akhara were barred by limitation. Despite having held that those two suits were barred by time, the High Court held in a split 2:1 verdict that the Hindu and Muslim parties were joint holders of the disputed premises. Each of them was held entitled to one third of the disputed property. The Nirmohi Akhara was granted the remaining one third. A preliminary decree to that effect was passed in the suit brought by the idol and the birth-place of Lord Ram through the next friend.
This judgement has been appealed to the Supreme Court in the present case.
ISSUES RAISED & RATIO
Whether the second plaintiff (Asthan Sri Ram Janam Bhumi) is a juristic person?
At the outset, it is important to understand that the conferral of legal personality on a Hindu idol is not the conferral of legal personality on divinity itself, which in Hinduism is often understood as the Supreme Being. Hinduism understands the Supreme Being as existing in every aspect of the universe. The Supreme Being is omnipresent. The idea of a legal person is premised on the need to identify the subjects of the legal system. An omnipresent being is incapable of being identified or delineated in any manner meaningful to the law and no identifiable legal subject would emerge. Legal personality is not conferred on the Supreme Being. The Supreme Being has no physical presence for it is understood to be omnipresent - the very ground of being itself. The court does not confer legal personality on divinity.
The idol as an embodiment of a pious or benevolent purpose is recognised by the law as a juristic entity. The state will therefore protect property which stands vested in the idol even absent the establishment of a specific or express trust. The pious purpose, or benevolent idea is elevated to the status of a juristic person and the idol forms the material expression of the pious purpose through which legal relations are affected. It is the pious purpose at the heart of the dedication which is the basis of conferring legal personality on the idol and which is the subject of rights and duties.
The recognition of the Hindu idol as a legal or juristic person is therefore based on two premises employed by courts. The first is to recognise the pious purpose of the testator as a legal entity capable of holding property in an ideal sense absent the creation of a trust. The second is the merging of the pious purpose itself and the idol which embodies the pious purpose to ensure the fulfilment of the pious purpose. So conceived, the Hindu idol is a legal person.
It is true that the connection between a person and what they consider divine is deeply internal. It lies in the realm of a personal sphere in which no other person must intrude. It is for this reason that the Constitution protects the freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion equally to all citizens. Often, the human condition finds solace in worship. But worship may not be confined into a straightjacket formula. It is on the basis of the deep entrenchment of religion into the social fabric of Indian society that the right to religious freedom was not made absolute. An attempt has been made in the jurisprudence of this court to demarcate the religious from the secular. The adjudication of civil claims over private property must remain within the domain of the secular if the commitment to constitutional values is to be upheld.
On a consideration of all the factors outlined, it was thus held that the second plaintiff in Suit 5 ‘Asthan Shri Ram Janam Bhumi’ is not a juristic person.
Whether the Allahabad High Court judgment of dividing the Ayodhya land title between the Sunni Waqf Board, Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla, valid?
There was a serious flaw in the approach of the High Court in granting relief of a three-way bifurcation of the disputed site. Having come to the conclusion that Suit 3 (filed by Nirmohi Akhara) and Suit 4 (filed by Sunni Central Waqf Board) were barred by limitation, the High Court proceeded to grant relief in Suit 5 to the plaintiffs in Suits 3 and 4. This defies logic and is contrary to settled principles of law. Moreover, the claim by the Nirmohi Akhara was as a shebait who claimed a decree for management and charge.
The apex court concluded that the three-way bifurcation by the High Court was legally unsustainable. Even as a matter of maintaining public peace and tranquillity, the solution which commended itself to the High Court is not feasible. The disputed site measures all of 1500 square yards. Dividing the land will not subserve the interest of either of the parties or secure a lasting sense of peace and tranquillity.
Whether suit 3 is barred by limitation, under the Limitation Act, 1908?
Suit 3 was instituted on 17 December 1959. The Limitation Act of 1908 was in force on the date of the institution of the Suit. Section 3 of the Limitation Act provides that subject to the provisions contained in Sections 4 to 25 (inclusive) every suit instituted, appeal preferred, and application made, after the period of limitation prescribed by the first schedule shall be dismissed, although limitation has not been set up as a defence. Section 31(b) of the Limitation Act 1963 saves suits, appeals and applications which were pending on the date of its commencement from the application of the legislation. As a result, the issue of limitation for the purpose of Suit 3 is governed by the Limitation Act 1908.
Section 3 of the Limitation Act 1908 provides that every suit instituted after the period of limitation shall be dismissed. The Supreme Court can dispose of appeals only on the ground of limitation. Unlike the Trial Court that has to decide on all issues, the Supreme Court is not bound to do so once it comes to the conclusion that a suit is barred by limitation.
Section 145 proceedings do not purport to decide a party's title or right to possession of the land. The property held in attachment in proceedings under Section 145 is ̳custodia legis‘. Hence, it is not necessary to secure possession from a party who is not in possession and is hence, not in a position to deliver possession. Where a suit is instituted for possession or for declaration of title before a competent civil court, the proceedings under Section 145 should not continue.
The Court analysed the following -
There existed several discrepancies and infirmities in the oral dispositions of the witnesses of Nirmohi witnesses in statting that the disputed structure was not a mosque but the Janmabhumi temple
The documentary evidence relied on by Nirmohi Akhara does not establish the possession of the inner courtyard and the structure of the mosque within it, being the subject of Suit 3
As opposed to the claims of the Nirmohi Akhara, documentary evidence placed on record establishes the existence of the structure of the mosque between 1934 and 1949
Thus, Suit 3 was held to be barred by limitation.
IMPORTANT CASES REFERRED
Dr M Ismail Faruqui v Union of India (1994) 6 SCC 360
S R Bommai v Union of India (1994) 3 SCC 1
Kesavananda Bharativ.State of Kerala, (1973) 4 SCC 225 : 1973 Supp SCR 1
Indira N. Gandhi v. Raj Narain [1975 Supp SCC 1 : (1976) 2 SCR 347]
Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, Amritsar v Som Nath Dass (2000) 4 SCC 146
M V Elisabeth v Harwan Investment and Trading Pvt Ltd. 1993 Supp (2) SCC 433
Ram Jankijee Deities v State of Bihar (1999) 5 SCC 50
Yogendra Nath Naskar v Commissioner of Income Tax, Calcutta (1969) 1 SCC 555
The author is a law graduate from the University School of Law and Legal Studies, GGS IP University, New Delhi.