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M. Siddiq (D) through LRS. Vs. Mahant Suresh Das & Ors (Page 2)

It is in this context, that the Madras High Court notes that the existence of an idol is not a pre-requisite to satisfy the statutory definition of a temple. Second, the case does not discuss the question whether a temple, even absent an idol, can be a juristic person. It is pertinent to note that absent an idol, the temple itself had existed for several years. In light of these observations, the decision does not support Mr Parasaran's argument that absent an idol or any express form of manifestation or recognition, land can constitute a juristic person.

183. Mr Parasaran relied on the decision in Saraswathi Ammal v Rajagopal Ammal117 to argue that the widespread belief and worship of the land styled as Ram Janmbhumi is sufficient to recognise it as a juristic person. The case concerned a settlement deed whereby a widow dedicated in perpetuity the revenue of certain immovable properties for the performance of daily puja and 'Gurupuja' of her former husband's tomb. It was urged by the appellants in the case that the dedication was for the performance of puja and an annual 'sradh' on a significant scale, and the dedication was thus for a religious and charitable purpose.

In rejecting this contention, Justice B Jagannadhadas, speaking for a three judge Bench of this Court observed: -6...To the extent, therefore, that any purpose is claimed to be a valid one for perpetual dedication on the ground of religious merit though lacking in public benefit, it must be shown to have a Shastric basis so far as Hindus are concerned. No doubt since then other religious practices and beliefs may have grown up and obtained recognition from certain classes, as constituting purposes conducive of religious merit. If such beliefs are to be accepted by courts as being sufficient for valid perpetual dedication of property therefor without the lement of actual or presumed public benefit it must be at least shown that they have obtained wide recognition and constitute the religious practice of a substantial and large class of persons.

That is a question which does not arise for direct decision in this case. But it cannot be maintained that the belief in this belief of one or more individuals is sufficient to enable them to make a valid settlement permanently tying up property. The heads of religious purposes determined by belief in acquisition of religious merit cannot be allowed to be widely enlarged consistently with public policy and needs of modern society."

(Emphasis supplied)

The above decision deals with whether a substantial and widespread practice of a large number of Hindus would warrant its recognition as a religious or charitable practice. Further, the court expressly observes it was not necessary to answer this question as the ground of public policy is sufficient to discredit the practice of tomb-worship by a few stray individuals. It does not deal with the question when a court should confer juristic personality, either on an idol or on land. While a particular practice may or may not be recognised by a court as -religious" or -charitable" depending on the scale of adoption of the practice, a parallel cannot be drawn with the concept of juristic person which operates in an entirely different field of law. The decision does not support the contention that widespread belief in the religious nature of a site is sufficient to confer upon that site legal personality.

Lastly Mr Parasaran sought to rely on two decisions, Sapneswar Pujapanda v Ratkanar Mahapatra118 and Sri Adi Visheshwara of Kashi Vishwanath Temple v State of UP119 to contend that the second plaintiff in Suit 5 is a 'Swayambhu' deity which has a recognised legal personality. The decisions merely note that Hinduism recognises the concept of a Swayambhu deity, which is not contested by either of the parties to the present dispute. Neither decision advances the argument set out by Mr Parasaran. The substantive content of the arguments advanced by the plaintiffs in Suit 5 is dealt with next.

184. Mr Parasaran submitted that the various deities and idols in Hinduism are merely facets of the single indivisible God. It was thus contended that every manifestation of the indivisible God is worthy of legal protection and the conferment of legal personality.

185. This Court in Yogendra Nath Naskar v CIT, Calcutta120 drew a distinction between the perception of the devotee that the idol is a manifestation of the Supreme Being and the position in law that legal personality is conferred on the pious purpose of the testator that is entitled to legal protection. Hinduism is an expansive religion that believes divinity in the form of the Supreme Being is present in every aspect of creation. The worship of God in Hinduism is not limited to temples or idols but often extends to natural formations, animals and can even extend to everyday objects which have significance in a worshipper's life. As a matter of religion, every manifestation of the Supreme Being is divine and worthy of worship. However, as a matter of law, every manifestation of the Supreme Being is not a legal person. Legal personality is an innovation arising out of legal necessity and the need for adjudicative utility. Each conferment of legal personality absent an express deed of dedication must be judged on the facts of the case and it is not a sound proposition in law to state that every manifestation of the Supreme Being results in the creation of a legal person.

186. In the present case, it was contended that the land forming the disputed site is itself the manifestation of Lord Ram. Significant reliance was placed on the existence of certain temples which do not possess idols, in particular the Chidambaram temple in Tamil Nadu, to advance two legal propositions: First, that a Hindu deity possessing juristic personality could exist even absent an idol, and second that unadorned land, absent any distinguishing features, could constitute a Swayambhu deity and consequently a juristic person. As noted above, the cases relied upon by Mr Parasaran with respect to the Chidambaram and Kalyansundareswar temple do not refer to the conferral of juristic personality. However, it is true than an idol is not a pre-requisite for the existence of a juristic person.

Where there exists an express deed of dedication, the legal personality vests in the pious purpose of the founder. The idol is the material embodiment of the pious purpose and is the site of jural relations. There are instances of the submergence or even destruction of the idol inspite of which it has been held that the legal personality continues to subsist. Even if a testator were to make a dedication to a religious purpose but the idol did not exist at the time the dedication was made or the manifestation of the divine was not in the form of the idol, but in the form of some other object of religious significance, the legal personality would continue to vest in the pious purpose of the dedication itself. However, that is not the situation in the present case. In the case of the second plaintiff in Suit 5, there exists no express deed of dedication.

187. It is true that merely because the second plaintiff is not an idol, and there exists no deed of dedication, it is not precluded from being conferred with legal personality. Swayambhu deities, by the very fact that they are manifested from nature, may not fit the description of an idol in the traditional sense. Courts are not barred from recognising such a material manifestation of the divine as a juristic person. The manifestation in a material form is what is the defining feature. In the present case however, the arguments advanced in reply on behalf of the plaintiffs in Suit 5 rest on a two-fold claim: First, that no material manifestation is required for the conferral of juristic personality in the case of a Swayambhu deity.

In this view, the performance of worship with the faith and belief that corporeal property represents the divine is adequate for the conferral of juristic personality. Second, in the alternative, assuming that a material manifestation is a pre-requisite for a Swayambhu deity, the land at the disputed site represents the material manifestation and given the performance of religious worship, no further evidence is required for the conferral of juristic personality. Several examples of temples without idols were placed before this court, including that of the Chidambaram Temple to contend that the deity of Ram had manifested itself in the form of land itself.

According to the plaintiffs in Suit 5, the birth of Lord Ram at the disputed site is the revelation, and the resident deity of Ram Janmabhumi manifests itself in the form of the land that it is the disputed land. At the Chidambaram Temple, there exists no idol of the resident deity, Lord Siva. A curtain exists at the altar. At the time of worship, the curtain is drawn away and the altar is revealed to have an empty space. The empty space at the altar is the subject of the prayers and devotees regularly leave offerings at the altar. Mr Parasaran sought to draw a parallel to demonstrate how empty space itself, absent any idol or distinguishing features, was the subject of worship and constituted a valid deity upon which juristic personality could be conferred.

188. The arguments urged by Mr Parasaran in his reply raise three questions for our determination: First, whether a Swayambhu deity may be recognised absent a physical manifestation; second, whether land can constitute a manifestation of the deity; and third, whether legal personality can be conferred on immovable property per se.

189. A Swayambhu deity is a manifestation of God that is 'self-revealed' or 'discovered as existing' as opposed to a traditional idol that is hand-crafted and consecrated by the prana pratishta ceremony. The word 'swayam' means 'self' or 'on its own', 'bhu' means 'to take birth'. A Swayambhu deity is one which has manifested itself in nature without human craftsmanship. Common examples of these deities are where a tree grows in the shape of a Hindu God or Goddess or where a natural formation such as ice or rock takes the form of a recognised Hindu deity.

190. Dr Dhavan contended that any case of Swayambhu deity would necessarily need to be based on:

(i) some evidence of the manifestation of God in a material form followed by;

(ii) faith and belief that a particular piece of corporeal property represents the divine; and

(iii) in the absence of traditional prana parishta ceremonies of consecration, some institutionalised worship constituting recognition by the religion itself that the manifestation was a deity. In this view, a Swayambhu deity is premised on faith and belief coupled with a physical manifestation and religious recognition.

191. A Swayambhu deity is the revelation of God in a material form which is subsequently worshipped by devotees. The recognition of a Swayambhu deity is based on the notion that God is omnipotent and may manifest in some physical form. This manifestation is worshipped as the embodiment of divinity. In all these cases, the very attribution of divinity is premised on the manifestation of the deity in a material form. Undoubtedly, a deity may exist without a physical manifestation, example of this being the worship offered to the Sun and the Wind. But a Swayambhu is premised on the physical manifestation of the Divine to which faith and belief attaches.

192. The difficulty that arises in the present case is that the Swayambhu deity seeking recognition before this Court is not in the form ordinarily associated with the pantheon of anthropomorphised Hindu Gods. The plaintiffs in Suit 5 have sought to locate the disputed land as a focal point by contending that the very land itself is the manifestation of the deity and that the devotees' worship not only the idols of Lord Ram, but the very land itself. The land does not contain any material manifestation of the resident deity Lord Ram. Absent the faith and belief of the devotees, the land holds no distinguishing features that could be recognised by this court as evidence of a manifestation of God at the disputed site.

It is true that in matters of faith and belief, the absence of evidence may not be evidence of absence. However, absent a manifestation, recognising the land as a self-manifested deity would open the floodgates for parties to contend that ordinary land which was witness to some event of religious significance associated with the human incarnation of a deity (e.g. the site of marriage, or the ascent to a heavenly abode) is in fact a Swayambhu deity manifested in the form of land. If the argument urged by Mr Parasaran that there is no requirement of a physical manifestation is accepted, it may well be claimed that any area of religious significance is a Swayambhu deity which deserves to be recognised as a juristic personality. This problem is compounded by the fact that worship to a particular deity at a religious site and to the land underlying a religious site are for all intents and purposes, indistinguishable. Hence, in order to provide a sound jurisprudential basis for the recognition of a Swayambhu deity, manifestation is crucial. Absent that manifestation which distinguishes the land from other property, juristic personality cannot be conferred on the land.

193. It is conceivable that in certain instances the land itself would possess certain unique characteristics. For example, it may be claimed that certain patterns on a sea-shore or crop formations represent a manifestation of the divine. In these cases, the manifestation is inseparable from the land and is tied up to it. An independent question arises as to whether land can constitute the physical manifestation of the deity. Even if a court recognises land as a manifestation of a deity, because such land is also governed by the principles of immoveable property, the court will need to investigate the consequences which arise. In doing so the court must analyse the compatibility of the legal regime of juristic personality with the legal regime on immoveable property.

It is necessary now to turn to this. Property vested in a deity and property as a deity 194. There is a significant distinction between property vested in a foundation (as in Roman law) or a deity as a juristic person (as in Hindu Law) and property per se being a juristic person. Where the property vests in a foundation constituted for a pious purpose, it retains its characteristics as immoveable property. This remains true even in cases where the property vests in the deity in an ideal sense. The purpose of conferring juristic personality is to ensure both a centre of legal relations as well as the protection of the beneficial interest of the devotees. It does not however, alter the character of the property which vests in the juristic person. It remains subject to the framework of the law which defines all relationships governing rights or interests claimed in respect of property and the liabilities which attach to jural transactions arising out of property.

195. This distinction, which highlights the features of immoveable property received articulation by the Privy Council in The Mosque, Masjid Shahid Ganj v Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar.121 In that case, a mosque was dedicated in 1722 by one Falak Beg Khan. By the deed of dedication, Sheikh Din Mohammad and his descendants were appointed as Mutawallis. Since 1762, however, the building together with the court-yard, well and adjacent land, was in the occupation and possession of the Sikhs. The land adjacent to the mosque became the site of a Sikh shrine. At the time of the annexation by the British in 1849, the Sikhs were in possession of both the mosque and the adjacent lands.

196. Thereafter, the building was demolished -by or with the connivance of its Sikh custodians". A suit was instituted in 1935 against Shiromani Gurdawara Parbandhak Committee - who were in possession of the disputed property, seeking a declaration that the building was a mosque in which the plaintiffs and all the followers of Islam had a right to worship along with a mandatory injunction to reconstruct the building. One of the 18 plaintiffs was the mosque itself - the site and the building. The Privy Council assessed the contention that the mosque and the adjoining properties were a juristic person. Rejecting the contention, Justice George Rankin held: -The argument that the land and buildings of a mosque are not property at all because they are a -juristic person" involves a number of misconceptions.

It is wholly inconsistent with many decisions whereby a worshipper or the mutwalli has been permitted to maintain a suit to recover the land and buildings for the purposes of the wakf by ejectment of a trespasser...

That there should be any supposed analogy between the position in law of a building dedicated as a place of prayer for Muslims and the individual deities of the Hindu religion is a matter of some surprise to their Lordships... the procedure in India takes account necessarily of the polytheistic and other features of the Hindu religion and recognizes certain doctrines of Hindu law as essential thereto, e.g. that an idol may be the owner of property... The decisions recognizing a mosque as a -juristic person"appear to be confined to the Punjab : 153 PR 1884; Shankar Das v. Said Ahmad (1884) 153 PR 1884 59 PR 1914; Maula Bux v. Hafizuddin (1926) 13 AIR Lah 372 AIR 1926 Lah 372.6 In none of those cases was a mosque party to the suit, and in none except perhaps the last is the fictitious personality attributed to the mosque as a matter of decision. But so far as they go these cases support the recognition as a fictitious person of a mosque as an institution - apparently hypostatizing an abstraction. This, as the learned Chief Justice in the present case has pointed out, is very different from conferring personality upon a building so as to deprive it of its character as immovable property."

(Emphasis supplied)

197. The Privy Council noted that if the mosque was a juristic person, this may mean that limitation does not apply to it and that -it is not property but an owner of property." Underlying the line of reasoning adopted by the Privy Council is that the conferral of legal personality on immovable property could lead to the property losing its character as immoveable property. Immoveable property, by its very nature, admits competing proprietary claims over it. Immoveable property may be divided. However, the recognition of the land itself as a juristic person may potentially lead to the loss of these essential characteristics. Where juristic personality was recognised in corporeal property itself such as the idol, it served the larger purpose for which juristic personality was conferred - to ensure the execution and protection of the pious purpose set out by a donor and the ultimate protection of the beneficial interest of the worshippers. However, to confer legal personality on immoveable property leads to consequences that fundamentally have no nexus to the limited purpose for which juristic personality is conferred.

It sets apart immoveable property on which a juristic character is conferred from all other species of immoveable property. This will lead to the claim that the legal regime which applies to the latter ('ordinary immoveable property') will not apply to that class of immoveable property which is recognised as a juristic person in and of itself. The principles of adverse possession and limitation would, if the argument were to be accepted, not apply to the land as a legal person which is incapable of being -possessed".

The conferral of legal personality in the context of endowments was to ensure the legal protection of the endowed property, not to confer upon the property legal impregnability by placing it outside the reach of the law. The elevation of land to the status of a juristic person fundamentally alters its characteristics as immoveable property, a severe consequence against which a court must guard. Nor is it a valid safeguard to postulate that the court will decide on a case to case basis where a particular immoveable property should have a juristic status.

Absent any objective standard of application the process of drawing lines will be rendered inherently subjective, denuding the efficacy of the judicial process. 198. The land in question has been treated as immoveable property by all the parties to the present dispute, including those from the Hindu community until 1989. The litigation over the disputed property dated back to 1885, and at no point, until Suit 5 in 1989 was a plea taken that the land in question was anything possessed of a juristic personality. Apart from the reasons which have been outlined above, it would not be open for the court to treat the property differently now, solely on the basis of the novel plea urged by the plaintiffs in Suit 5 in 1989. Addressing title claims in a conventional framework

199. The facts of the present case raise questions of access of the devotees to the site of religious worship and the question of who has title to the land. The former may be protected by the court in several ways without the creation of an artificial legal person. The protection against mismanagement squarely falls within the domain of who should be recognised as a shebait, and this is addressed elsewhere in the course of the present judgement. Generally speaking, the court is empowered to address such situations upon an application under Section 92 of the Code of Civil Procedure 1908. The question of title can be adjudicated upon using the existing legal regime applicable to immoveable property. There is no reason bearing on necessity or convenience that would compel the court to adopt the novel argument set forth by the plaintiffs in Suit 5 that juristic personality must be conferred on the disputed land.

200. The conferral of juristic personality is a legal innovation applied by courts in situations where the existing law of the day has certain shortcomings or such conferral increases the convenience of adjudication. In the present case, the existing law is adequately equipped to protect the interests of the devotees and ensure against maladministration without recognising the land itself as a legal person. Where the law is capable of adequately protecting the interests of the devotees and ensuring the accountable management of religious sites without the conferral of legal personality, it is not necessary to embark on the journey of creating legal fictions that may have unintended consequences in the future. There is therefore no merit in the argument that faith and belief, and the protection of faith and belief alone may necessitate the conferral of legal personality on the second plaintiff.

On the contrary, there exists a substantial risk with adopting this argument. It may be contended by a section of a religion that a particular plot of land is the birth-place, place of marriage, or a place where the human incarnation of a deity departed for a heavenly abode; according to the faith and belief of the devotees. Corporeal property may be associated with myriad incidents associated with the human incarnation of a deity each of which holds a significant place in the faith and belief of the worshippers. Where does the court draw the line to assess the significance of the belief as the basis to confer juristic personality on property?

In the absence of an objective criterion, the exercise will be fraught with subjectivity. Adopting the argument of the plaintiffs in Suit 5 may result in the conferral of legal personality on all such claims to land. This conferral would be to the detriment of bona fide litigants outside the faith - who may not share the same beliefs and yet find their title extinguished. Further, such conferral of legal personality on immovable property would be on the basis of the faith and belief of the devotees, which is fundamentally subjective and incapable of being questioned by this Court.

