The Supreme Court on Saturday ordered the Centre to hand over the disputed Ayodhya site within three months to a trust that will oversee the construction of a Ram temple there. The top court also ruled that a separate five-acre plot be allotted to the Sunni Waqf Board in Ayodhya for the construction of a new mosque as relief for the “unlawful destruction” of the Babri Masjid in 1992.

The 1,045-page judgement – a unanimous one – was given by a five-judge Constitution bench that heard the matter for 40 nearly-consecutive working days between August and October. This was the second longest hearing in the history of the Supreme Court, which took place after an out-of-court mediation effort failed to resolve the dispute earlier this year.

The judges who gave the verdict in the case that has its roots more than a century ago were Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices SA Bobde, DY Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer.

The court said the decision of the Allahabad High Court in 2010 to order a three-way division of the disputed site “defies logic” and was “legally unsustainable”. The bench also observed that the demolition of the 16th-century Babri Masjid at the site by Hindutva activists in 1992 was a serious violation of the rule of law and “must be remedied”. The demolition had led to communal riots in many parts of the country.

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The bench held that the faith of the Hindus that Ram was born at the site of the demolished structure is undisputed and backed by documentary and oral evidence. The court cited a report by the Archaeological Survey of India that had found that the site where the Babri Masjid was built four centuries ago had not been vacant.

The judges said they were not concerned with faith and belief, and instead treated the case as a title dispute among the Sunni Muslim Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and the deity Ram Lalla.

Ahead of the order in the decades-old dispute, prohibitory orders were imposed in Uttar Pradesh and several other states, including Kerala and Karnataka. Schools and colleges in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Jammu were closed on Saturday. The Delhi Police used drones to carry out surveillance, PTI reported.

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Addressing the nation hours after the verdict, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked Indians to “shun negativity and bitterness” for the sake of a new India. He said India’s “unity in diversity” was visible following the verdict, as all sections of society had accepted it with “open hearts”. The prime minister added that the way each section of the society welcomed the verdict reflects India’s ancient traditions of amity and harmony. Modi also expressed happiness that the five-judge bench of the court was unanimous in its order.

Earlier in the day, Modi had said the verdict should not be viewed as a victory or loss for anybody.

The Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board, which was a litigant in the case, expressed disappointment, NDTV reported. The board said it will hold a meeting and decide whether a review petition should be filed. We think it is unjust... We can’t consider this justice,” Zafaryab Jilani, the lawyer for the Muslim group, said. “We are not criticising all parts of the judgement.”

All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi expressed dissatisfaction with the verdict, and said the Supreme Court is not infallible. He said the verdict was a victory of faith over facts. “We don’t need five acres of land as donation,” he said. “We should reject this five acres land offer, don’t patronise us.”

Iqbal Ansari, a litigant in the case, said he respects the verdict.

Hindutva organisations such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to grant the disputed site in Ayodhya to a trust for the construction of a Ram temple. VHP Working President Alok Kumar claimed that 60% of the pillars and beams for the Ram temple were ready, PTI reported.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat also welcomed the decision. “This case was going on for decades and it has reached the right conclusion,” he said at a press conference. “This should not be seen as a win or loss for anyone. We also welcome everyone’s efforts to maintain peace and harmony in society.”

The Congress said it supports the top court’s ruling as it “opened the doors for the temple’s construction”, and the Bharatiya Janata Party would no longer be able to “politicise the matter”. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said it is a time for “brotherhood, trust and love” among all Indians.

Senior BJP leader LK Advani, considered the architect of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement that culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, said it was “a moment of fulfillment” for him. Advani said he felt “deeply blessed” and vindicated. “I join all my countrymen in wholeheartedly welcoming the historic judgement delivered by the five-member Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court today in the Ayodhya matter,” Advani told reporters.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued an advisory to all television channels and cable TV operators, asking them to adhere to programme code and ensure that debates, discussions and visuals do not incite any “divisive” or “anti-national” feelings, PTI reported. The ministry also asked the Press Council of India to sensitise print media to ensure that Norms of Journalistic Conduct under the Press Council of India Act, 1978, are followed strictly.

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