The Supreme Court, today, heard the SLPs against the orders of Allahabad High Court upholding the Varanasi District Court’s Order allowing prayers by Hindu priests in the Southern Cellar of the Gyanvapi Mosque i.e. ‘Vyas Tehkhana’ and passed an order to continue worship at the tehkhana by Hindu Priests. The Court also directed that the status quo as obtained from the above terms shall not be disturbed by either of the parties without obtaining the previous sanction and leave of the Court.

The Bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud along with Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra observed “Notice shall accordingly be issued. Mr. Vishnu Jain accepts notice on behalf of the Respondents….Bearing in mind the fact that the Namaz is offered by the Muslim community unhindered after the orders dated January 17 and January 31 and the offering of puja by Hindu priest is confined to the area of the tehkhana. It is appropriate to maintain status-quo so as to enable both the communities to offer worship in the above terms…The religious observance of Hindus shall be in terms of the order of January 31, 2024, and subject to the safe custody of the receivership. The terms shall not be disturbed without obtaining the leave of this Court… Counter to be filed before 30th April. List for final disposal in the third week of July.”

Senior Advocate Huzefa Ahmadi for the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid submitted “With the greatest respect, there is an extraordinary order passed first by the trial court thereafter confirmed by the High Court and the effect of the order is Milords to grant a final relief at an interim stage, granted in the afternoon of the 31st, I was given the copy of the order at 7 p.m.. The Order said to implement the orders within one week. The State Government, which is not even a party to the case, implements the order in the dark hours of the night…the puja starts that very night so I am foreclosed to effective remedy of actually preferring an appeal and seeking an order for stay.”

CJI asked, “Now what has been happening, since the 31st of January? Puja is taking place?”

He further submits “Yes. They have occupied that particular portion, puja is taking place. So effectively status quo ante even according to the Plaint…as of 1993, that is 30 years ago, is restored by the mandatory order that is passed.”

He submitted that the order was implemented in ‘hot haste’ so therefore, he could not seek a stay.

Ahmadi, “On the evening of the 31st, in the dark hours of the night, though they were given one week to implement the order, they implemented the order and presented me with fait accompli…They bought iron cutters… removed the barricades, installed the idol, and started the puja at 4 in the morning. There is no evidence of any puja taking place in the cellar…This will allow things to fester...history has taught us something different...despite making undertakings, something very nasty has taken place... I don't want to get into that, going by civil law principles…this is an egregious order.”

Ahmadi also submitted that the matter was related to the appointment of the receiver and not to the directions given by the district judge allowing the puja/worship to be performed. From 1993 until 2023 the premises, tehkhana or cellar, in which worship by Hindu priests was allowed were locked, since the premises were locked for thirty years there was no urgency to grant mandatory injunction permitting religious ceremonies through the priests, he stated.

Senior Advocate Shyam Diwan along with Advocate Vishnu Jain appeared for the Respondent- Shailendra Kumar Pathak. He submitted that the orders are well reasoned and detailed, and the case warrants no interference from the Apex Court.

Senior Advocate Ahmadi also showed the aerial image of the structure, pointing to the cellar in issue for the consideration of the court. He referred to the structure of the mosque and also compared it with the structure of Humayun’s tomb.

Ahmadi told the Bench, “Bit by bit you are entering the mosque and ousting me. That is the apprehension. The wazukhana has already been taken from me and now the tehkhana.”. There is no evidence of worship being offered by the Hindus in the cellar and the property surrounding the structure of the mosque is a Waqf Property.

Previously, the Varanasi District Court had allowed Hindus to offer prayers and perform ‘puja’ in the southern basement of Gyanvapi Mosque and in a previous Order, dated January 31, 2024, the Judge noted that the idol was worshipped in the basement located on the south side of the temple building and after December 1993, priest Shri Vyas ji was stopped from entering the barricaded area of the said courtyard.

District Judge Ajay Krishna Vishwesh had directed to hand over the basement situated on the south side of the building situated at Settlement Plot No. 9130, Thana Chowk, District Varanasi, which is the suit property, to the plaintiff and the priest named by the Kashi Vishwanath Trust Board. “Get the puja, raga-bhog performed, done for the idols located in the basement and for this purpose, make proper arrangements in iron fence etc. within 7 days.”, the court said.

Cause Title: Committee Of Management Anjuman Intezamia Masajid Varanasi vs. Shailendra Kumar Pathak Vyas And Anr. (SLP(C) No. 7094-7095/2024)