201. The purpose for which juristic personality is conferred cannot be 'evolved' into a trojan horse that permits, on the basis of religious faith and belief, the extinguishing of all competing proprietary claims over property as well stripping the property itself of the essential characteristic of immoveable property. If the contention urged on the behalf of the plaintiffs in Suit 5 is accepted, it results in a position in law where claims to 'absolute title' can be sustained merely on the basis of the faith and belief of the devotees.

The conferral of legal personality on corporeal property would immunise property not merely from competing title claims, but also render vast swathes of the law that are essential for courts to meaningfully adjudicate upon civil suits, such as limitation, ownership, possession and division, entirely otiose. At best, the contention urged on behalf of the plaintiffs in Suit 5 would sustain a claim that the specific site is a location of religious significance for the devotees. It cannot however be extended to sustain proprietary claims to the law or to immunise the land from proprietary or title based claims of others by conferring juristic personality on the land itself. Commitment to constitutional values

202. A final observation must be made on this aspect of the case which is of significant importance. The rejection of the contention urged on behalf of the plaintiffs in Suit 5 touches upon the heart of our constitutional commitment to secularism. The method of worship on the basis of which a proprietary claim may be sustained is relatable to a particular religion. The conferral of legal personality on idols stemming from religious endowments is a legal development applicable only to a practice of the Hindu community. The performance of the parikrama is a method of worship confined largely to Hinduism. Putting aside the fact that the argument raised by the plaintiffs in Suit 5 is a novel extension of the law applicable to Hindu religious endowments, this is a significant matter which requires our consideration.

203. Religious diversity undoubtedly requires the protection of diverse methods of offering worship and performing religious ceremonies. However, that a method of offering worship unique to one religion should result in the conferral of an absolute title to parties from one religion over parties from another religion in an adjudication over civil property claims cannot be sustained under our Constitution. This would render the law, which ought to be the ultimate impartial arbiter, conferring a benefit on a party with respect to her or his legal claims, not on the basis of the merits of a particular case, but on the basis of the structure or fabric of the religion to which they belong. If the contention urged on behalf of the plaintiffs in Suit 5 is accepted, the method of worship performed by one religion alone will be conferred with the power to extinguish all contesting proprietary claims over disputed property.

204. It is true that the connection between a person and what they consider divine is deeply internal. It lies in the realm of a personal sphere in which no other person must intrude. It is for this reason that the Constitution protects the freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion equally to all citizens. Often, the human condition finds solace in worship. But worship may not be confined into a straightjacket formula. It is on the basis of the deep entrenchment of religion into the social fabric of Indian society that the right to religious freedom was not made absolute. An attempt has been made in the jurisprudence of this court to demarcate the religious from the secular. The adjudication of civil claims over private property must remain within the domain of the secular if the commitment to constitutional values is to be upheld. Over four decades ago, the Constitution was amended and a specific reference to its secular fabric was incorporated in the Preamble. At its heart, this reiterated what the Constitution always respected and accepted: the equality of all faiths. Secularism cannot be a writ lost in the sands of time by being oblivious to the exercise of religious freedom by everyone.

205. It is for all the reasons highlighted above that the law has till today yet to accept the conferral of legal personality on immoveable property. Religiosity has moved hearts and minds. The court cannot adopt a position that accords primacy to the faith and belief of a single religion as the basis to confer both judicial insulation as well as primacy over the legal system as a whole. From Shahid Gunj to Ayodhya, in a country like ours where contesting claims over property by religious communities are inevitable, our courts cannot reduce questions of title, which fall firmly within the secular domain and outside the rubric of religion, to a question of which community's faith is stronger.

On a consideration of all the factors outlined above, it is thus held that the second plaintiff in Suit 5 - 'Asthan Shri Ram Janam Bhumi' is not a juristic person.

K. Analysis of the suits

206. Suit 1 filed by Gopal Singh Visharad is essentially a suit by a worshipper for enforcement of his right to worship Lord Ram at the Janmabhumi. Suit 3 filed by Nirmohi Akhara is for handing over the management and charge of the Janmabhumi temple to it. Suit 4 filed by Sunni Central Waqf Board is for a declaration that the entirety of the disputed site, including Babri Masjid and the surrounding graveyard, is a public mosque and for a decree for possession. Suit 5 is filed by the deity of Lord Ram and the Janmasthan (both of whom are asserted to be juridical persons) through a next friend impleaded as a third plaintiff for a declaration that the entire premises comprised of annexures 1, 2 and 3 to the plaint constitute Ram Janmabhumi and for an injunction against interference in the construction of a new temple after the demolition of the existing building. The judgment now proceeds to analyse and adjudicate upon the claims in the suits.

L. Suit 1: Gopal Singh Visharad since deceased and survived by Rajendra Singh v Zahoor Ahmad and others

L.1 Pleadings

207. On 16 January 1950, a suit was instituted by Gopal Singh Visharad before the Civil Judge at Faizabad, describing himself as a Hindu devotee. He is a resident of Ayodhya and follower of 'Santan Dharm'. His grievance was that he was being prevented by officials of the government from entering the inner courtyard of the structure to offer worship. The plaintiff claims that he is entitled to worship the deity of Lord Ram. The following reliefs were sought:

(i) A declaration of his entitlement to worship and seek the darshan of Lord Ram, -according to religion and custom" at the Janmabhumi temple without hindrance; and

(ii) A permanent and perpetual injunction restraining defendants 1 to 10 from removing the idols of the deity and other idols from the place where they were installed; from closing the way leading to the idols; or interfering in worship and darshan. The cause of action for Suit 1 is stated to have arisen on 14 January 1950, when the employees of the government are alleged to have unlawfully prevented the plaintiff -from going inside the place" and exercising his right of worship. It was alleged that the -State"adopted this action at the behest of the Muslim residents represented by defendant nos 1 to 5, as a result of which the Hindus were stated to been deprived of their -legitimate right of worship". The plaintiff apprehended that the idols, including the idol of Lord Ram, would be removed. These actions were alleged to constitute a -direct attack on the right and title of the plaintiff" and was stated to be an -oppressive act", contrary to law.

208. Denying the allegations contained in the plaint, the Muslim defendant nos 1 to 5 stated in their written statement that:

(i) The property in respect of which the case has been instituted is not Janmabhumi but a mosque constructed by Babur. The mosque was built in 1528 on the instructions of Babur by Mir Baqi, who was the Commander of his forces, following the conquest of the sub-continent by the Mughal emperor;

(ii) The mosque was dedicated as a waqf for Muslims, who have a right to worship there. Babur laid out annual grants for the maintenance and expenditure of the mosque, which were continued and enhanced by the Nawab of Awadh and the British Government;

(iii) The Suit of 1885 was a suit for declaration of ownership by Mahant Raghubar Das only in respect of the Ramchabutra and hence, the claim that the entire building represented the Janmasthan was baseless. As a consequence of the dismissal of the suit on 24 December 1885, -the case respecting the Chabutra was not entertained";

(iv) The Chief Commissioner, Waqf appointed under the Muslim Waqf Act 1936 had held the mosque to be a Sunni Waqf;  

(v) Muslims have always been in possession of the mosque. This position began in 1528 and continued thereafter, and consequently, -Muslims are in possession of that property... by way of an adverse possession";

(vi) Namaz had been offered at Babri Masjid until 16 December 1949 at which point there were no idols under the central dome. If any person had placed any idol inside the mosque with a mala fide intent, -the degradation of the mosque is evident and the accused persons are liable to be prosecuted";

(vii) Any attempt of the plaintiff or any other person to enter the mosque to offer worship or for darshan would violate the law. Proceedings under Section 145 of the CrPC 1898 had been initiated; and

(viii) The present suit claiming Babri Masjid as the place of the Janmasthan is without basis as there exists, for quite long, another temple with idols of Lord Ram and others, which is the actual place of the Janmasthan of Lord Ram. A written statement was filed by defendant no 6, the State, submitting that:

(i) The property in suit known as Babri Masjid has been used as a mosque for the purpose of worship by Muslims for a long period and has not been used as a temple of Lord Ram;

(ii) On the night of 22 December 1949, the idols of Lord Ram were surreptitiously placed inside the mosque imperilling public peace and tranquillity. On 23 December 1949, the City Magistrate passed an order under Section 144 of CrPC 1898 which was followed by an order of the same date passed by the Additional City Magistrate under Section 145 attaching the disputed property. These orders were passed to maintain public peace; and

(iii) The City Magistrate appointed Shri Priya Datt Ram, Chairman, Municipal Board, Faizabad-cum Ayodhya as a receiver of the property. Similar written statements were filed by defendant no 8, the Additional City Magistrate and defendant no 9, the Superintendent of Police.

Defendant no 10, the Sunni Central Waqf Board filed its written statement stating:

(i) The building in dispute is not the Janmasthan of Lord Ram and no idols were ever installed in it;

(ii) The property in suit was a mosque known as the Babri mosque constructed during the regime of Emperor Babur who had laid out annual grants for its maintenance and expenditure and they were continued and enhanced by the Nawab of Awadh and the British Government;

(iii) On the night of 22-23 December 1949, the idols were surreptitiously brought into the mosque;

(iv) The Muslims alone had remained in possession of the mosque from 1528 up to 29 December 1949 when it was attached under Section 145. They had regularly offered prayers up to 23 December 1949 and Friday prayers up to 16 December 1949;

(v) The mosque had the character of a waqf and its ownership vested in God;

(vi) The plaintiff was estopped from claiming the mosque as the Janmabhumi of Lord Ram as the claim in the Suit of 1885 instituted by Mahant Raghubar Das (described to be the plaintiff's predecessor) was confined only to the Ramchabutra measuring seventeen feet by twenty one feet outside the mosque; and (vii) There already existed a Ram Janmasthan Mandir, a short distance away from Babri Masjid. In the plaintiff's replication to the written statement of defendant nos 1 to 5, it was averred that the disputed site had never been used as a mosque since 1934. It was further stated that it was -common knowledge" that Hindus were in continuous possession by virtue of which the claim of the defendants ceased.

L.2 Issues and findings of the High Court 209.

1. Is the property in suit the site of Janam Bhumi of Sri Ram Chandraji?

 Justice S U Khan - No temple was demolished for constructing the mosque. Until the mosque was constructed during the period of Babur, the premises in dispute were not treated as or believed to be the birth-place of Lord Ram.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - The place of birth as believed and worshiped by the Hindus is the area covered under the central dome of the disputed structure in the inner courtyard.

 Justice D V Sharma - Decided against the defendants. 2. Are there any idols of Bhagwan Ram Chandra Ji and are his Charan Paduka situated in the site in suit?

 Justice S U Khan - Idols were kept on the pulpit inside the mosque for the first time during the night of 22-23 December 1949.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - Idols were placed under the central dome of the disputed structure, within the inner courtyard, during the night of 22-23 December 1949 but before it they existed in the outer courtyard.  Justice D V Sharma - Decided against the defendants.

3. Has the plaintiff any right to worship the 'Charan Paduka' and the idols situated in the place in suit?

 Justice S U Khan - The only thing which can be said is that Ramchabutra came into existence before the visit of Tieffenthaler but after construction of the mosque. Both parties were in joint possession.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - The plaintiff has a right to worship subject to reasonable restrictions like safety, maintenance and security.

 Justice D V Sharma - Decided in favour of the defendants.

4. Has the plaintiff the right to have darshan of the place in suit?

 Justice S U Khan - The only thing which can be said is that Ramchabutra came into existence before the visit of Tieffenthaler but after construction of the mosque. Both parties were in joint possession.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - The plaintiff has a right to worship subject to reasonable restrictions like safety, maintenance and security.

 Justice D V Sharma - Decided in favour of the defendants. 5(a). Was the property in suit involved in original Suit no 61/280 of 1885 in the court of sub-judge (Faizabad Raghubar Das Mahant v Secretary of State for India and others)?

 Justice S U Khan - Nothing was decided in the Suit of 1885 and res judicata does not apply.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - Answered in the negative.

 Justice D V Sharma - Property existed as nazul land. 5(b). Was it decided against the plaintiff?

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - Suit of 1885 was decided against Mahant Bhaskar Das and no relief was granted to him.

 Justice D V Sharma - Property existed as nazul land. 5(c). Was that suit within the knowledge of Hindus in general and were all Hindus interested in the same?

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - Answered in the negative. No material on record to justify that the suit was filed by Mahant Raghubar Das in a representative capacity.

 Justice D V Sharma - Decided in favour of the defendants. 5(d). Does the decision in same bar the present suit by principles of res judicata and in any other way?

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - Answered in the negative.

 Justice D V Sharma - Decided in favour of the defendants. 6. Is the property in suit a mosque constructed by Babur commonly known as Babri Mosque, in 1528 A.D?

 Justice S U Khan - The construction of a mosque took place by or under the orders of Babur. Whether it was actually built by Mir Baqi or someone else is not material. Muslims offered regular prayers until 1934, after which until 22 December 1949 only Friday prayers were offered. This is sufficient for continuous possession and use. No temple was demolished for the construction of the mosque.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - Plaintiffs have failed to prove the construction of the structure by Babur in 1528 A. D.

 Justice D V Sharma - Decided against the defendants.

7. Have the Muslims been in possession of the property in suit from 1528 A.D. continuously, openly and to the knowledge of the defendants and Hindus in general? If so, its effect?

 Justice S U Khan - Title follows possession and both parties were in joint possession of the disputed premises.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - Decided in favour of the plaintiff.

 Justice D V Sharma - Decided in favour of the defendants.

8. Is the suit barred by proviso to Section 42 of the Specific Relief Act?

 Justice S U Khan - Not barred.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - Not barred.

 Justice D V Sharma - Decided in favour of the defendants.

9. Is the suit barred by the provisions of Section 5(3) of the Muslim Waqf Act (U.P. Act 13 of 1936)?

 Justice S U Khan - Agrees with the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - Decided in favour of the plaintiff.

 Justice D V Sharma - Decided in favour of the defendants.

9(a). Has the said Act no application to the right of Hindus in general and plaintiff of the present suit, in particular to his right of worship?

 Justice S U Khan - Agrees with the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - In favour of the Hindu parties in general.

 Justice D V Sharma - Decided in favour of the defendants.

9(b). Were the proceedings under the said Act, referred to in para 15 of the written statement, collusive? If so its effect?

 Justice S U Khan - Agrees with the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - Decided against the plaintiff.

 Justice D V Sharma - Decided in favour of the defendant.

9(c). Are the said provisions of the U.P. Act 13 of 1936 ultra vires for reasons given in the statement of plaintiff's counsel dated 9.3.62 recorded on paper no. 454-A?

 Justice S U Khan - Agrees with the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - Answered in the negative.

10. Is the present suit barred by time?

 Justice S U Khan, Justice Sudhir Agarwal and Justice D V Sharma - The suit is not barred by limitation.

11(a).Are the provisions of section 91 C.P.C. applicable to the present suit? If so, is the suit bad for want of consent in writing by the Advocate General?

 Justice S U Khan - Agrees with the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - Answered in the negative.

 Justice D V Sharma - Decided in favour of the plaintiff.

11(b). Are the rights set up by the plaintiff in this suit independent of the provisions of section 91 CPC? If not, its effect.

 Justice S U Khan - Agrees with the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - Answered in the affirmative.

 Justice D V Sharma - Decided in favour of the plaintiff.

12. Is the suit bad for want of steps and notice under Order 1, Rule 8 CPC? If so, its effect?

 Justice S U Khan - Agrees with the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal and Justice D V Sharma - Answered in favour of the plaintiff.

13. Is the Suit 2 of 50 (Shri Gopal Singh Visharad v Zahoor Ahmad) bad for want of notice under Section 80 CPC?

 Justice S U Khan - Agrees with the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - Not rejected as barred.

 Justice D V Sharma - Decided in favour of the defendants.

14. Is the Suit no 25 of 50 Param Hans Ram Chandra v Zahoor Ahmad bad for want of valid notice under Section 80 CPC?

 Justice S U Khan - Agrees with the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal and Justice D V Sharam - Issue redundant after dismissal of the suit as withdrawn.

15. Is the suit bad for non-joinder of the defendants?

 Justice S U Khan - Agrees with the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal and Justice D V Sharma - Answered in the negative and in favour of the plaintiff. 16. Are the defendants or any of them entitled to special costs under Section 35-A CPC?

 Justice S U Khan - Agrees with the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - Counsel did not press the issue.

 Justice D V Sharma - Plaintiff is not entitled for relief and suit dismissed with easy costs.

17. To what reliefs, if any, is the plaintiff entitled?

 Justice S U Khan - Agrees with the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - The plaintiff's right of worship cannot be doubted since the site in dispute includes part of the land which is believed to be the place of birth of Lord Ram. To this extent the plaintiff is entitled for a declaration subject to restrictions which may be necessary on account of security, safety and maintenance of the place of worship.

 Justice D V Sharma - Plaintiff is not entitled for relief and suit is dismissed with easy costs.

L.3 Analysis

210. Mr Ranjit Kumar, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the Plaintiff in Suit 1 adverted to the order of the Magistrate dated 29 December 1949, under Section 145 CrPC by which the disputed premises were attached and a receiver was appointed. Learned Counsel stated that fourteen affidavits were filed by certain Muslims under Order XIX, Rule 1 of the CPC between 8-16 February 1950, stating that:

(i) The place where the Babri Masjid was situated is the birth-place of Lord Ram. The Babri Masjid was built by 'breaking' the birth-place of Lord Ram;

(ii) After British Rule, Muslims were only reading Friday namaz in the mosque;

(iii) After the construction of the Masjid, Hindus did not give up their possession and continued to worship there;

(iv) Both Hindus and Muslims continued to worship at the disputed site;

(v) Post the riots of 1934, Muslims had stopped going to the Masjid out of fear and ever since, the Hindus had taken possession of the main place in the mosque; and

(vi) There was no objection if the possession of the mosque was to be handed over to the Hindus as reading namaz at that place was against the Shariat.

