Mathura Court rules that Places of Worship Act is not applicable to suit seeking removal of Shahi Idgah

The Mathura Court, while allowing the petition seeking the removal of the Shahi Idgah disputed structure near Krishna Janmabhoomi in Mathura, also stated that the Places of Worship Act, 1991 is not applicable to the suit, since the suit was originally filed in 1964, and the current 2020 suit challenges a ‘compromise agreement’ signed in 1968, years before the Places of Worship Act came into force in the year 1991.

The Court clarified that the provisions of the Act are not applicable to the aforementioned suit by virtue of section 4 (3)(b) of the Places of Worship Act, 1991.

The Court also ruled that the suit to remove the Mathura Shahi Idgah Mosque is maintainable on the ground that it was built over the Krishna Janmbhoomi land. The matter has been sent back to the civil court to be heard on merits.

The Places of Worship Act, which came into effect in the year 1991, prohibits “conversion of any place of worship” and provides “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”. While the Act explicitly said that it will be not applicable to the Ram Janmabhoomi case as it was being heard by courts, the Act also contained exemptions which means that the Act is also not applicable to several other disputed structures as well.

Section 4(1) of the Act states that “the religious character of a place of worship existing on the 15th day of August 1947 shall continue to be the same as it existed on that day”. Section 4(2) of the Act further states that “any suit, appeal or other proceedings with respect to the conversion of the religious character of any place of worship, existing on the 15th day of August 1947, is pending before any court, tribunal or other authority, the same shall abate, and no suit, appeal or other proceedings with respect to any such matter shall lie on or after such commencement in any court, tribunal or other authority”.

However, the section 4(3)(b), which has been cited by the court, says that if any suit, appeal or other proceeding has been finally decided, settled or disposed of by a court, tribunal or other authority before the commencement of this Act, that the Act will not apply in that case. Section 4(3) also includes other exempted cases where the Act is not applicable, which includes any ancient and historical monument or an archaeological site, if any dispute was settled by the parties before commencement of the Act, etc.

Why the Places of Worship Act, 1991 is “not applicable” to the 2020 suit seeking removal of the disputed Shahi Idgah structure

Essentially, the original suit in the Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi-Shahi Idgah mosque case was filed in 1964 by the Sangh regarding ownership of the land, which was dismissed in the year 1974 after a “compromise agreement” was signed between Shri Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sansthan, the temple management authority and the Trust Masjid Idgah in 1968.

The agreement granted ownership of the land to the temple trust even as the management rights of the masjid were left to the Idgah committee.

In September 2020, another suit was filed on behalf of the deity Bhagwan Shrikrishna Virajman seeking the removal of the disputed structure of the Shahi Idgah mosque near the Krishna Janmabhoomi in Mathura and the transfer of 13.37-acre land to the deity. The petitioners had challenged the “fraudulent” 1968 ‘compromise agreement’, on the basis of which the earlier suit filed in 1964 was dismissed, and sought to cancel the same.

Since the original suit was filed in 1964 and the present 2020 suit challenges the ‘compromise agreement’ signed in 1968, the court ruled that the Place of Worship Act 1991 is not applicable to the suit as the case dates back before 1991, when the ‘Place of Worship Act’ came into effect. The Court said that the agreement between the two parties resulted in a compromise decree, which was drawn before the commencement of the Act enacted in 1991, and as the same is the subject matter of challenge in the current suit moved by the petitioner, the act shall not be applicable on this dispute by virtue of section 4 (3)(b) of the Places of Worship Act, 1991.

The case

The suit in the Krishna Janmabhoomi case challenges a compromise between Shri Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sansthan and Trust Masjid Idgah in 1968, under which the Sansthan had conceded 13.37 acres of land in favour of the Masjid Trust. Based on this compromise, a decree was drawn in a Mathura court in 1974. However, this compromise and the decree have been challenged based on the claim that the Shri Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sansthan didn’t own the land and therefore can’t hand it over.

The land in question was purchased by Seth Jugal Kishore Birla from the heirs of Raja Patnimal through a registered sale deed in 1944. The land situated in Katra Keshav Dev was purchased in the name of Mahamana Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya, Goswami Ganesh Dutt and Professor Bhikanlal Attrey. Later in 1951, Seth Birla had formed a trust named Shri Krishna Janmbhoomi Trust, and the entire property of 13.37 acres was dedicated to the deity and given to the trust. The Shri Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sansthan was formed in 1958 and had overpowered the Trust.

Therefore, the current 2020 suit argues that Shri Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sansthan didn’t own the land to hand it over to the Masjid Trust, and therefore the compromise agreement should be declared void. Now the court has ruled that the suit is maintainable, and said that a worshipper, as the next friend of the deity, can file suit for the restoration and re-establishment of religious rights of the deity. Regarding the merits of the case, the court said, “whether Shri Krishna Janma Bhoomi Seva Sangh had the power to enter into a compromise with Trust Masjid Eidgah is a matter of evidence which can be determined only on the basis of the evidence adduced by both the parties during the trial.”

Source : OpIndia

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