The Allahabad High Court on Tuesday said that the Gyanvapi mosque case is of “national importance” and asked the Archaeological Survey of India and the Uttar Pradesh government to file their affidavits on the matter within 10 days, Bar and Bench reported.
Justice Prakash Pardia said that the earlier affidavits filed by the Archaeological Survey of India and the state government were “very sketchy”.
“Almost all the paragraphs of the petition were replied as ‘need no comments’,” the order said about the state government’s affidavit.
Regarding the Archaeological Survey of India’s previous affidavit, the court stated: “The aforesaid counter affidavit is also very sketchy and runs only into two and half pages. Since the matter is of national importance, the Director General, Archeological Survey of India, New Delhi is directed to file his personal affidavit in the matter within the same period, i.e., 10 days.”
The single-judge also extended its interim order till September 30 through which the High Court had stayed proceedings before a Varanasi court that allowed an archaeological survey of the Gyanvapi mosque.
The High Court posted the matter for hearing on September 12.
The Gyanvapi mosque is located next to the Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi.
The current petition is different from another plea in which five Hindu women have claimed that an image of the Hindu deity Shringar Gauri exists at the mosque and have sought permission to offer daily prayers there.
The present case pertains to a petition filed by VS Rastogi, who claimed that Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb had demolished a portion of the 2,000-year-old Kashi Vishwanath temple in 1664 to build the mosque.
Rastogi demanded that the land on which the Gyanvapi Mosque has been built should be handed over to Hindus. He filed the petition in December 2019 on behalf of Vishweshwar, the main deity of the temple, asking the Archaeological Survey of India to undertake a survey.
In January 2021, the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee, the caretakers of the mosque, had filed an objection to Rastogi’s petition.
The first petition related to the dispute was filed in 1991. Rastogi, in his 2019 petition, said that the first additional district judge of Varanasi had ordered the lower court in 1998 to take evidence of the entire Gyanvapi compound for determining the “religious status or character of the compound”.
Further, the petition also contended that the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act was not applicable in this case as the mosque was constructed over a partly demolished temple and that many parts of the temple exist even today.
The Act prohibits “conversion of any place of worship and to provide for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on the 15th day of August, 1947, and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”.
In 1998, the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee had moved the Allahabad High Court saying that the dispute could not be adjudicated by a civil court as it was barred by the Act. The High Court had then stayed the proceedings in the civil court.
In February 2020, the petitioners again approached the lower court with a plea to resume the hearing as the High Court had not extended the stay in the last six months.