211. Justice Sudhir Agarwal did not pay any credence to the affidavits and held that: -3020... The aforesaid documents to the extent to prove the fact that the same were filed before the Magistrate and constitute part of the record of 145 Cr.P.C. proceeding before the City Magistrate is not disputed but to believe the contents thereof, in our view, it was necessary to produce the authors of the documents and to give an opportunity of crossexamination to the other parties against whose interest the documents contain certain averments. None of the author of the said documents have been produced and they are also not party to the proceedings individually. We have no benefit of testifying the correctness of the contents of the said documents. In the absence of any one available to prove the contents of the said documents, in our view, the same cannot be relied and therefore, nothing turns out from the aforesaid documents either in favour or against any of the parties." Justice S U Khan agreed with the observations made by Justice Sudhir Agarwal. However, Justice D V Sharma has held the affidavits to be admissible and observed that: -...affidavits of the persons under or through whom the plaintiffs are claiming were sworn before an official empowered by the Magistrate are admissible evidence..."

212. Mr Ranjit Kumar, has made the following submissions:

(i) The Suit of 1885 will have no impact on the present suit as in the earlier suit the relief sought was for the permission to establish a temple over a platform which was confined to the Chabutra outside the mosque. However, the present suit is with respect to the right to worship and seek the darshan of Lord Ram, -according to religion and custom" at the Janmabhumi temple;

(ii) On 3 March 1951, the Trial Court confirmed the ad-interim order dated 19 January 1950 passed in Suit 1 by which the injunction was modified to prevent the idols from being removed from the disputed site and from causing interference in the performance of puja. The trial judge referred to the affidavits of certain Muslim residents of Ayodhya and stated that at least from 1936 -the Muslims have neither used this site as a mosque nor offered prayers there" and -the affidavits referred do make out a prima facie case in favour of the plaintiff". The above order was confirmed by a Division Bench of the High Court of Allahabad in appeal on 26 April 1955, though the High Court made an observation that taking on record the affidavits after the judgment had been reserved, was not correct;

(iii) Despite the publication of public notices in three newspapers calling objections with respect to the Section 145 proceedings, none of the Muslim defendants filed any contrary statements;

(iv) These affidavits have corroborative value: when defendant nos 1 to 5 filed their written statements in Suit 1 on 21 February 1950, despite having knowledge of the affidavits filed in the Section 145 proceedings, they did not object to the stand taken by Muslims;

(v) Before the High Court, the affidavits had been brought on record in the present suit and were duly exhibited. They form part of relevant historical facts and could not be rejected outright;

(vi) Defendant nos 1 to 5 filed an application praying that Suit 1 be treated as a representative suit under Order I Rule 8, which was opposed by the plaintiff. The Civil Judge by an order dated 27 October dismissed the application;

(vii) During the course of arguments before this Court, in the exhibits relied upon by the Sunni Central Waqf Board to show possession from 1858 the disputed site has been referred to as -Janam Asthan Masjid" or -Masjid Janam Asthan" signifying that the site was always referred to as the Janmasthan or birth-place of Lord Ram;

(viii) The right of entry into the temple for purposes of -darshan" or worship is a right which flows from the nature of the institution itself (Nar Hari Shastri v Shri Badrinath Temple Committee122). Worship includes attendance at the temple for the purpose of darshan of a deity or deities in the precincts (Sastri Yagnapurushadji v Muldas Bhudardas Vaishya123). If the general public have always made use of the temple for public worship and devotion in the same way as they do in other temples, it is a strong circumstance in favour of the conclusive existence of a public temple (Bala Shankar Maha Shanker Bhattjee v Charity Commissioner, Gujarat State124). Mr Ranjit Kumar, learned Senior Counsel referred to the order of the Magistrate dated 30 July 1953, by which the file in the proceedings under Section 145 was consigned to the record in view of the temporary injunction granted on 3 March 1951.

The Magistrate noted that the case under Section 145 had been pending 'unnecessarily' and dates were being fixed in the hope that the civil suit will be disposed of or the temporary injunction will be vacated. However, the Magistrate noted that the finding of the civil court was binding on the criminal court and there was no purpose in starting the proceedings separately under Section 145. Mr Ranjit Kumar drew this Court's attention to the application dated 22 July 1954 filed by Gopal Singh Visharad before the Magistrate requesting him to preserve all files with respect to the proceedings under Section 145 and not to weed them out till the finality of the decision of the civil court.

213. Dr Rajeev Dhavan, learned Senior Counsel appearing for the Sunni Central Waqf Board, has raised the following submissions in reply: (i) The written statements filed by defendant nos 1 to 5 do not include the Sunni Central Waqf Board; (ii) The mosque was constructed by Babur through his Commander Mir Baqi and was dedicated as a valid waqf. Under the Muslims Waqf Act 1936, the Chief Commissioner Waqf decided that the mosque was a Sunni Waqf;

(iii) The Muslims have been in possession of the mosque since 1528 and by virtue of being in possession for more than 400 years, affirmed their right of adverse possession over the disputed property;

(iv) Suit 1 has been primarily filed against the State authorities as the main grievance was against the authorities preventing the plaintiff from offering worship inside the disputed premises;

(v) The suit was filed to enforce a personal right of the plaintiff i.e. the right to worship inside the disputed structure and thus, the right gets automatically extinguished on his death;

(vi) The fourteen affidavits filed by the Muslim persons of Ayodhya in the proceedings under Section 145 proceedings are not admissible in evidence under Section 3 of the Indian Evidence Act. The affidavits have no relevance as the authors of the affidavits have not been cross examined and since they are not parties to any of the suits individually, they cannot be relied upon. Justice Sudhir Agarwal has found these affidavits to be unreliable;

(vii) There is no clear mention of whether the plaintiff had earlier carried out any worship inside the disputed structure and he has not mentioned the exact place of birth of Lord Ram below the central dome; and

(viii) The exhibits relied upon by the Sunni Central Waqf Board clearly show that the Hindu parties had access to only the outer courtyard restricted to the Ramchabutra and Sita Rasoi. All efforts of trespass in the inner courtyard were thwarted and the authorities passed directions evicting those who tried to enter the inner courtyard.

214. None of the persons who are alleged to have filed affidavits in the proceedings under Section 145 were examined in evidence during the course of the civil trial before the High Court. The credibility of a statement made by a person on affidavit can only be accepted if the witness is produced in evidence. However, in the present case, the Muslim residents who presented the affidavits before the Magistrate in the proceedings under Section 145 were not cited or produced as witnesses. In the absence of any opportunity to the opposite side to challenge the statements made in the affidavits, no reliance can be placed upon the contents of the affidavits.

215. The original plaintiff Gopal Singh Visharad passed away during the pendency of the suit and was substituted by his son, Rajendra Singh Visharad pursuant to the court's order dated 22 February 1986. It was contended that the original plaintiff instituted the suit for enforcing his private right to worship at the disputed property and that upon his death, such right was extinguished, and the suit stood abated.

It is necessary to advert to the pleadings in Suit 1 to determine whether the right asserted by the original plaintiff was a private right or involved a larger public right claimed in common with other worshippers. Paragraph 3 of the plaint in Suit 1 reads as follows: -...Defendant No.6 prevented the plaintiff from going inside the place where the idol of Shri Ramchandra Ji and others are placed and it was learnt that after getting influence with the baseless and false perversity of the Defendants No.1 to 5 and their other fellows, Defendant No.7 to 9 have deprived the Hindu public from their legitimate right of performing worship and having darshan and because of undue insistence of the Defendants No.1 to 5 etc., Defendant No. 6 declares that Hindu Public shall be deprived from their above rights in the same manner in future also and because of the above unjustifiable act, proprietary right of original plaintiff which he had always used, is being infringed and in the above circumstances, present plaintiff has the complete apprehension and fear of improper and unlawful interference in the Defendants in exercise of the above religious rights."

(Emphasis supplied)

Defendant no 6 is the State of Uttar Pradesh defendants nos 7 to 9 are the Deputy Commissioner, Additional City Magistrate and the Superintendent of Police, Faizabad respectively. The pleadings indicate that the right asserted was not a private right, but a right in common with and for the benefit of other Hindu devotees to pray at the disputed property. The right claimed was that of the -Hindu public" to worship at the disputed property without undue interference. By an order dated 22 February 1986, the court permitted Rajendra Singh Visharad, the son of the original plaintiff, to be substituted as the first plaintiff in Suit 1. Rajendra Singh Visharad is also a follower of the 'Sanatan Dharm' and performed worship at the disputed site.

The right asserted on behalf of the larger -Hindu public" does not stand extinguished upon the death of the original plaintiff and can be pursued by his son who is also a worshipper. 216. The remaining issues in contention in Suit 1 are connected with the ones argued in Suit 5. The relief sought in Suit 5 will have a direct impact on the plaintiff's right to pray as claimed in Suit 1. Accordingly, we will deal with the contentions raised in Suit 1 at the time of addressing the contentions in Suit 5.

M. Suit 3: Nirmohi Akhara

M.1 Pleadings

217. Nirmohi Akhara claims that the Janmasthan, commonly known as Janmabhumi, which is the birth-place of Lord Ram -belongs and has always belonged" to it and it has been -managing it and receiving offerings through the reigning Mahant and Sarbrahkar". Besides the receiver, the second to fifth defendants are official respondents represented by the State of Uttar Pradesh and its officers. The plaint contains an averment that the temple has -ever since been in the possession of" Nirmohi Akhara and only Hindus have been allowed to enter and worship in it, at least since 1934. In other words, Nirmohi Akhara denies the status of the disputed structure as a mosque.

The basis for the institution of the suit is the initiation of the proceedings under Section 145 of the CrPC 1898 by the City Magistrate. The proceedings are alleged to be without lawful cause and under the -wrong persuasion" of the Muslim parties represented by the sixth and eighth defendants. As a result, the Nirmohis allege that they were wrongfully deprived -of their management and charge of the said temple" and that though they were awaiting the conclusion of the proceedings under Section 145, the proceedings have been unduly prolonged with the connivance of the defendants. The Muslim parties have been impleaded because they are alleged to be interested in ensuring that the charge and management of the temple is not handed over to Nirmohi Akhara. The cause of action for the suit is stated to have arisen on 5 January 1950 when the receiver is alleged to have illegally taken over management and charge of the temple from Nirmohi Akhara.

Following the incident which took place on 6 December 1992 (which the Nirmohis claim as the demolition of the property of the temple by -some miscreants"), the plaint was amended. The amended plaint refers to the trust deed executed by Nirmohi Akhara on 19 March 1949 reducing its existence into writing. The Akhara claims to own several temples and properties, which vest in it. The relief that is claimed in the suit is for the removal of the receiver -from the management and charge of the said temple of Janmabhoomi" and for delivering it to the plaintiff. The averments contained in the plaint as well as the reliefs which have been claimed by Nirmohi Akhara indicate that the claim is founded on an entitlement, which is asserted to be the charge and management of the temple. In that capacity, the Nirmohis state that they have been in possession of the Janmabhumi temple and have received offerings made by devotees.

The plaint contains a reference to the temples that are owned and managed by Nirmohi Akhara. There is a reference to the possession of the Janmasthan temple by the Akhara. Ultimately, the claim for relief is a direction simpliciter to the receiver to handover the management and charge of the temple to it.

 218. In the written statement, which was filed by the Muslim parties (defendant nos 6 to 8), the plea taken was that in the Suit of 1885 which was instituted by Mahant Raghubar Das, the relief was confined to the Chabutra outside the mosque and no objection was taken in respect of the mosque which was depicted in the site plan. In its replication, Nirmohi Akhara expressed ignorance about the suit filed by Mahant Raghubar Das. The Akhara claims that it has been wrongfully deprived of charge and the right to manage the temple as a result of the proceedings.

Though in the plaint it appears that the claim in the suit was in respect of the inner courtyard, in the replication filed by Nirmohi Akhara to the written statement of the tenth defendant, it has been stated that the outer enclosure was in its possession and was owned and managed by it until 1982 when it came into possession of the receiver in a suit inter se being Regular Suit 39 of 1982.

219. The averments contained in the pleadings of Nirmohi Akhara in Suit 3 must be read together with the nature of their defence to Suit 5. Suit 5 has been instituted on behalf of the deity of Lord Ram and the Janmasthan by a next friend. Nirmohi Akhara in its written statement in Suit 5 opposes the maintainability of the Suit on the ground that the Janmasthan is not a juridical person and the next friend had no right or authority to institute a suit on behalf of the deity and the Janmasthan.

Nirmohi Akhara has distanced itself from Suit 5, claiming that the idol of Lord Ram is not known as -Ram Lala Virajaman" and that the Janmasthan is simply a place and not a juridical person. Nirmohi Akhara has claimed in its written submissions that it is the -Shebait of Bhagwan Shri Ram installed in the temple in dispute" and that the Akhara -alone" has the right to control, supervise and repair or even to reconstruct the temple, if necessary. It claims that in its capacity as the shebait and manager, -the temple belongs to Nirmohi Akhara" and the plaintiffs in Suit 5 -have no real title to sue".

It has been urged that Suit 5 encroaches upon the rights of Nirmohi Akhara to manage the temple. Nirmohi Akhara urges that the entire premises belong to it and the plaintiffs in Suit 5 have no right of declaration against the right and title of Nirmohi Akhara. In the additional written statement, it has been claimed that the outer part was in the management and charge of Nirmohi Akhara till it was attached when the receiver was appointed in Regular Suit 239 of 1982.

M.2 Conflict between Suit 3 and Suit 5

220. The following position emerges from an analysis of the pleadings of Nirmohi Akhara in Suit 3 and as a defendant in Suit 5:

(i) The claim of Nirmohi Akhara is for the management and charge of Ram Janmabhumi temple;

(ii) The relief sought is for handing over of the management and charge of the temple by the receiver to it;

(iii) In the context of (i) and (ii) above, Nirmohi Akhara has claimed that it was in possession of the temple;

(iv) The deprivation of the right claimed arose when the receiver took over management and charge on 5 January 1950;

(v) The claim of Nirmohi Akhara is in the capacity of a shebait and as a manager of the temple;

(vi) Nirmohi Akhara opposes the maintainability of Suit 5 on the ground that as a shebait, it alone is entitled to represent the deity of Lord Ram;

(vii) The entitlement of Nirmohi Akhara to sue is to the exclusion of any third party and hence, Suit 5 which has been instituted through a next friend, is asserted as not being maintainable; and

(viii) The status of Ram Janmasthan as a juristic entity is denied and hence it would (according to Nirmohi Akhara) not be entitled to pursue the claim in Suit 5. Both on the basis of the pleadings and the submissions which have been urged during the course of the hearing, a clear conflict of claims and entitlements has emerged between the plaintiffs in Suit 3 and Suit 5.

221. Mr K Parasaran, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the plaintiffs in Suit 5 has submitted that Suit 3 is barred by limitation, a submission which has also been urged on behalf of the plaintiff in Suit 4 by Dr Dhavan. On the other hand, it must be noted that Dr Dhavan submitted that Nirmohi Akhara is as a matter of fact and evidence entitled to claim shebaiti rights in respect of the idols of Lord Ram at the Janmabhumi. He however maintains that Suit 3 is barred by limitation and hence, no relief should or could have been granted in their suit. Hence, from the arguments before this Court it has emerged that:

(i) The plaintiffs in Suit 4 and Suit 5 have challenged Suit 3 on the ground of the bar of limitation;

(ii) The plaintiffs in Suit 5 oppose the claim of the plaintiff in Suit 3 to be the shebait of the idols of Lord Ram; and (iii) The plaintiff in Suit 4 accepts the entitlement of the plaintiff in Suit 3 as a shebait, subject to the caveat that the suit itself is barred by limitation.

222. A query was addressed by this Court to Mr S K Jain, learned Senior Counsel appearing for the plaintiff in Suit 3 as to whether it is open to a shebait to assert title or ownership in a manner hostile to the claim of the deity. In response, Mr Jain submitted that the claim of Nirmohi Akhara is for management and charge of the temple in its character as a shebait and no more. Hence, though it has used the phrases 'own' and 'belong', they are not intended to assert a claim of full ownership, over and above or any higher than as a shebait. This aspect of Mr Jain's submission will be examined shortly in the context of the issue of limitation. However, it must be also noted at this stage that, during the course of the hearing, Mr Jain tendered a statement on the stand of Nirmohi Akhara on the maintainability of Suit 5 in the following terms: -

1. The Nirmohi Akhara would not press the issue of maintainability of Suit No. OOS No. 5 of 1989 which has been filed on behalf of the deities Plaintiff No. 1 and 2 through Plaintiff No. 3 as their next friend under Order 32 Rule 1 CPC provided the other Hindu Parties i.e. Plaintiff of OOS No. 1 of 1989 and Plaintiff No. 3 of OOS No. 5 of 1989 do not press or question the Shebaiti right of Nirmohi Akhara in relation to the deities in question and the maintainability of Suit OOS No. 3 of 1989 by the Plaintiff Nirmohi Akhara.

2. It is submitted that the plaintiff – Nirmohi Akhara can independently maintain the suit even in the absence of deities as parties in Suit OOS No. 3 of 1989 as the identity of the deities is merged in the identity of the Shebait – Nirmohi Akhara. A suit filed by the Nirmohi Akhara -as a Shebait" is a suit filed by and on behalf of the deities.

3. It is stated that, the reliefs sought by the Nirmohi Akhara -For restoration of charge and management from the receiver" cannot be categorized as reliefs -against" the interest of the deities for which it can be said that they should be represented as a defendant through a disinterested next friend." In other words, the stand of Nirmohi Akhara is that it alone is entitled to represent the interest of the deity in its character as a shebait which it has done in Suit 3. Moreover, absent any allegation of mismanagement on the part of the shebait, a suit cannot be instituted in the name of the deity by a next friend, as has been done in Suit 5.

