SC tells Nirmohi Akhara claim of devotee cannot be adverse to deity

NEW DELHI, Aug 23: The Supreme Court on Friday told Nirmohi Akhara, which has said the lawsuit of ‘Ram Lalla’ be rejected and the disputed land in Ayodhya be given to it as it has been the deity’s sole devotee, that the claim of ‘shebait’ (devotee) “can never be adverse to the deity”.

Hearing the arguments on the 11th day, the top court said if the Hindu body was contesting the suit of ‘Ram Lalla Virajman’, it was going against the deity’s title and asking the court to dismiss the suit of the deity.

On Thursday, the Akhara claimed it was the sole ‘shebait’ of Ram Lalla at the disputed site, prompting the court to say if it was so the Akhara cannot have the title over the 2.77-acre disputed land.

But the court’s observation was resisted by the Akhara counsel, Sushil Jain, who said the Hindu body has been in possession of the property in the capacity of ‘shebait’ and hence its “right does not vanish”.

On Friday, the five-judge Constitution bench headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi took exception to the Akhara counsel’s statement, and said, “When you seek dismissal of the suit of your own deity then you are seeking right against your deity.”

“Claim of the shebait can never be adverse to the deity. If you are contesting the suit (of Ram Lalla) then you are going against the title of the deity. So, as a shebait, you are asking to dismiss the suit of the deity,” said the bench, comprising Justices S A Bobde, D Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S A Nazeer.

“Suppose the suit of Ram Lalla goes then you have no independent claim… You can’t survive if the deity does not survive.”

Justice Bobde then asked the Akhara to clear whether it was taking a position “contrary to the deity”. He told the counsel: “First say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”

Jain explained to the court that the plea of the deity (Ram Lalla) was made in 1989 but the Akhara has been in possession of the place since 1934. “I have taken a plea that decree in interest of deity can only be given in shebait’s favour,” he said.

The birth place of Lord Ram is not a “juridical person” as claimed and the Akhara is entitled to take the plea, Jain asserted.

The bench said the Akhara has so far argued to contrary to the case built by it in the high court and asked Jain to refer to documents to “build the case on merits”.

The Allahabad High Court, in its judgment of 2010 on four civil lawsuits, had partitioned the 2.77-acre disputed land equally among the three parties — Sunni Waqf Board, Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla.

Jain said the Akhara was not claiming the title right of the property, but claiming its possession and the right to manage as a devotee.

“I am also seeking right to re-construct the Ram temple and I am not seeking any other right,” he said, adding the other parties in the case should support the Akhara.

Jain said he was not denying the site was a ‘wakf’ property but ‘wakf’ can be a Hindu ‘wakf’ and the term only meant that a body which owns and manages religious properties.

The bench then asked: “You will have to show us the evidence to establish your ‘shebait’ rights. Show us the documents related to that. You show us documentary and oral evidence.”

Jain said no other party has challenged Akhara’s claim to shebaitship of the deity.

In response to a pointed query whether it had any documentary evidence in support of its right as ‘shebait’, Jain said, “I have oral evidence (of witnesses) which has not been denied by others” and read out statements to indicate it had been managing the disputed site.

He also said the Akhara lost the records in a dacoity.

The bench then pointed out from the records that they said the Akhara had been performing worship at the ‘Ram Chabutra’. Jain said it meant the ‘Ram Chabutra temple’.

“It is not so… You have made a distinction between disputed temple and Ram Chabutra,” the bench said.

On the submissions of the lawyer that the oral statements have not been properly recorded, the bench said, “These are not testimonies given in the witness box. They are affidavits which are prepared by proper application of mind”.

Jain said the Akhara was “poor” as it lost offerings including money after its possession over the outer courtyard of disputed structure in 1982 was taken away and then in 1992, the entire structure was demolished.

The bench would resume hearing on August 26.

Fourteen appeals have been filed in the Supreme Court against the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment. (PTI)