Motivated litigation: On a Supreme Court stay in the Krishna Janmabhoomi-Shahi Idgah dispute case

Courts should not allow suits that seek to convert places of worship

in staying the execution of an Allahabad High Court order to appoint a commissioner to inspect the Shahi Idgah Mosque in Mathura, the Supreme Court has stalled for a while a likely move to get the status of the place of worship altered through the courts. The top court has halted the appointment of the commission after finding it was sought on vague grounds without any particular reason. It has also taken into account a recent precedent in which the Supreme Court has ruled that civil courts should not grant any interim relief if there is a question about the maintainability of the suit or if the suit is barred by law. The committee of management of the Shahi Idgah Mosque has questioned the maintainability of the suit in the name of the deity, Bhagwan Sri Krishna Virajman, and other Hindu worshippers on the ground that it is barred by the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, which prohibits the conversion of the religious character of any place of worship as it was on August 15, 1947. It also bars any fresh suit aimed at altering the status of a place of worship. Hindu devotees have been claiming that the mosque, located adjacent to a Krishna temple there, is standing on the birthplace of Lord Krishna. Several suits are pending in connection with the mosque in Mathura and the Allahabad High Court has transferred all the suits to itself for disposal.

The appointment of a commission to inspect the premises appeared to be an exercise to show that architectural features and artefacts of Hindu provenance could be found. The legal strategy is similar to the one through which Hindu worshippers obtained official sanction for gathering purported evidence to back their case at the Gyanvapi Mosque, Varanasi, where the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has been asked to do a scientific survey. The Mathura dispute, however, was settled through a compromise between the Sri Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sansthan and the Shahi Idgah Trust in 1968, and implemented through a decree in 1973. As part of the settlement, the Sansthan had given up a portion of the land to the Idgah. The current suits challenge this compromise as ‘fraudulent’ and seek the transfer of the entire parcel of land to the deity. The use of the judiciary to make a concerted attack on Muslim places of worship by claiming that they were built on structures of Hindu origin has become an unfortunately regular feature. Courts must be wary of encouraging such motivated litigation, and determine at the earliest stage whether such suits are maintainable in view of the statutory bar in the 1991 Act.