This aspect will be explored in greater detail when the maintainability of Suit 5 is analysed. At this stage, we must also notice the implications of Dr Dhavan having accepted the shebaiti claim of Nirmohi Akhara. The concession cannot exist in a vacuum. The assertion of the claim can only take place in a context which acknowledges the existence of a deity whom the shebait seeks to represent. Hence, a specific query was posed to Dr Dhavan as to whether, quite independent of the issue of limitation, the concession which has been made on his behalf would necessarily result in a legal consequence in regard to the position of the deity's presence at Ram Janmasthan. To this, it must be noted that the response of Dr Dhavan was that the presence of the deity at Ramchabutra, in his submission, envisaged only an easementary right to worship for the Hindu devotees to pray and, for that purpose, to gain access to the courtyard.

M.3 Issues and findings of the High Court

223. Before proceeding with our analysis any further, it is necessary at this stage to enumerate the issues which were framed in Suit 3 and the findings of the High Court. 1 Is there a temple of Janmabhumi with idols installed therein as alleged in para 3 of the plaint in Suit 3?

 Justice S U Khan - The idols were held to have been placed in the pulpit inside the constructed portion of the mosque for the first time during the night of 22/23 December 1949.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – The premises in dispute cannot be treated to be a temple in the manner as claimed by the plaintiffs in Suit 3. Hence, issue 1 was answered in the negative.

 Justice D V Sharma – There is no evidence to establish that there was any temple belonging to Nirmohi Akhara inside the structure in which idols have been installed from time immemorial. 2 Does the property in Suit belong to the plaintiff in Suit 3?

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - The property which forms the subject matter of the claim in Suit 3 consists of the premises in the inner courtyard. There is no documentary evidence to establish title nor is there any evidence to establish adverse possession.

 Justice D V Sharma held against the plaintiff. 3 Have plaintiffs acquired title by adverse possession for over 12 years?

 Justice S U Khan – For the period before 1855, there is no need to decide the question of adverse possession.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal held against the plaintiff.

 Justice D V Sharma held against the plaintiff. 4 Are plaintiffs entitled to get management and charge of the said temple?

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal held against the plaintiff. The idols were placed under the central dome on the night intervening 22/23 December 1949. The plaintiff having disputed this cannot be treated as shebaits of the idols placed under the central dome since there is no evidence of their taking care of the deity in the inner courtyard under the central dome.

 Justice D V Sharma held against the plaintiff. 5 Is the property in suit a mosque made by Emperor Babur known as Babri Masjid?  Justice S U Khan – The constructed portion of the disputed premises was put up as a mosque by or under the orders of Babur. It was not material if it was built by Mir Baqi or someone else. However, it is not proved by direct evidence that the premises in dispute including the constructed portion belonged to Babur or to the person who constructed the mosque. On the basis of the inscriptions alone it cannot be held that the building was constructed by or under the orders of Babur or that it was constructed in 1528.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – The defendants failed to prove that the property in dispute was constructed by Babur in 1528.

 Justice D V Sharma – The property in dispute has been constructed by Babur.

6 Was the alleged mosque dedicated by Emperor Babur for worship by Muslims in general and made a public waqf property?

 Justice S U Khan – It cannot be held that the mosque was not a valid mosque, having been constructed over the land of someone else.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – In the absence of evidence direct, circumstantial or otherwise issue no 6 has not been proved and is answered in the negative.

 Justice D V Sharma – Decided together with issue no 1. 7(a) Has there been a notification under Muslim Waqf Act (Act no 13 of 1936) declaring this property in suit as a Sunni Waqf?

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – Answered in the negative.

 Justice D V Sharma – As per the conclusions drawn in Suit 4.

7(b) Is the said notification final and binding? Its effect.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – Answered In the negative.  Justice D V Sharma – As per the conclusions drawn in Suit 4. 8 Have the rights of the plaintiffs been extinguished for want of possession for over 12 years prior to the suit?

 Justice S U Khan – Parties are enjoying joint possession and hence, it was not necessary to decide the issue of adverse possession.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – The suit was instituted in 1959 and it cannot be said that in the preceding 12 years, the plaintiffs never had possession of the inner courtyard. Neither of the plaintiffs have discharged the burden of establishing that they were owners of the property in dispute nor have the defendants established that the plaintiffs remain dispossessed for over 12 years and that the defendants have fulfilled the requirements of adverse possession. The issue is accordingly answered in the negative.

 Justice D V Sharma – Answered against the plaintiff and as per the conclusions drawn in Suit 4.

9 Is the suit within time?

 Justice S U Khan – The suit was within limitation.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – The suit is barred by limitation under Article 120 of the Limitation Act. Articles 47, 142 and 144 of the Limitation Act were inapplicable.

 Justice D V Sharma – The suit is barred by limitation.

10(a) Is the suit bad for want of notice u/s 80C?

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – answered in favour of the plaintiffs.

 Justice D V Sharma – answered in favour of the plaintiffs.

10(b) Is the above plea available to contesting defendants?

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – answered in favour of the plaintiffs.

 Justice D V Sharma – answered in favour of the plaintiffs.

11 Is the suit bad for non-joinder of necessary defendants?

 Justice S U Khan – though the issue has not been dealt with specifically, he has agreed with the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal which are not inconsistent with his own findings.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – answered in favour of plaintiffs as not pressed.

 Justice D V Sharma – decided in terms of the findings on issue 21 in Suit 4. 12 Are defendants entitled to special costs u/s 35 CPC?

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – answered in favour of the plaintiffs as not pressed.

 Justice D V Sharma – answered in the negative.

13 To what relief, if any, is the plaintiff entitled?

 Justice S U Khan – Each of the three parties (Muslims, Hindus and Nirmohi Akhara) is entitled to a declaration of joint title and possession to the extent of one-third share each and a preliminary decree is passed to that effect.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – The plaintiff in Suit 3 is not entitled to any relief. Despite this, it has been held that possession of the area governed by Ramchabutra, Sita Rasoi and Bhandar in the outer courtyard is declared to be the share of Nirmohi Akhara in the absence of any claim for better title. Moreover, the open area in the outer courtyard shall be shared by Nirmohi Akhara with the plaintiffs in Suit 5.

 Justice D V Sharma – the suit is dismissed and Nirmohi Akhara is not entitled to any relief.

14 Is the suit not maintainable as framed?

 Justice S U Khan – Issue not decided specifically. Miscellaneous findings – he has agreed with Justice Sudhir Agarwal, subject to anything contrary in his (Justice S U Khan's) judgment.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – suit held not maintainable. Upon the attachment of the property under Section 145 of the CrPC 1898, the plaintiffs could have filed an objection before the Magistrate. The plaintiff did not file any objections or seek any declaration of title, in the absence of which the civil judge could not have directed the handing over of charge by the receiver to the plaintiff.

 Justice D V Sharma – The issue is decided in favour of the plaintiffs.

15 Is the suit property valued and court-fee paid sufficient?

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – answered in favour of the plaintiffs as not pressed. 16 Is the suit bad for want of notice u/s 83 of U.P. Act 13 of 1936?  Justice Sudhir Agarwal – – answered in the negative.

17 Whether Nirmohi Akhara, the Plaintiff, is a Panchayati Math of Ramanand sect of Bairagis and as such, is a religious denomination following its religious faith and per suit according to its own customs? (added by Hon'ble High Court's order dated 23 February 1996)

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – answered in favour of the plaintiffs.

 Justice D V Sharma – answered held in favour of the plaintiffs.

M.4 Limitation in Suit 3

224. Suit 3 was instituted on 17 December 1959. The Limitation Act of 1908 was in force on the date of the institution of the Suit. Section 3 of the Limitation Act provides that subject to the provisions contained in Sections 4 to 25 (inclusive) every suit instituted, appeal preferred, and application made, after the period of limitation prescribed by the first schedule shall be dismissed, although limitation has not been set up as a defence. Section 31(b)125 of the Limitation Act 1963 saves suits, appeals and applications which were pending on the date of its commencement from the application of the legislation. As a result, the issue of limitation for the purpose of Suit 3 is governed by the Limitation Act 1908. 125 Section 31. Provisions as to barred or pending suits, etc... (b) affect any suit, appeal or application instituted, preferred or made before, and pending at, such commencement. By a split 2:1 verdict, the High Court held that Suit 3 was barred by limitation, the dissenting judge on this issue being Justice S U Khan.

225. Three articles of the schedule to the Limitation Act 1908 have been pressed in aid and the issue is which of those articles would stand attracted.

The relevant articles are Articles 47, 120 and 142. These articles are extracted in the table below: Description of suit Period of limitation Time from which period begins to run 47. By any person bound by an order respecting the possession of immoveable property made under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, or the Mamlatdars Courts Act, 1906, or by any one claiming under such person, to recover the property comprised in such order. [Three years] The date of the final order in the case.

120. Suit for which no period of limitation is provided elsewhere in this schedule. [Six years] When the right to sue accrues.

142. For possession of immoveable property when the plaintiff, while in possession of the property, has been dispossessed or has discontinued the possession. [Twelve years] The date of the dispossession or discontinuance. Relevant dates

226. Before we enter upon the issue of limitation, it is necessary to recapitulate the relevant dates bearing on the issue. They are as follows:

(i) On 29 December 1949, a preliminary order was passed under Section 145 of the CrPC 1898 by the Additional City Magistrate and while ordering attachment, a receiver was appointed;

(ii) On 5 January 1950, the receiver took charge and made an inventory of the attached properties;

(iii) On 16 January 1950, Suit 1 was instituted by Gopal Singh Visharad seeking a declaration that he was entitled to worship and offer prayers at the main Janmabhumi near the idols. On the same date, an ad interim injunction was granted in the Suit;

(iv) On 19 January 1950, the ad interim injunction in Suit 1 was modified in the following terms: -The opposite parties are hereby restrained by means of temporary injunction to refrain from removing the idols in question from the site in dispute and from interfering with puja etc. as at present carried on. The order dated 16.01.1950 stands modified accordingly."

(v) On 3 March 1951, the order of temporary injunction dated 16 January 1950 as modified on 19 January 1950 was confirmed;

(vi) On 30 July 1953, the Additional City Magistrate passed the following order in the proceedings under Section 145: -The finding of the Civil Court will be binding on the Criminal Court. It is no use starting proceedings in this case under Section 145 Cr.P.C. and recording evidence specially when a temporary injunction stands, as it cannot be said that what may be the finding of this Court after recording the evidence of parties. From the administrative point of view the property is already under attachment and no breach of peace can occur. I, therefore, order that the file under Section 145 Cr.P.C. be consigned to records as it is and will be taken out for proceedings further when the temporary injunction is vacated."

(vii) On 31 July 1954, the Additional City Magistrate issued the following directions: -This file cannot be weeded as it is not a disposed of file. How do you report that it will be weeded of?"

(viii) On 26 April 1955, an appeal against the order dated 3 March 1951 under Order XLIII, Rule 1(r) of the Code of Civil Procedure 1908 was dismissed by the High Court; and

(ix) On 17 December 1959, Suit 3 was instituted by Nirmohi Akhara for a decree against the receiver for handing over charge and management of the temple.

Reasons of the High Court

227. Justice S U Khan adduced the following reasons for holding that the suit was not barred by limitation:

(i) First, the last order which was passed in the proceedings under Section 145 was on 30 July 1953 (except for an order in 1970 for replacing the receiver on the death of the incumbent). This order and the subsequent order of the Magistrate dated 31 July 1954 indicated that the proceedings under Section 145 had not been dropped or finalised. In the event that the Magistrate had passed some final order either after the dismissal of the appeal against the order granting an interim injunction or on some other date, it would have provided a fresh starting point for the purpose of limitation to file a suit for a declaration;

(ii) Even if it were to be held that Suit 3 is barred by limitation, the rights and entitlement of the contesting parties would have to be decided in Suit 1 which was instituted within the period of limitation. A decision on the title of Nirmohi Akhara in Suit 1 would be sufficient for the purpose of Section 146(1) of the CrPC;

(iii) The demolition of the constructed portion of the premises on 6 December 1992, acquisition of the premises and the adjoining area by the Union Government and the decision of the Supreme Court in Dr M Ismail Faruqui v Union of India126, gave a fresh starting point for limitation. Even if the remedy of all parties (except the plaintiff in Suit 1) was barred by limitation, its rights still subsisted. The demolition of the structure gave a fresh cause of action for a declaratory suit under Section 42 of the Specific Relief Act 1877;

(iv) The receiver appointed under Section 145 of the Magistrate cannot hold the property indefinitely after attachment. Hence, a liberal view would have to be taken in the absence of which uncertainty would be created. Where due to the attachment, a suit for possession could not be filed, Section 28 would not extinguish the rights of the parties. Moreover, the principle of a continuing wrong under Section 23 of the Limitation Act 1908 was applicable and Nirmohi Akhara was being constantly denied their right to charge and management; and

(v) In any event, even if the suit was barred by limitation, the court was bound to pronounce on all issues as required by Order XIV Rule 2(1) of the Code of Civil Procedure 1908. Justice Sudhir Agarwal adduced the following reasons for holding that Suit 3 was barred by limitation:

(i) The cause of action for the Suit arose on 5 January 1950 upon the receiver taking charge of the inner courtyard;

(ii) Suit 3 was confined to the premises of the inner courtyard. The plaintiffs in their pleadings have neither sought a declaration of title nor have they claimed to have been dispossessed illegally by anyone. The claim is that the City Magistrate had illegally taken over management and charge of the temple. The City Magistrate passed a statutory order under Section 145 and pursuant to the order of attachment the possession of the inner courtyard was given to the receiver. An order of attachment under Section 145 could not constitute a deprivation of the right to possession of the real owner but the receiver is said to hold the property on behalf of the true owner. There being no dispossession of Nirmohi Akhara, Article 142 had no application; and

(iii) Article 47 is also not applicable. Hence, the issue of limitation was required to be adjudicated upon with reference to Article 120. The suit was instituted beyond the period of six years specified in Article 120 and hence was barred by limitation. Justice D V Sharma held that for the purposes of determining limitation in Suit 3, Article 120 was applicable. Suit 3 was filed on 17 December 1959. The suit not having been filed within six years of the accrual of the cause of action, it was barred by limitation.

Submissions of Nirmohi Akhara

228. Mr S K Jain, learned Senior Counsel for the plaintiffs in Suit 3 made the following submissions with respect to limitation: I No final order has been passed in the proceedings under Section 145. Hence, limitation under Article 47 of the Limitation Act 1908 has not commenced:

(i) The cause of action in the Suit arose on 5 January 1950 when the receiver took charge of the inner courtyard;

(ii) The Magistrate's order under Section 145 dated 29 December 1949 was a preliminary order and provided the cause of action. However, the limitation for such a suit would commence only upon passing of a final order in the proceedings under Section 145. In the present case, as noted by the Magistrate in the order dated 31 July 1954, the proceedings under Section 145 had not been disposed of and therefore, the final order had still not been passed. The proceedings under Section 145 continue to remain pending; and

(iii) The suit is governed by Article 47 of the Limitation Act 1908. The limitation of three years for a suit under Article 47 commences from the date of the final order in the case. Under Article 47, the first column contains the description of the suit and refers to a person bound by an order respecting the possession of immovable property made under the CrPC. The third column under Article 47 specifies the time from which limitation begins to run and mentions the commencement of limitation from the date of the passing of the final order. A suit that is categorised in the first column would be governed only by that, unaffected by the use of the words in the third column.

The Limitation Act bars suits filed -after" the limitation period but does not prevent suits from being instituted -before" the period has commenced. II Denial of Nirmohi Akhara's 'absolute' shebaiti rights of management and charge is a continuing wrong. By virtue of Section 23 of the Limitation Act 1908, a fresh cause of action arose every day:

(i) The limitation for Suit 3 is governed by Article 142 as the plaintiffs were dispossessed of their property. Article 142 is applicable when the suit is filed for possession of immovable property when the plaintiff, while in possession of the property, has been dispossessed or has discontinued the possession. The plaintiffs in Suit 3 had the management and charge over the idols and the temple as they were performing the puja, taking care of the pilgrims and performing other duties. The rights to do puja, et al. i.e. the shebaiti rights are attached to the possession of the immovable property. The plaintiff relied on the following precedents to illustrate its proprietary interest in the property:

(a) Angurbala Mullick v Debabrata Mullick127 where it was held that a shebait enjoys some sort of right or interest in the endowed property which partially at least has the character of a proprietary right; and (

b) Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments v Sri Lakshmindra Thirtha Swamiar of Sri Shirur Mutt128 where it was held that in shebaitship both the elements of office and property, of duties and personal interest are blended together. The office of the Mahant has the character of a proprietary right which, though anomalous to some extent, is still a genuine legal right.

(ii) A suit for restoration of shebaiti rights would be for recovery of possession and restoration of management. Article 142 would be attracted which provides a limitation of 12 years from the date of dispossession;

(iii) The cause of action arose on 5 January 1949 by which Nirmohi Akhara was denied its absolute right as a shebait and it continues to be denied those rights. The obstruction of the plaintiff's right to manage the bhog and prayers independently is a continuing wrong under Section 23 of the Limitation Act and every obstruction provides a fresh cause of action. Reliance was placed upon the judgement of the Privy Council in Sir Seth Hukum Chand v Maharaj Bahadur Singh129 where the obstruction of prayer and worship has been held to be a continuing wrong. III Article 120 of the Limitation Act 1908 is a residuary provision and is applicable when no other provision, including Articles 47 and 142 applies. The doctrine of merger applies, and the preliminary order dated 29 December 1949 passed under Section 145 merges with the order dated 26 April 1955 by which the ad-interim injunction in Suit 1 was upheld by the High Court:

(i) The submission is on the assumption (without conceding) that Articles 47 and 142 are not applicable and Article 120 applies;

(ii) By virtue of the doctrine of merger, the order of the Additional City Magistrate dated 29 December 1949 in the proceedings under Section 145 of the CrPC merged with the order of the High Court dated 26 April 1955 in the appeal against the interim order to maintain status quo in Suit 1. Therefore, the plaintiff's right to sue accrued on 26 April 1955. Suit 3 which was filed on 17 December 1959 was within the period of limitation of six years. Reliance was placed upon the decisions of this Court in:

(a) Chandi Prasad v Jagdish Prasad130, where it was held that the doctrine of merger postulates that there cannot be more than one operative decree governing the same subject-matter at a given point of time. When the appellate court passes a decree, the decree of the trial court merges with the decree of the appellate court, irrespective of whether the appellate court affirms, modifies or reverses the decree passed by the trial court; and

(b) S S Rathore v State of Madhya Pradesh131, where it was held that a decree of a court of first instance merges in the decree passed in appeal. IV In a suit for restoration of possession from a receiver, the question of limitation can never arise and such suits can never be barred by limitation.

(i) So long as the property of a person from whom possession was taken continues to be under a receiver, the question of limitation can never arise; and

(ii) The property cannot remain custodia legis ad-infinitum and it is incumbent for the court to adjudicate upon the issue of title and the suit cannot be dismissed as barred by limitation. V In determining the entitlement to mesne profits, the question of title will have to be adjudicated upon and possession will have to be delivered by the receiver to the true owner: As the property is under the control of the receiver, a suit for mesne profits for income derived by the receiver can be filed by the true owner and in such a suit, any benefit which accrues would give rise to a continuing cause of action. VI It is the plaintiff's claim that Nirmohi Akhara is also the shebait of the janmasthan and the idols. For the same reason that Suit 5 of 1989 was held to be within limitation i.e. the deity was a perpetual minor, the suit of the plaintiff cannot be barred by limitation.

229. Mr K Parasaran, learned Senior Counsel for the plaintiffs in Suit 5 refuted the submissions made by Mr S K Jain and made the following submissions with respect to limitation and the maintainability of Suit 3: I The Magistrate's order under Section 145 is an exercise of police powers for securing peace and does not determine title or possession over the property. Since such an order does not purport to give possession to any party, the question of Nirmohi Akahara being dispossessed on account of an order in proceedings under Section 145 proceedings does not arise.

(i) An order under Section 145 is an exercise of police powers for securing peace. It is only for preventing breach of peace and does not determine the rights of parties with respect to title over property. Section 145 proceedings simply freeze or protect the rights of the rightful owner. An order of the Magistrate in exercise of the executive function can never be a wrongful act or cause injury. The order of a civil court cannot be considered as a 'wrong' giving rise to a cause of action. Only a judicial authority has the power to decide whether the action of the civil court is wrong. Questions relating to title and possession are exclusively matters for civil courts and the Magistrate's order under Section 145 cannot oust the jurisdiction of the civil court;

(ii) The proceedings under Section 145 are distinct and there exists no bar for parties to file a civil suit for title or possession after the order has been passed by the Magistrate. The jurisdiction of the civil court is not curtailed by the order of the Magistrate under Section 145 and civil proceedings can be pursued independently.

Reliance was placed upon the decisions of this Court in the following cases:

(i) Bhinka v Charan Singh132, where it was held that under Section 145(1), the Magistrate's jurisdiction is confined only to decide whether, any and if so, which of the parties was on the date of the preliminary order in possession of the land in dispute. The order only declares the actual possession of a party on a specified date and does not purport to give possession or authorise any party to take possession;

(ii) Jhummamal alias Devandas v State of Madhya Pradesh133, where it was held that an order made under Section 145 deals only with the factum of possession of the party as on a particular day. It confers no title to remain in possession of the disputed property. The unsuccessful party therefore must get relief only in the civil court in a properly constituted suit. A party may file a suit for declaration and prove a better right to possession. The civil court has jurisdiction to give a finding different from that which the Magistrate has reached in the proceedings under Section 145; and

(iii) Deokuer v Sheoprasad Singh134, where it was held that in a suit for declaration of title to property filed when the property is attached under Section 145, it is not necessary to ask for further relief of delivery of possession.

(iii) Mr S K Jain's submission in Suit 3 stating that the proceedings under Section 145 have not attained finality and therefore, the limitation under Article 47 cannot begin to run cannot be accepted. Irrespective of the proceedings under Section 145, Nirmohi Akhara could independently have filed a suit for title and possession.

II Section 3 of the Limitation Act 1908 provides that every suit instituted after the period of limitation shall be dismissed. The Supreme Court can dispose of appeals only on the ground of limitation. Unlike the Trial Court that has to decide on all issues, the Supreme Court is not bound to do so once it comes to the conclusion that a suit is barred by limitation.

(i) Reliance was placed upon the decision of this Court in Yeswant Deorao Deshmukh v Walchand Ramchand Kothari135, where it was observed that the rules of equity have no application where there are definitive statutory provisions specifying the grounds on the basis of which alone stoppage or suspension of the running of time can arise. While the courts necessarily are -astute in checkmating or fighting fraud", it should be equally borne in mind that statutes of limitation are statutes of repose.

III The High Court's decision has to be set aside. The decree is contrary to the law of pleadings. No prayer for a partition of land was sought by Nirmohi Akhara. The High Court's order has not been passed in pursuance of the ends of justice but is an end of justice.

IV Section 28 of the Limitation Act 1908 extinguishes the substantive rights of a person. Accordingly, if the party fails on the issue of limitation, then it also fails on all other substantive issues and therefore, this Court cannot give any relief to Nirmohi Akhara in Suit 3.

V Article 120 alone governs the suit filed by Nirmohi Akhara. Articles 142 and 144 of the Limitation Act are not applicable. Once limitation starts to run, it cannot be stopped.

(i) Reliance was placed upon the decision of the Privy Council in Raja Rajgan Maharaja Jagatjit Singh v Raja Partab Bahadur Singh136, where it was held with regard to the statutory period of limitation, that Article 47 does not apply, as there has been no order for possession by the Magistrate under Section 145. In a suit for declaration of title, Articles 142 and 144 do not apply and the suit is governed by Article 120.

230. Dr Rajeev Dhavan, learned Senior Counsel for the plaintiff in Suit 4 made the following submissions with respect to limitation of Suit 3: I The relief which Nirmohi Akhara has sought in Suit 3 is for management and charge. However in its plaint, it has claimed that Janmasthan 'belongs' and 'has always belonged to it' and the use of these terms in a loose sense may in a given context be inferred as 'possession', 'ownership' and 'implied title'.

(i) The relief sought by Nirmohi Akhara was only with respect to management and charge of the idols of Lord Ram. The case of Nirmohi Akhara is based on the deprivation of shebaiti rights by an order under Section 145 of the CrPC 1898. The claim is against the State for possession of usufruct and to render services to the deity. Words such as -belong" or -belonging" have a flexible meaning. Reliance was placed upon the decisions of this Court in:

(a) Late Nawab Sir Mir Osman Ali Khan v Commissioner of Wealth Tax, Hyderabad137 in relation to the discussion on the meaning of 'belonging to'; and

(b) Raja Mohammad Amir Ahmad Khan v Municipal Board Sitapur138 in relation to the discussion on making unequivocal assertions in the plaint and reading the plaint in its entirety to decipher the true meaning.

(ii) Nirmohi Akhara had claimed in paragraph 2 of its plaint that the Jamnasthan belongs and has always belonged to it. Further, it has been claimed in paragraph 4 of the plaint that the temple has been in the possession of the plaintiff. However, in the written submissions, the plaintiff has adverted to a claim of ownership and possession.

(iii) Use of the terms 'belongs' or 'belonging to' may in a given context be inferred as 'possession', 'ownership' and 'implied title'. The term 'belongs' or 'belonging to' is not a term of art and does not have a definitive meaning. Its interpretation can be open. II Nirmohi Akhara is using the term 'belongs' to claim title and obviate the bar of limitation. The term 'belongs' should be given its ordinary meaning. If Nirmohi Akhara claims title for itself then it is at odds with the suit of the deity. It can only claim ancillary rights: (i) Nirmohi Akhara merely claims to serve the idol and is not claiming the idol itself. Nirmohi Akhara is claiming a duty and not the right to ownership and title. Accordingly, only Article 120 can apply; and

(ii) Unlike the law of trusts in the United Kingdom, in India, no ownership or title devolves upon the shebait. The shebait is not the owner of the property of the idol. III Nirmohi Akhara has used the proceedings under Section 145 to urge that the action of the government in denying them absolute shebait rights is a continuing wrong: (i) Section 145 proceedings are not for determining claims for title or ownership. Nothing prevented Nirmohi Akhara from filing a declaratory suit for possession and title; and (ii) The specific date pleaded of when the cause of action arose was 5 January 1950. Where the law has interfered to take away possession under the order of the Magistrate, the period of six years started on that date and there was no scope for invoking a continuing wrong because the action was complete, and remedies lay elsewhere. Having adverted to the submissions which were urged by the learned Senior Counsel on the issue of whether Suit 3 is barred by limitation, we now proceed to analyse various provisions of the CrPC 1898 and Articles of the Limitation Act 1908. Nature and Scope of Section 145 proceedings

231. The Magistrate attached the property by an order dated 29 December 1949 made under Section 145 of the CrPC 1898. The plaintiffs in Suit 3 state that the cause of action arose on 5 January 1950 when the receiver took charge of the property and they were denied charge and management of the temple. 232. Section 145 was included in Chapter XII of the Code of 1898, titled -Disputes as to Immovable Property". Section 145 states thus: -Section 145. Procedure where dispute concerning land, etc., is likely to cause breach of peace

(1) Whenever a District Magistrate, Sub-Divisional Magistrate or Magistrate of the first class is satisfied from a police report or other information that a dispute likely to cause a breach of the peace exists concerning any land or water or the boundaries thereof, within the local limits of his jurisdiction, he shall make an order in writing, stating the grounds of his being so satisfied, and requiring the parties concerned in such dispute to attend his Court in person or by pleader, within a time to be fixed by such Magistrate, and to put in written statements of their respective claims as respects the fact of actual possession of the subject of dispute. (2) For the purposes of this section the expression "land or water" includes building, markets, fisheries, crops or other produce of land, and the rents or profits of any such property.

(3) A copy of the order shall be served in the manner provided by this Code for the service of a summons upon such person or persons as the Magistrate may direct, and at least one copy shall be published by being affixed to some conspicuous place at or near the subject of dispute.

(4) The Magistrate shall then, without reference to the merits of the claims of any of such parties to a right to possess the subject of dispute, peruse the statements so put in, hear the parties, receive all such evidence as may be produced by them respectively, consider the effect of such evidence, take such further evidence (if any) as he thinks necessary, and, if possible, decide whether any and which of the parties was at the date of the order before mentioned in such possession of the said subject: Provided that, if it appears to the Magistrate that any party has within two months next before the date of such order been forcibly and wrongfully dispossessed, he may treat the party so dispossessed as if he had been in possession at such date: Provided also, that if the Magistrate considers the case one of emergency, he may at any time attach the subject of dispute, pending his decision under this section.

(5) Nothing in this section shall preclude any party so required to attend, or any other person interested, from showing that no such dispute as aforesaid exists or has existed; and in such case the Magistrate shall cancel his said order, and all further proceedings thereon shall be stayed, but, subject to such cancellation, the order of the Magistrate under sub-section (1) shall be final.

(6) If the Magistrate decides that one of the parties was or should under the first proviso to sub-section (4) be treated as being in such possession of the said subject, he shall issue an order declaring such party to be entitled to possession thereof until evicted therefrom in due course of law, and forbidding all disturbance of such possession until such eviction and when he proceeds under the first proviso to sub-section (4), may restore to possession the party forcibly and wrongfully dispossessed.

(7) When any party to any such proceeding dies, the Magistrate may cause the legal representative of the deceased party to be made a party to the proceeding and shall thereupon continue the inquiry, and if any question arises as to who the legal representative of a deceased party for the purpose of such proceeding is, all persons claiming to be representatives of the deceased party shall be made parties thereto.

(8) If the Magistrate is of opinion that any crop or other produce of the property, the subject of dispute in a proceeding under this section pending before him, is subject to speedy and natural decay, he may make an order for the proper custody or sale of such property, and, upon the completion of the inquiry, shall make such order for the disposal of such property, or the sale-proceeds thereof, as he thinks fit.

(9) The Magistrate may, if he thinks fit, at any stage of the proceedings under this section, on the application of either party, issue a summons to any witness directing him to attend or to produce any document or thing. (10) Nothing in this section shall be deemed to be in derogation of the powers of the Magistrate to proceed under section 107." Section 145 is recognised to be a branch of the preventive jurisdiction of the Magistrate.139 Section 145(1) can be invoked on the satisfaction of the Magistrate that -a dispute likely to cause a breach of the peace exists...".

The provision relates to disputes regarding possession of land or water or its boundaries which may result in breach of the peace. The function of the Magistrate is not to go into questions of title, but to meet the urgency of the situation by maintaining the party in possession. The Magistrate is empowered to call upon the parties to put in written statements in support of their claim to -actual possession". Such an order is to be served as a summons upon the parties. The Magistrate is to peruse the statements, hear the parties and weigh the evidence, in order to ascertain who was in possession at the date of the order. The Magistrate may make that determination -if possible" to do so. Moreover, the determination is about the factum of possession on the date of the order -without reference to the merits of the claim of any of such parties to a right to possess the subject of the dispute".

These words indicate that the Magistrate does not decide or adjudicate upon the contesting rights to possess or the merits of conflicting claims. The Magistrate is concerned with determining only who was in possession on the date of the order. If possession has been wrongfully taken within two months of the order, the person so dispossessed is to be taken as the person in possession. In cases of emergency, the Magistrate can attach the subject of the dispute, pending decision. The action ultimately contemplated under Section 145 is not punitive, but preventive, and for that purpose is provisional only till a final or formal adjudication of rights is done by a competent court in the due course of law. Thus, nothing affecting the past, present and future rights of parties is contemplated under the provision.

233. The object of the provision is merely to maintain law and order and to prevent a breach of the peace by maintaining one or other of the parties in possession, which the Magistrate finds they had immediately before the dispute, until the actual right of one of the parties has been determined by a civil court.140 The object is to take the subject of dispute out of the hands of the disputants, allowing the custodian to protect the right, until one of the parties has established her right (if any) to possession in a civil court.141 This is evident from the provisions of sub-section (6) of Section 146. The Magistrate declares the party which is entitled to possession -until evicted therefrom in due course of law." While proceeding under the first proviso, the Magistrate may restore possession to a party which has been wrongfully and forcibly dispossessed. No party can be allowed to use the provisions of Section 145 for ulterior purposes or as a substitute for civil remedies. The jurisdiction and power of the civil court cannot in any manner be hampered.142

234. This Court has analysed the nature and scope of proceedings under Section 145 in the following cases: (i) In Bhinka v Charan Singh143, the respondent, claimed the lands in dispute -to be his sir", while the appellants claimed to be in possession of the lands as hereditary tenants. The Magistrate initiated proceedings under Section 145, attached the lands in dispute and directed them to be placed in possession of a superdgidar pending disposal of those proceedings. After enquiries, the Magistrate concluded that the appellants were entitled to be in possession until evicted in due course of law. Thereafter, the respondent filed a suit before the Revenue Courts.

The appeal before the Supreme Court arose from that proceeding. One of the issues before this Court was whether the appellants had taken possession in accordance with the provisions of Section 145. Justice Subba Rao, speaking for a three judge Bench of this Court, held thus: -16... Under Section 145(6) of the Code, a Magistrate is authorized to issue an order declaring a party to be entitled to possession of a land until evicted therefrom in due course of law. The Magistrate does not purport to decide a party's title or right to possession of the land but expressly reserves that question to be decided in due course of law. The foundation of his jurisdiction is on apprehension of the breach of the peace, and, with that object, he makes a temporary order irrespective of the rights of the parties, which will have to be agitated and disposed of in the manner provided by law.

The life of the said order is co-terminus with the passing of a decree by a civil court and the moment a civil court makes an order of eviction, it displaces the order of the criminal court. The Privy Council in Dinomoni Chowdhrani v. Brojo Mohini Chowdhrani [(1901) LR 29 IA 24, 33] tersely states the effect of orders under Section 145 of the Code of Criminal Procedure thus: -These orders are merely police orders made to prevent breaches of the peace. They decide no question of title...". We, therefore, hold that a provisional order of a Magistrate in regard to possession irrespective of the rights of the parties cannot enable a person to resist the suit under Section 180 of the Act."

 

(Emphasis supplied)

(ii) In R H Bhutani v Miss Mani J Desai144, the appellant entered into a leave and license agreement with the first respondent to occupy a cabin owned by her.

When a dispute over increase in compensation arose between the parties, the first respondent sought to evict the appellant and also hand over the possession of the cabin to the second and third respondents. Thereafter, the appellant filed an application under Section 145 and the Magistrate commenced the proceedings. While the proceedings were pending, the respondent filed a civil suit. The Magistrate concluded that appellant was in actual possession of the cabin and had been forcibly dispossessed. In the Revision Petition before the High Court, the Magistrate's order was set aside and it was held that the Magistrate had breached the scope of his powers under Section 145.

The order of the High Court was assailed before this Court, which set aside the order of the High Court and restored the order of the Magistrate. Justice JM Shelat, speaking for a three judge Bench of this Court discussed the scope of proceedings under Section 145 if the following terms: -

8. The object of Section 145, no doubt, is to prevent breach of peace and for that end to provide a speedy remedy by bringing the parties before the court and ascertaining who of them was in actual possession and to maintain status quo until their rights are determined by a competent court... The enquiry under Section 145 is limited to the question as to who was in actual possession on the date of the preliminary order irrespective of the rights of the parties."

(Emphasis supplied)

(iii) In Shanti Kumar Panda v Shakuntala Devi145, there was a dispute between the parties regarding a shop. Proceedings under Section 145 were commenced on the basis of a complaint filed by the appellant and the Magistrate attached the property. The respondent, who claimed to be interested in the subject-matter of the dispute was not allowed to be impleaded in the proceedings. The final order under Section 145 was in favour of the appellant. Revision petitions against the order were dismissed. Thereafter, the respondent filed a civil suit and secured an injunction. The injunction was however, vacated by the District Court on the ground that since Section 145 proceedings had terminated in the appellant's favour, the Trial Court was not justified in issuing the injunction unless and until the order of the Magistrate was superseded by a civil court's decree and no injunction could be granted while the property was 'custodia legis'. The High Court reversed the District Court's order. The decision of the High Court was assailed before this Court.

A three judge Bench of this Court dismissed the appeal and dealt with the nature of proceedings under Section 145. Justice J M Shelat, speaking for the Court held: -

10. The proceedings under Sections 145/146 of the Code have been held to be quasi-civil, quasi-criminal in nature or an executive or police action. The purpose of the provisions is to provide a speedy and summary remedy so as to prevent a breach of the peace by submitting the dispute to the Executive Magistrate for resolution as between the parties disputing the question of possession over the property.

The Magistrate having taken cognizance of the dispute would confine himself to ascertaining which of the disputing parties was in possession by reference to the date of the preliminary order or within two months next before the said date, as referred to in the proviso to sub-section (4) of Section 145 and maintain the status quo as to possession until the entitlement to possession was determined by a court, having competence to enter into adjudication of civil rights, which an Executive Magistrate cannot.

The Executive Magistrate would not take cognizance of the dispute if it is referable only to ownership or right to possession and is not over possession simpliciter…" The Court in the following observations dealt with the interplay between the order of a Magistrate and the jurisdiction of a civil court: -15. It is well settled that a decision by a criminal court does not bind the civil court while a decision by the civil court binds the criminal court. (See Sarkar on Evidence, 15th Edn., p. 845.) A decision given under Section 145 of the Code has relevance and is admissible in evidence to show: (i) that there was a dispute relating to a particular property;

(ii) that the dispute was between the particular parties; (iii) that such dispute led to the passing of a preliminary order under Section 145(1) or an attachment under Section 146(1), on the given date; and (iv) that the Magistrate found one of the parties to be in possession or fictional possession of the disputed property on the date of the preliminary order. The reasoning recorded by the Magistrate or other findings arrived at by him have no relevance and are not admissible in evidence before the competent court and the competent court is not bound by the findings arrived at by the Magistrate even on the question of possession though, as between the parties, the order of the Magistrate would be evidence of possession. The finding recorded by the Magistrate does not bind the court. The competent court has jurisdiction and would be justified in arriving at a finding inconsistent with the one arrived at by the Executive Magistrate even on the question of possession." (Emphasis supplied) The Court held that the order passed by the Magistrate will not be treated as binding even the interlocutory jurisdiction of the civil court under Order XXXIX of the Code of Civil Procedure: -

22…The civil court shall also respect such order and will be loath to arrive at an interim arrangement inconsistent with the one made by the Executive Magistrate. However, this is far from holding that the civil court does not have jurisdiction to make an order of injunction inconsistent with the order of the Executive Magistrate. The jurisdiction is there but the same shall be exercised not as a rule but as an exception. There may be cases such as one where the order of the Executive Magistrate can be shown to be without jurisdiction, palpably wrong or containing self-contradictory findings. For example, the Magistrate may have made an order treating the party dispossessed beyond two months to be as in possession.

There may be cases where in spite of the order made by the Executive Magistrate based on the evidence adduced before it, the competent court, based on the material produced before such court, may be inclined to hold that prima facie a very strong case for retaining or placing one of the parties in possession of the suit property is made out or where it will be totally unjust or inequitable to continue one party in possession of the property as ordered by the Executive Magistrate.

In such exceptional situations, the competent court (which will mostly be a civil court) may have jurisdiction for granting an order of injunction in departure from the findings recorded and the declaration made by the Executive Magistrate under Section 145 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The order under Section 146 of the Code would not pose a problem of that magnitude. Inasmuch as the property is under attachment and is placed in the hands of a receiver, the civil court can comfortably examine whether it would be just and expedient to continue with the attachment and with the same receiver or to appoint another receiver or to make some other interim arrangement during the pendency of the civil suit."

(Emphasis supplied)

(iv) In Surinder Pal Kaur v Satpal146, reliance was placed upon the decision in Shanti Kumar Panda. Justice Dipak Misra (as the learned Chief Justice then was) speaking for the two judge Bench, held thus: -10... It is a settled position of law that the observations made in the proceedings drawn under Section 145 CrPC do not bind the competent court in a legal proceeding initiated before it." 235. Section 145 proceedings do not purport to decide a party's title or right to possession of the land.

The property held in attachment in proceedings under Section 145 is 'custodia legis'. Hence, it is not necessary to secure possession from a party who is not in possession and is hence, not in a position to deliver possession. This Court has analysed the nature of the property under attachment in the following decisions: (i) In Deokuer v Sheoprasad Singh147, a three judge Bench of this Court, held that property held under attachment under Section 145 is 'custodia legis'. The appeal arose out of a suit brought by the appellants in 1947 for a declaration that the respondents had acquired no right or title to a property under certain deeds and that the deeds were inoperative and void. The suit was decreed by the Trial Court, but on appeal, the High Court set aside the decree.

The High Court held that as the appellants were not in possession of the property at the date of the suit, their suit must fail under the proviso to Section 42 of the Specific Relief Act as they had failed to ask for the further relief of recovery of possession from the respondents. On the date of the suit, the property in dispute had been attached by the Magistrate, exercising his powers under Section 145 and was not in the possession of any party. The issue that arose before this Court was whether in view of the attachment, the appellants could have in their suit, sought the relief for delivery of possession to them. Speaking for the three judge Bench, Justice A K Sarkar held thus: -

4. In our view, in a suit for declaration of title to property filed when it stands attached under Section 145 of the Code, it is not necessary to ask for the further relief of delivery of possession. The fact, if it be so, that in the case of such an attachment, the Magistrate holds possession on behalf of the party whom he ultimately finds to have been in possession is, in our opinion, irrelevant. On the question however whether the Magistrate actually does so or not, it is unnecessary to express any opinion in the present case.

5. The authorities clearly show that where the defendant is not in possession and not in a position to deliver possession to the plaintiff it is not necessary for the plaintiff in a suit for a declaration of title to property to claim possession: see Sunder Singh - Mallah Singh Sanatan Dharam High School, Trust v. Managing Committee, Sunder Singh-Mallah Singh Rajput High School [(1957) LR 65 IA 106] . Now it is obvious that in the present case, the respondents were not in possession after the attachment and were not in a position to deliver possession to the appellants.

The Magistrate was in possession, for whomsoever, it does not matter, and he was not of course a party to the suit. It is pertinent to observe that in Nawab Humayun Begam v. Nawab Shah Mohammad Khan [AIR (1943) PC 94] it has been held that the further relief contemplated by the proviso to Section 42 of the Specific Relief Act is relief against the defendant only. We may add that in K. Sundaresa Iyer v. Sarvajana Sowkiabil Virdhi Nidhi Ltd. [(1939) ILR Mad 986] it was held that it was not necessary to ask for possession when property was in custodia legis. There is no doubt that property under attachment under Section 145 of the Code is in custodia legis. These cases clearly establish that it was not necessary for the appellants to have asked for possession."

(ii) In Shanti Kumar Panda, this Court formulated the legal principles governing the effect of the order of a Magistrate under Section 145/146 when legal proceedings are instituted before a court of competent jurisdiction: -

(1) The words -competent court" as used in sub-section

(1) of Section 146 of the Code do not necessarily mean a civil court only. A competent court is one which has the jurisdictional competence to determine the question of title or the rights of the parties with regard to the entitlement as to possession over the property forming the subject-matter of proceedings before the Executive Magistrate:

(2) A party unsuccessful in an order under Section 145(1) would initiate proceedings in a competent court to establish its entitlement to possession over the disputed property against the successful party. Ordinarily, a relief of recovery of possession would be appropriate to be sought for. In legal proceedings initiated before a competent court consequent upon attachment under Section 146(1) of the Code it is not necessary to seek relief of recovery of possession. As the property is held custodia legis by the Magistrate for and on behalf of the party who would ultimately succeed from the court, it would suffice if only determination of the rights with regard to the entitlement to the possession is sought for. Such a suit shall not be bad for not asking for the relief of possession.

(3) A decision by a criminal court does not bind the civil court while a decision by the civil court binds the criminal court. An order passed by the Executive Magistrate in proceedings under Sections 145/146 of the Code is an order by a criminal court and that too based on a summary enquiry. The order is entitled to respect and weight before the competent court at the interlocutory stage. At the stage of final adjudication of rights, which would be on the evidence adduced before the court, the order of the Magistrate is only one out of several pieces of evidence.

(4) The court will be loath to issue an order of interim injunction or to order an interim arrangement inconsistent with the one made by the Executive Magistrate. However, to say so is merely stating a rule of caution or restraint, on exercise of discretion by court, dictated by prudence and regard for the urgent/emergent executive orders made within jurisdiction by their makers; and certainly not a tab on the power of court. The court does have jurisdiction to make an interim order including an order of ad interim injunction inconsistent with the order of the Executive Magistrate. The jurisdiction is there but the same shall be exercised not as a rule but as an exception.

Even at the stage of passing an ad interim order the party unsuccessful before the Executive Magistrate may on material placed before the court succeed in making out a strong prima facie case demonstrating the findings of the Executive Magistrate to be without jurisdiction, palpably wrong or self-inconsistent in which or the like cases the court may, after recording its reasons and satisfaction, make an order inconsistent with, or in departure from, the one made by the Executive Magistrate. The order of the court - final or interlocutory, would have the effect of declaring one of the parties entitled to possession and evicting therefrom the party successful before the Executive Magistrate within the meaning of sub-section (6) of Section 145."

(Emphasis supplied)

The above formulation is essentially a restatement of the principles which emerge from a consistent line of precedent of the Court [See also Jhummamal alias Devandas v State of Madhya Pradesh148.] 236. Where a suit is instituted for possession or for declaration of title before a competent civil court, the proceedings under Section 145 should not continue. This Court has analysed the above proposition of law in the following cases:

(i) In Amresh Tiwari v Lalta Prasad Dubey149, Justice S N Variava, speaking for a three judge Bench of this Court held thus: -12… The law on this subject-matter has been settled by the decision of this Court in the case of Ram Sumer Puri Mahant v. State of U.P. [(1985) 1 SCC 427 : 1985 SCC (Cri) 98] In this case it has been held as follows: (SCC pp. 428-29, para 2) -When a civil litigation is pending for the property wherein the question of possession is involved and has been adjudicated, we see hardly any justification for initiating a parallel criminal proceeding under Section 145 of the Code.

There is no scope to doubt or dispute the position that the decree of the civil court is binding on the criminal court in a matter like the one before us…parallel proceedings should not be permitted to continue and in the event of a decree of the civil court, the criminal court should not be allowed to invoke its jurisdiction particularly when possession is being examined by the civil court and parties are in a position to approach the civil court for interim orders such as injunction or appointment of receiver for adequate protection of the property during pendency of the dispute. Multiplicity of litigation is not in the interest of the parties nor should public time be allowed to be wasted over meaningless litigation. We are, therefore, satisfied that parallel proceedings should not continue…."

The Court rejected the submission that the principle in Ram Sumer Puri Mahant v State of UP150 will apply only after the civil court has adjudicated on the issue: -13. We are unable to accept the submission that the principles laid down in Ram Sumer case [(1985) 1 SCC 427 : 1985 SCC (Cri) 98] would only apply if the civil court has already adjudicated on the dispute regarding the property and given a finding. In our view Ram Sumer case [(1985) 1 SCC 427 : 1985 SCC (Cri) 98] is laying down that multiplicity of litigation should be avoided as it is not in the interest of the parties and public time would be wasted over meaningless litigation.

On this principle it has been held that when possession is being examined by the civil court and parties are in a position to approach the civil court for adequate protection of the property during the pendency of the dispute, the parallel proceedings i.e. Section 145 proceedings should not continue." Dealing with the issue as to when the proceedings under Section 145 should not be pursued any further on the institution of a suit for adjudication, this Court held: -14. Reliance has been placed on the case of Jhummamal v. State of M.P. [(1988) 4 SCC 452 : 1988 SCC (Cri) 974]

It is submitted that this authority lays down that merely because a civil suit is pending does not mean that proceedings under Section 145 of the Criminal Procedure Code should be set at naught. In our view this authority does not lay down any such broad proposition. In this case the proceedings under Section 145 of the Criminal Procedure Code had resulted in a concluded order. Thereafter the party, who had lost, filed civil proceedings. After filing the civil proceedings he prayed that the final order passed in the Section 145 proceedings be quashed. It is in that context that this Court held that merely because a civil suit had been filed did not mean that the concluded order under Section 145 of the Criminal Procedure Code should be quashed. This is entirely a different situation. In this case the civil suit had been filed first. An order of status quo had already been passed by the competent civil court.

Thereafter Section 145 proceedings were commenced. No final order had been passed in the proceedings under Section 145. In our view on the facts of the present case the ratio laid down in Ram Sumer case [(1985) 1 SCC 427 : 1985 SCC (Cri) 98] fully applies. We clarify that we are not stating that in every case where a civil suit is filed, Section 145 proceedings would never lie. It is only in cases where civil suit is for possession or for declaration of title in respect of the same property and where reliefs regarding protection of the property concerned can be applied for and granted by the civil court that proceedings under Section 145 should not be allowed to continue.

This is because the civil court is competent to decide the question of title as well as possession between the parties and the orders of the civil court would be binding on the Magistrate."

(Emphasis supplied)

Having set out the position established in law with respect to Section 145 proceedings, we now advert to the application of the law to the set of facts in the present case. The provisions of Section 145 can be invoked only when there is a danger of a breach of peace. The jurisdiction of the Magistrate does not extend to adjudicate into disputed questions of title. The Magistrate has been vested with the authority to meet the urgency of the situation and maintain peace. The determination of the Magistrate is confined to which party was in actual possession on the date of the order. The real purpose is to decide who has actual physical possession and not legal possession supported by title over the land. To initiate proceedings under Section 145, the Magistrate has to be satisfied of the existence of a dispute which is likely to cause a breach of peace. The enquiry by the Magistrate is of a summary nature, the object being to ensure tranquillity in the locality when the dispute is likely to result in a breach of peace.

237. On 29 December 1949, a preliminary order under sub-section (1) of Section 145 was issued by the Additional City Magistrate, Faizabad-cum- Ayodhya. Simultaneously an order of attachment was also passed under the second proviso to sub-section (4) treating the situation to be one of emergency. On 5 January 1950, the receiver took charge and made an inventory of the attached items. Pursuant to the order of the Magistrate, only two or three pujaris were permitted to go inside the place where idols were kept to perform religious ceremonies like bhog and puja and the general public was permitted to have darshan only from beyond the grill-brick wall. The proceedings under Section 145 were not judicial; the Magistrate while exercising authority under the provision was not empowered to deal with the substantive rights of the parties.

The proceedings under Section 145 are not akin to a civil proceeding. Adjudication of substantive claims over title and ownership over a property can be decided in a competent civil proceeding. Proceedings under Section 145 are not in the nature of a trial before a civil court and are merely in the nature of police proceedings. The Magistrate's order cannot adversely impact the substantive rights of parties. Upon the attachment of the property and after the appointment of the receiver, the property became custodia legis and the receiver held the property for the benefit of the true owner. The receiver so appointed could not be described as a party interested in the dispute. By his subsequent orders dated 30 July 1953 and 31 July 1954, the Magistrate deferred the proceedings and continued the order of attachment.

238. Justice Sudhir Agarwal correctly observed that in view of the ad-interim injunction in Suit 1 by which status quo was ordered and sewa-puja was continued, the proceedings under Section 145 could not have been dropped as it would have disturbed the status quo. Justice Agarwal observed: -2244. … From perusal of injunction order passed by the Civil Court, we find that on 16th January, 1950 a simple order, in terms of the prayer made in the interim injunction application, was passed directing the parties to maintain status quo.

Thereafter on 19th January, 1950, the order was modified but the Civil Court did not appoint a Receiver of its own and also did not direct the City Magistrate to get the possession transferred to any other person or another Receiver of the Court instead of the Receiver appointed by the Magistrate. On the contrary, in Suit-1, the City Magistrate was also impleaded as one of the defendants and the Civil Court passed an order directing the defendants to maintain status quo. It also clarified that the Sewa, Puja as was going on, shall continue…the Magistrate could not have ignored this order by dropping the proceedings as that would have resulted in discharge of Receiver and release of the property attached and placed in his charge. In other words, it could have been construed by the Civil Judge as an order disobeying the order of status quo.

Had the Civil Judge passed an order appointing a Court's Receiver and directing the Magistrate to hand over possession of the property to him, the position might have been different. In these circumstances, if the Magistrate did not drop the proceedings but deferred it, we find no fault on his part. Moreover, when the earlier order of the Magistrate, attaching the property and placing it in the charge of Receiver, could not have resulted in giving a cause of action to the plaintiffs to file suit, we fail to understand as to how the subsequent order, which merely deferred the pending proceedings, would lend any help.

The order of attachment passed by the Magistrate itself does not give a cause of action and on the contrary it only makes the things known to the party that there appears to be some dispute about the title and/or possession of the property concerned and also there is apprehension of disturbance of public peace and order. The cause of action virtually is known to the party that there exists some dispute and not the order of the Magistrate whereby he attached the property in question and placed it in the charge of the Receiver."

(Emphasis supplied)

239. In view of the settled position in law, as it emerges from the decisions of this Court, after the Magistrate's order dated 29 December 1949 for attachment of property, nothing prevented Nirmohi Akhara from filing a declaratory suit for possession and title. The Magistrate's order did not decide or adjudicate upon the contesting rights to possess or the merits of conflicting claims of any of the parties. Substantive rights with respect to title and possession of the property could have been dealt with only in civil proceedings before a civil court. The Magistrate did not have jurisdiction to determine questions of ownership and title. The proceedings under Section 145 could not have resulted in any adjudication upon title or possession of the rightful owner as that is within the exclusive domain of civil courts. Nirmohi Akhara cannot take the defence that no final order had been passed in Section 145 proceedings and as a result limitation did not commence. The Magistrate simply complied with the directions given by a civil court with respect to maintaining status quo in Suit 1 and accordingly, deferred the proceedings under Section 145.

The case under Article 142 of the Limitation Act 1898

240. Article 142 governs a suit for possession of immoveable property when the plaintiff while in possession has been dispossessed or -has discontinued the possession". The period of limitation under Article 142 is 12 years. Time begins to run from the date of the dispossession or discontinuance. Nirmohi Akhara claims that the cause of action arose on 5 January 1950 and the suit which was instituted on 17 December 1959 is within the limitation of twelve years. The concepts of dispossession and discontinuance of possession

241. Besides the absence of specific relief in Nirmohi's Suit with respect to seeking possession of the Janmasthan temple, there is another aspect to be explored with respect to the applicability of the concepts of dispossession and discontinuance of possession in the facts of the present case. Article 142 of the Limitation Act 1908 encompasses a suit for possession of immovable property.

It covers those suits for possession of immoveable property which fall within either of two descriptions. The first is when the plaintiff while in possession of the property has been dispossessed. The second covers a situation where the plaintiff while in possession has discontinued the possession. In other words, Article 142 which deals with suits for possession of immoveable property qualifies this with the requirement that the plaintiff should have been in possession of the property when either of the two events have taken place namely, the event of being dispossessed or, as the case may be, the event of having discontinued the possession. Article 142 has not confined the description of the suit to simply a suit for possession of immoveable property.

The provision incorporates a requirement of prior possession of the plaintiff and either the dispossession or the discontinuance of possession while the plaintiff was in possession. The period of limitation is 12 years and time begins to run from the date of dispossession or discontinuance.

242. Article 144 is a residuary provision dealing with suits for possession of immoveable property or any interest in immoveable property not specifically provided for elsewhere. As a residuary provision, Article 144 applies to suits for possession of immoveable property which do not fall within a description which is specially enumerated in the articles of the schedule. In the case of Article 144, the period of limitation is 12 years and time begins to run when the possession of the defendant has become adverse to the plaintiff.

243. Article 142, as seen above, incorporates two distinct concepts. The first is of dispossession and the second is of discontinuance of possession. Dispossession connotes an ouster; it involves a situation where a person is deprived of her/his possession with the coming of another person into possession. Dispossession implies deprivation of a right to possess which is not voluntary and involves an act of ouster which displaces the person who was in possession of the property.

The expression 'dispossession' is defined in Black's Law Dictionary151 as follows: -Deprivation of, or eviction from, rightful possession of property; the wrongful taking or withholding of possession of land from the person lawfully entitled to it; ouster." The expressions 'discontinuance' and 'dispossession' have been defined in P Ramanatha Aiyar's Advanced Law Lexicon152: -Discontinuance means that a person in possession goes out and is followed into possession by another person. It implies that all indications of occupation have been withdrawn." -Dispossession or ouster is wrongfully taking possession of land from its rightful owner.

The dispossession applies only to cases where the owner of land has, by the act of some person, been deprived altogether of his dominion over the land itself, or the receipt of its profits. A person cannot be dispossessed of immoveable property unless he was possessed thereof at the time." Dispossession presupposes the pre-existing possession of the person at a given time who was subsequently dispossessed.

A person who is not in possession cannot be said to be dispossessed. Discontinuance on the other hand, embodies a notion of abandonment of possession and is sometimes described as a voluntary act of the person who discontinues possession on his own accord. G W Paton153 in his seminal treatise on -Jurisprudence" notes that -as with most words in the English language, the word 'possession' has a variety of uses and a variety of meanings, depending upon context and use". The author tells us that -the search for one appropriate, complete meaning for the word is likely to be a fruitless one". Black's Law Dictionary154 defines the expression 'possession' thus: -

1. The fact of having or holding property in one's power; the exercise of dominion over property.

2. The right under which one may exercise control over something to the exclusion of all others; the continuing exercise of a claim to the exclusive use of a material object." In Supdt and Remembrancer of Legal Affairs West Bengal v Anil Kumar Bhunja155, this Court observed that -possession is a polymorphous term" and, therefore, it was not possible to ascribe a meaning which would apply in every context. Drawing sustenance from Salmond's Jurisprudence, the Court noted that possession implies a right and a fact; the right to enjoy annexed to the right to property and the fact of the real intention. Possession as a concept comprehends -corpus possessionis and animus possidendi". The former embraces the power to use the thing in possession and the existence of a ground of expectation that the use of the possession shall not be interfered with. The latter postulates the intent to appropriate to oneself the exclusive use of the thing which is possessed.

244. In Shyam Sunder Prasad v Raj Pal Singh156, this Court speaking through a Bench of three judges elaborated on the distinction between Articles 142 and 144 of the Limitation Act 1908. The Court observed: -3…Under the old Limitation Act, all suits for possession whether based on title or on the ground of previous possession were governed by Article 142 wherein the plaintiff while in possession was dispossessed or discontinued in possession. Where the case was not one of dispossession of the plaintiff or discontinuance of possession by him, Article 142 did not apply. Suits based on title alone and not on possession or discontinuance of possession were governed by Article 144 unless they were specifically provided for by some other articles. Therefore, for application of Article 142, the suit is not only on the basis of title but also for possession."

245. In order to bring the suit within the purview of Article 142, the following requirements must be fulfilled: (i) The suit must be for possession of immoveable property; (ii) The plaintiff must establish having been in possession of the property; and (iii) The plaintiff should have been dispossessed or must have discontinued possession while in possession of the property. For Article 142 to apply, these requirements must cumulatively be established.

246. The Suit by Nirmohi Akhara postulates that the Janmasthan, commonly known as Janmabhumi, which is the birth-place of Lord Ram -belongs and has always belonged" to Nirmohi Akhara which has been -managing it and receiving offerings". According to the plaintiffs, the temple has ever since been in the possession of Nirmohi Akhara. The grievance in the Suit is that the plaintiffs were wrongfully deprived of their management and charge of the temple as a result of the order of attachment under Section 145 and the proceedings have been unduly prolonged by the Magistrate with the connivance to the Muslim parties.

Nirmohi Akhara prays for the removal of the receiver from management and charge and for delivering it to the plaintiffs. Essentially, it is on the basis of the expressions -belongs" in paragraph 2 and -possession" in paragraph 4 of the pleadings that Nirmohi Akhara has sought to bring the suit within the purview of Article 142 (and hence, outside the purview of residuary Article 120).

247. Dr Rajeev Dhavan, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the Sunni Central Waqf Board, has made a painstaking effort to demonstrate how a careful attempt has been made on behalf of Nirmohi Akhara to travel beyond the pleadings and more specifically the relief which has been claimed in the suit by seeking to expand the scope of the suit in the written submissions.

248. In our view, it would be instructive having set out the ambit of Suit 3, to demonstrate how the written submissions attempt (through the craft of Counsel) to change the nature of the suit in order to bring it within limitation. As a matter of first principle, the plaint must be read as a whole. However, this is quite distinct from permitting the plaintiff to a suit to alter its nature on the basis of written submissions in appeal. Any alteration in the content of a plaint can only take place by an amendment under Order VI Rule 17 of the CPC. Instead, as we shall see, an ingenious effort has been made to gloss over the contents of the suit in the written submissions. This is impermissible. Mr S K Jain, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the plaintiff in Suit 3, made the following submission in paragraph 13(d) of his written submissions: -

(d) The plaintiff – Nirmohi Akhara was not only claiming ownership and possession of the property i.e. the Main Temple or the Inner Courtyard but was also claiming to be the Manager (Shebiat) of -Janma Asthan" as well as the idols of Lord Ram Chandra, Laxmanji, Hanumanji and Saligramji."

(Emphasis supplied)

In paragraph 17(j) of the written submissions, it has been urged: -

(j) Since the property was attached and placed under a receiver, it is incumbent for the court to decide and adjudicate the issue of title and the suits cannot be dismissed as barred by limitation. The property must revert to the rightful owner and cannot remain custodia legis for time ad-infinitum. Hence in a suit for restoration of possession from a receiver, the question of limitation can never arise and such suits cannot (sic) never become barred by limitation so long as such property continues to be under a receiver at least of a person from whom possession was taken." (Emphasis supplied) Again, in paragraph 18(k), it has been stated: -

(k). Since the property is under the control of the receiver, a suit for mesne profits for incomes derived by the receiver can still be filed by the true owner and in such a suit, for which cause of action arises any benefit accrues would thus give rise to a continuous cause of action. While determining the issue of entitlement of mesne profits, the question of title will have to be adjudicated and upon adjudication possession will have to be delivered by the receiver to the true owner.

(i) Ellappa Naicken vs Lakshmana Naicken AIR 1949 Madras 71 (ii) Rajab of Venkatagiri v. Isakapalli Subbiah, ILR 26 Madras 410." (Emphasis supplied) Then, in paragraph 18(m), it has been stated: -(m) The plaintiff – Nirmohi Akhara was not only claiming ownership and possession of the property i.e. the Main Temple or the Inner Courtyard but was also claiming to the Manager (Shebiat) of -Janma Asthan' as well as the idols of Lord Ram Chandra, Laxmanji, Hanumanji and Sabgramji. It is stated for the reasons which found favour with the court to hold that the suit OOS No. 5 of 1989 is within limitation that the deity was a perpetual minor, the suit of the plaintiff Nirmohi Akhara cannot also be held to be barred by limitation." (Emphasis supplied) Finally, it has been stated in paragraph 18 that: -

18. The claim of the property -belonging" to the plaintiff in the plaint is based on two-fold submissions – (i) that the property belongs to the plaintiff in the capacity of manager/shebait; and

(ii) that the Plaintiff being in possession acquires possessory title in view of Section 110 Evidence Act and is entitled to be and continue in possession unless the defendant can show a better title than the Plaintiff."

(Emphasis supplied)

This is completely at variance with the pleadigns in the suit.

249. The expression -belonging to" is not a term of art and its content varies according to context. In Raja Mohammad Amir Ahmad Khan v Municipal Board of Sitapur157, a three judge Bench of this Court considered whether the use of the expression -belonging to him" by a tenant amounted to a disclaimer of the reversionary interest of the Government.

In that context, Justice N Rajagopala Ayyangar, speaking for the three judge Bench, observed: -24…Though the word -belonging" no doubt is capable of denoting an absolute title, is nevertheless not confined to connoting that sense. Even possession of an interest less than that of full ownership could signified by that word. In Webster -belong to" is explained as meaning inter alia -to be owned by, be the possession of". The precise sense which the word was meant to convey can therefore be gathered only by reading the document as a whole and adverting to the context in which it occurs." On the facts of the case, it was held that the circumstances of the tenancy were material for determining the nature of the assertion. The origin of the tenancy was not definitely known, the lessee had constructed super structures and the appellant and his ancestors had been enjoying the property for three quarters of a century and more. Transfers had been affected and the property had been the subject of inheritance.

There was a public document to the effect that though it was government land, there was a permanent heritable and transferable right. In this context, it was held that use of the word -belonging" did not amount to repudiation of the title of the government. Similarly, the Court held that the use of the expression owner did not denote ownership in an absolute sense so as to amount to a renunciation or disclaimer of tenancy: -

25…Though divorced from the context these words are capable of being construed as an assertion of absolute ownership, they cannot, in our opinion, in the setting in which they occur and bearing in mind the history of the enjoyment by the appellant and his predecessors of this property, be deemed an assertion unequivocal in nature of absolute ownership sufficient to entail a forfeiture of a permanent tenancy of this nature. In this connection it might be noticed that this enjoyment is stated to be with the consent of the Government. If the assertion were understood to be as an absolute owner in derogation of the rights of the Government as landlord, the reference to the consent of Government to such an enjoyment would be wholly inappropriate. Consent would have relevance only if the Government had interest in the property and we, therefore, understand the passage to mean that the permanent, transferable and heritable, particularly the right to transfer which was being denied by the municipality, was stated to have been enjoyed with the consent of the Government. That is an additional reason for our holding that at the worst the assertion was not unequivocal as to entail a forfeiture of the tenancy."

250. In Late Nawab Sir Mir Osman Ali Khan v Commissioner of Wealth Tax158, a two judge Bench of this Court construed the expression -belonging to the assessee on the valuation date" in Section 2(m) of the Wealth Tax Act 1957. In the context of the statutory provision which was being interpreted, this Court held that mere possession without a legal right would not bring the property within the meaning of the expression -net-wealth" for it would not be an asset which belongs to the assessee. The Court adverted to the decision in Raja Mohammad noting that though the phrase -belonging to" was capable of denoting an absolute title, it was nevertheless not confined to connoting that sense. In the case at hand, the Court held: -29…We have discussed the cases where the distinction between -belonging to" and -ownership" has been considered. The following facts emerge here:

(1) the assessee has parted with the possession which is one of the essentials of ownership.

(2) The assessee was disentitled to recover possession from the vendee and the assessee alone until the document of title is executed was entitled to sue for possession against others i.e. other than the vendee in possession in this case. The title in rem vested in the assessee.

(3) The vendee was in rightful possession against the vendor.

(4) The legal title, however, belonged to the vendor.

(5) The assessee had not the totality of the rights that constitute title but a mere husk of it and a very important element of the husk." Both these decisions, which have been pressed in aid by Dr Dhavan indicate that the expression 'belonging to' must receive a meaning based on context. In a given context, the words may convey the meaning of an absolute title but in other factual situations the words may convey something which falls short of an absolute interest.

251. In the present case, it is evident that the use of the expression 'belongs' by the Nirmohi Akhara in the plaint has been deployed only in the context of management and charge. The entire case of Nirmohi Akhara is of the deprivation of its shebaiti rights by the Magistrate's order under Section 145. The claim of Nirmohi Akhara is against the state so as to enable the plaintiff to utilise the usufruct to render services to the deity. Nirmohi Akhara, in other words, claims ancillary rights with reference to management and charge. Indeed, the most significant aspect which emerges from the relief which has been claimed in Suit 3 is a decree for the removal of the first defendant -from the management and charge of the said temple of Janmabhumi and for delivering the same to the plaintiff". Suit 3 filed by Nirmohi Akhara is therefore not a suit for possession which falls within the meaning and ambit of Article 142.

252. Nirmohi Akhara has instituted Suit 3 claiming to be a shebait. A four judge Bench of this Court in Angurbala Mullick v Debabrata Mullick159 dealt with the nature and position of a shebait. Justice B K Mukherjea (as he then was) speaking for the Court held that the position of a shebait in regard to the debutter property does not exactly correspond to that of a trustee in English law. In English law, the legal estate in trust property vests in the trustee. On the other hand, in the case of a Hindu religious endowment, the ownership of the dedicated property is transferred to the deity or institution as a juristic person and the shebait is a mere manager who handles the affairs with respect to the deity's properties. Referring to the extract from the Privy Council's decision in Vidya Varuthi Thirtha v Balusami Ayyar160, this Court observed that though, the shebait is a manager and not a trustee, shebaitship is not a 'mere office': -

12…The shebait has not only duties to discharge in connection with the endowment, but he has a beneficial interest in the debutter property. As the Judicial Committee observed in the above case, in almost all such endowments the shebait has a share in the usufruct of the debutter property which depends upon the terms of the grant or upon custom or usage. Even where no emoluments are attached to the office of the shebait, he enjoys some sort of right or interest in the endowed property which partially at least has the character of a proprietary right. Thus, in the conception of shebaiti both the elements of office and property, of duties and personal interest, are mixed up and blended together; and one of the elements cannot be detached from the other. It is the presence of this personal or beneficial interest in the endowed property which invests shebaitship with the character of proprietary rights and attaches to it the legal incidents of property."

253. A Constitution Bench of this Court speaking through Chief Justice B K Mukherjea in Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments Madras v Sri Lakshmindra Thirtha Swamiar Of Sri Shirur Mutt161, construed the position of a Matadhipati. Adverting to the earlier decision in Angurbala Mullick, this Court held that as in the case of a shebait so also in a case involving a mahant, both elements of office and property are blended together: -

11. As regards the property rights of a Mathadhipati, it may not be possible to say in view of the pronouncements of the Judicial Committee, which have been accepted as good law in this country ever since 1921, that a Mathadhipati holds the Math property as a life tenant or that his position is similar to that of a Hindu widow in respect to her husband's estate or of an English Bishop holding a benefice. He is certainly not a trustee in the strict sense. He may be, as the Privy Council [ Vide Vidya Varuthi v. Balusami, 48 IA 302] says, a manager or custodian of the institution who has to discharge the duties of a trustee and is answerable as such; but he is not a mere manager and it would not be right to describe Mahantship as a mere office.

A superior of a Math has not only duties to discharge in connection with the endowment but he has a personal interest of a beneficial character which is sanctioned by custom and is much larger than that of a Shebait in the debutter property. It was held by a Full Bench of the Calcutta High Court [ Vide Monahar v. Bhupendra, 60 Cal 452] that Shebaitship itself is property, and this decision was approved of by the Judicial Committee in Ganesh v. Lal Behary [63 IA 448] and again in Bhabatarini v. Ashalata [70 IA 57]. The effect of the first two decisions, as the Privy Council pointed out in the last case, was to emphasise the proprietary element in the Shebaiti right and to show that though in some respects an anomaly, it was an anomaly to be accepted as having been admitted into Hindu law from an early date.

This view was adopted in its entirety by this Court in Angurbala v. Debabrata [1951 SCR 1125] and what was said in that case in respect to Shebaiti right could, with equal propriety, be applied to the office of a Mahant. Thus, in the conception of Mahantship, as in Shebaitship, both the elements of office and property, of duties and personal interest are blended together and neither can be detached from the other.

The personal or beneficial interest of the Mahant in the endowments attached to an institution is manifested in his large powers of disposal and administration and his right to create derivative tenures in respect to endowed properties; and these and other rights of a similar character invest the office of the Mahant with the character of proprietary right which, though anomalous to some extent, is still a genuine legal right. It is true that the Mahantship is not heritable like ordinary property, but that is because of its peculiar nature and the fact that the office is generally held by an ascetic, whose connection with his natural family being completely cut off, the ordinary rules of succession do not apply." The claim of Nirmohi Akhara for management and charge therefore rests on its assertion of being a shebait. In the case of a shebait as the above decisions authoritatively explained, the elements of office and of a proprietary interest are blended together.

The Suit by Nirmohi Akhara was a suit for restoration of management and charge so as to enable the Akhara to have the benefit of the usufruct in the discharge of its obligations towards the deity. The suit was therefore not a suit for possession within the meaning of Article 142. Despite the ingenuity of counsel in seeking to expand the nature and ambit of the suit, we are categorically of the view that written submissions filed in the appeal cannot be a valid basis to reconfigure the nature of the suit. The suit has to be read on the basis of the original plaint in the trial court. Despite the amendment to the plaint in Suit 3, the relief as it stands does not bring it within the ambit of Article 142. It may also be noted at this stage that during the course of the submissions, Mr S K Jain, clarified that Nirmohi Akhara by using the expression -belongs to"is not claiming title or ownership to the property. The Suit by Nirmohi Akhara is not a suit for possession. Hence, neither Article 142 nor Article 144 has any application.

254. In Ramiah v N Narayana Reddy162, a two judge Bench of this Court elaborated on the distinction between Articles 142 and 144 of the Limitation Act 1908 (corresponding to Articles 64 and 65 of the Limitation Act 1963) thus: -9…Article 64 of the Limitation Act, 1963 (Article 142 of the Limitation Act, 1908) is restricted to suits for possession on dispossession or discontinuance of possession. In order to bring a suit within the purview of that article, it must be shown that the suit is in terms as well as in substance based on the allegation of the plaintiff having been in possession and having subsequently lost the possession either by dispossession or by discontinuance. Article 65 of the Limitation Act, 1963 (Article 144 of the Limitation Act, 1908), on the other hand, is a residuary article applying to suits for possession not otherwise provided for. Suits based on the plaintiff's title in which there is no allegation of prior possession and subsequent dispossession alone can fall within Article 65.

The question whether the article of limitation applicable to a particular suit is Article 64 or Article 65, has to be decided by reference to pleadings." There is a fundamental reason why the Suit instituted by Nirmohi Akhara is not maintainable, quite apart from the bar of limitation. Nirmohi Akhara sought a relief simpliciter of the handing over of management and charge of the Janmasthan by the receiver to it. The receiver was appointed by the Magistrate in the proceedings under Section 145. The Magistrate who attached the property holds it for the true owner who obtains an adjudication of rights before the court of competent jurisdiction. Nirmohi Akhara sought no declaration of its status or rights. It merely sought a decree against a Magistrate for the handing over of management and charge. It had to seek relief against someone interested in opposing its claim and by getting its own right adjudicated. Instead, without doing so, it merely sought a decree for the handing over of management and charge against the Magistrate. Such a suit was indeed not maintainable.

255. Once it has been held that neither Article 47 nor Article 142 is attracted, Suit 3 filed by Nirmohi Akhara is governed by the provisions of Article 120, the residuary article in the Limitation Act 1908. The period of limitation under Article 120 is six years. Nirmohi Akhara claims that the cause of action arose on 5 January 1950. The suit was instituted on 17 December 1959. Hence, the suit is outside the prescribed period of limitation and is barred. Continuing wrong 256. The alternate submission which has been urged on behalf of the Nirmohi Akhara by Mr S K Jain is based on the provisions of Section 23 of the Limitation Act 1908. It is submitted that the denial or obstruction of Nirmohi Akhara's 'absolute' shebait rights of management and charge is a continuing wrong and by virtue of Section 23, a fresh cause of action arose every day. Section 23 reads as follows: -23. Continuing breaches and wrongs. - In the case of a continuing breach of contract and in the case of a continuing wrong independent of contract, a fresh period of limitation begins to run at every moment of the time during which the breach or the wrong, as the case may be, continues."

257. The contention of Mr S K Jain is that upon the order of attachment, the charge and management, along with property related rights of the Janmasthan temple have been taken over and are the subject matter of Suit 3. This, it is urged, constitutes a continuing wrong so long as they are not restored. In this context, reliance has been placed on the decision of the Privy Council in Sir Seth Hukum Chand v Maharaj Bahadur Singh163, in support of the submission that obstruction of prayer and worship is a continuing wrong. The submission is that the obstruction of the plaintiffs' right to manage the bhog and prayers independently, as a result of the appointment of a receiver is a continuing wrong within the meaning of Section 23 and hence, every act of obstruction provides a fresh cause of action and a fresh starting point for limitation.

258. The decision in Hukum Chand, involved a contest between the Swetambari and Digambari Jain sects over the right of worship of Parasnath hill. The Swetambaris acquired the proprietary rights of the Raja of Palgunj in the hill by purchase. They commenced the construction of dwellings for watchmen on the top of the hill and for other temple employees, besides constructing dharamsalas. This was objected to by the Digambaris who instituted a suit against the Swetambaris claiming that the entire hill was sacred. There were Charans in the old shrines containing impressions of the footprints of saints, bearing a lotus mark. The Swetambaris evolved another form of Charan which was opposed by the Digambaris who refused to worship it as being a representation of a detached part of the human body. Both the lower courts held that the action of placing the Charans in the shrines was wrong in respect of which the Digambaris were entitled to complain. One of the questions which arose before the Privy Council was in regard to the finding of the Subordinate judge that the suit brought by the Digambaris was within limitation. In that context, Sir John Wallis delivering the judgment of the Privy Council held: -As regards limitation the Subordinate Judge held on rather insufficient grounds that the acts complained of took place within six years of suit so that this part of the claim could not be barred by Article 120, but he also held that it could not be barred under that article as it was a continuing wrong, as to which under section 23 of the Limitation Act a fresh period begins to run at every moment of the day on which the wrong continues. The High Court on the other hand were of opinion that it was not a continuing wrong and that the claim was barred under article 120.

In their Lordships' opinion the Subordinate Judge was right in holding that the acts complained of were a continuing wrong and consequently that this part of the claim is not barred. This question is covered by the decision of this Board in Rajrup Koer v. Abul Hossein [(1880) I.L.R. 6 Cal. 394 : L.R. 7 I.A. 240.] , of diverting an artificial water course and cutting off the watersupply of the plaintiff's lower lying lands." 259. The above extract has been relied upon in support of the submission that a deprivation of the right to worship is a continuing wrong. Significantly, the Privy Council relied upon its earlier decision in Maharani Rajroop Koer v Syed Abul Hossein164 which involved an asserted right to an artificial water-course by cutting of the water supply of the lands belonging to the plaintiffs.

In Maharani Rajroop Koer, the Privy Council held, speaking through Sir Montague E Smith, that obstructions which interfered with the flow of water to the plaintiff were in the nature of continuing nuisances: -If the Judges really meant to apply the limitation of Article 34 above referred to, their decision is clearly wrong; for the obstructions which interfered with the flow of water to the Plaintiff's mehal were in the nature of continuing nuisances, as to which the cause of action was renewed de die in diem so long as the obstructions causing such interference were allowed to continue. Indeed, sect. 24 of the statute contains express provision to that effect."

260. The notion of what constitutes a continuing wrong has evolved through the decisions of this Court, depending on the factual context involved in each case. The decision of two judges in State of Bihar v Deokaran Nenshi165, dealt with the provisions of Sections 66 and 79 of the Mines Act 1952. Section 66 provides a penalty for an omission to file a return which may extend to Rs. 1000/-. However, Section 79 stipulates that no court shall take cognizance of any offence unless a complaint is filed within six months from the date of the alleged commission of offence or within six months from the date on which the alleged commission of offence came to the knowledge of the inspector, whichever is later. However, the explanation stipulates that if the offence is a continuing offence, the limitation shall be computed with reference to every point of time during which the offence continued.

Under regulation 3, annual returns in the preceding year were required to be filed on or before the twenty-first day of January each year. Dealing with the question of limitation, this Court considered whether an offence involving a failure to file a return is covered by the substantive part of Section 79 (in which case the complaint was time barred) or by the explanation, involving a continuing offence. Justice J M Shelat, speaking for the Bench observed: -5. A continuing offence is one which is susceptible of continuance and is distinguishable from the one which is committed once and for all. It is one of those offences which arises out of a failure to obey or comply with a rule or its requirement and which involves a penalty, the liability for which continues until the rule or its requirement is obeyed or complied with. On every occasion that such disobedience or non-compliance occurs and reoccurs, there is the offence committed. The distinction between the two kinds of offences is between an act or omission which constitutes an offence once and for all and an act or omission which continues, and therefore, constitutes a fresh offence every time or occasion on which it continues."

The Court held that the infringement occurred upon the failure to file annual returns on or before January 21 of the relevant year and was complete on the owner failing to furnish the annual returns by that day. The Court held that the provision does not stipulate that the owner or manager would be guilty if he continues to carry on the mine without furnishing the returns or that the offence continues until the requirement of regulation 3 is complied with. In other words: -9...As in the case of a construction of a wall in violation of a rule of a bye-law of a local body, the offence would be complete once and for all as soon as such construction is made, a default occurs in furnishing the returns by the prescribed date." 261. Another decision of a two judge of this Court in Commissioner of Wealth Tax, Amritsar v Suresh Seth166, was based on the provisions of the Wealth Tax Act. Section 18(1)(a) provided for the levy of a penalty for failure to file a return of net-wealth without reasonable cause.

The issue before this Court was whether the default in filing a return amounts to a continuing wrong. Justice E S Venkataramiah (as the learned Chief Justice then was) speaking for this Court held: -

11. A liability in law ordinarily arises out of an act of commission or an act of omission. When a person does an act, which law prohibits him from doing it and attaches a penalty for doing it, he is stated to have committed an act of commission which amounts to a wrong in the eye of law. Similarly, when a person omits to do an act which is required by law to be performed by him and attaches a penalty for such omission, he is said to have committed an act of omission which is also a wrong in the eye of law. Ordinarily a wrongful act or failure to perform an act required by law to be done becomes a completed act of commission or of omission, as the case may be, as soon as the wrongful act is committed in the former case and when the time prescribed by law to perform an act expires in the latter case and the liability arising therefrom gets fastened as soon as the act of commission or of omission is completed." This Court made a distinction between a continuing wrong and a wrong or default which is complete when it is committed in the following observations: -

11...The distinctive nature of a continuing wrong is that the law that is violated makes the wrongdoer continuously liable for penalty. A wrong or default which is complete but whose effect may continue to be felt even after its completion is, however, not a continuing wrong or default." Dealing with the provisions of the statute, this Court held that the default is only one which takes place on the expiry of the last date of filing a return and is not a continuing wrong. Consequently, the default does not give rise to a fresh cause of action every day. Indicating in the following passage illustrations of continuing wrongs, the Court held: -

17. The true principle appears to be that where the wrong complained of is the omission to perform a positive duty requiring a person to do a certain act the test to determine whether such a wrong is a continuing one is whether the duty in question is one which requires him to continue to do that act. Breach of a covenant to keep the premises in good repair, breach of a continuing guarantee, obstruction to a right of way, obstruction to the right of a person to the unobstructed flow of water, refusal by a man to maintain his wife and children whom he is bound to maintain under law and the carrying on of mining operations or the running of a factory without complying with the measures intended for the safety and well-being of workmen may be illustrations of continuing breaches or wrongs giving rise to civil or criminal liability, as the case may be, de die in diem." In the view of this Court, non-performance of any of the acts mentioned in Section 18(1)(a) gives rise to a single breach and to a single penalty, the measure of which however relates to the time lag between the last date on which the return has to be filed and the date on which it is actually filed.

262. The provisions of another revenue statute, the Income Tax Act 1961 came up for consideration before a three judge Bench of this Court in Maya Rani Punj v CIT167. In this case, Section 271(1)(a) of the Income Tax Act 1961 entailed imposing a penalty for filing late returns. The penalty was imposable not only for the first default but as long as the default continued. The assessee filed its return more than seven months after the due date. The three judge Bench disapproved of the decision in Suresh Seth. Justice Sabyasachi Mukherji (as the learned Chief Justice then was) held that the default continued so long as a return was not filed and was hence a continuing wrong: -

19. The imposition of penalty not confined to the first default but with reference to the continued default is obviously on the footing that non-compliance with the obligation of making a return is an infraction as long as the default continued. Without sanction of law no penalty is imposable with reference to the defaulting conduct. The position that penalty is imposable not only for the first default but as long as the default continues and such penalty is to be calculated at a prescribed rate on monthly basis is indicative of the legislative intention in unmistakable terms that as long as the assessee does not comply with the requirements of law he continues to be guilty of the infraction and exposes himself to the penalty provided by law." 263. The application of the principle of continuing wrong in the context of service jurisprudence came up before a two judge Bench of this Court in Union of India v Tarsem Singh168. In that case, the respondent was invalidated out of the Indian Army on medical grounds in November 1983.

He approached the High Court in 1999 seeking disability pension. The High Court issued a mandamus for the payment of disability pension but restricted it to a period of 38 months prior to the institution of the writ petition. The claim of the respondent however was that disability pension should be granted with effect from November 1983 which was allowed by the Division Bench of the High Court in a Letters Patent Appeal. In a challenge before this Court to the above decision of the Division Bench of the High Court, Justice R V Raveendran, speaking for the two judge Bench, observed that to the principle that a belated service claim is liable to be rejected on the ground of delay and laches, there is a settled exception in relation to a continuing wrong. However, there is a further exception to the exception where the grievance is in respect of a decision which is liable to affect others in the service prejudicially.

This Court held: -7. To summarise, normally, a belated service-related claim will be rejected on the ground of delay and laches (where remedy is sought by filing a writ petition) or limitation (where remedy is sought by an application to the Administrative Tribunal). One of the exceptions to the said rule is cases relating to a continuing wrong. Where a service-related claim is based on a continuing wrong, relief can be granted even if there is a long delay in seeking remedy, with reference to the date on which the continuing wrong commenced, if such continuing wrong creates a continuing source of injury.

But there is an exception to the exception. If the grievance is in respect of any order or administrative decision which related to or affected several others also, and if the reopening of the issue would affect the settled rights of third parties, then the claim will not be entertained. For example, if the issue relates to payment or re-fixation of pay or pension, relief may be granted in spite of delay as it does not affect the rights of third parties. But if the claim involved issues relating to seniority or promotion, etc., affecting others, delay would render the claim stale and doctrine of laches/limitation will be applied. Insofar as the consequential relief of recovery of arrears for a past period is concerned, the principles relating to recurring/successive wrongs will apply." The High Court in appeal was held not to be justified in directing the payment of arrears for the payment beyond three years before the institution of the writ petition.

264. Many of the above judgments have adverted to a three judge Bench decision in Balakrishna Savalram Pujari Waghmare v Shree Dhyaneshwar Maharaj Sansthan169. The appellants claimed rights of hereditary worshippers in a religious institution and that their ancestors were in possession of a temple and in the management of its affairs including the worship of a shrine. The trustees dismissed some pujaris for misconduct. Meantime, in 1922, the pujaris obtained forcible possession of the temple. The trustees instituted a suit which resulted in a decree. Possession of the temple was recovered in execution of the decree. Later, the pujaris instituted a suit claiming hereditary rights under the religious institution. In an appeal arising from the decree in the suit, the High Court held that Article 120 of the Limitation Act applied, and the suit had been initiated beyond the period of six years prescribed by the article.

In appeal before this Court, it was urged that the suit was not barred under Article 120 because Section 23 of the Limitation Act applied, the conduct of the trustees being a continuing wrong. While considering the argument, Justice PB Gajendragadkar (as the learned Chief Justice then was) held: -31... In dealing with this argument it is necessary to bear in mind that Section 23 refers not to a continuing right but to a continuing wrong. It is the very essence of a continuing wrong that it is an act which creates a continuing source of injury and renders the doer of the act responsible and liable for the continuance of the said injury. If the wrongful act causes an injury which is complete, there is no continuing wrong even though the damage resulting from the act may continue. If, however, a wrongful act is of such a character that the injury caused by it itself continues, then the act constitutes a continuing wrong. In this connection it is necessary to draw a distinction between the injury caused by the wrongful act and what may be described as the effect of the said injury. It is only in regard to acts which can be properly characterised as continuing wrongs that Section 23 can be invoked."

265. This Court held that the act of the trustees in discontinuing the alleged rights of the appellants as hereditary worshippers and in claiming and obtaining possession from them in the suit in 1922 could not held to be a continuing wrong. The Court held that the decree obtained by the trustees, had effectively and completely injured the rights of the appellants though the damage may have subsequently continued. Upon the execution of the decree, the rights of the appellants were completely injured and though their dispossession continued, it was held not to constitute a continuing wrong. In that context, the Court noted: -We think there can be no doubt that where the wrongful act complained of amounts to ouster, the resulting injury to the right is complete at the date of the ouster and so there would be no scope for the application of Section 23 in such a case. That is the view which the High Court has taken and we see no reason to differ from it." This Court distinguished the decision of the Privy Council in Maharani Rajroop Koer v Syed Abul Hossein170 on the ground that it was a case where a continuing obstruction caused to the flow of water was held to be in the nature of continuing nuisances. Similarly, the decision in Sir Seth Hukum Chand v Maharaj Bahadur Singh171 relied on the earlier decision in Maharani Rajroop Koer. Distinguishing the decision, this Court held that the action which was impugned did not amount to ouster or complete dispossession of the plaintiffs.

266. A continuing wrong, as this Court held in Balakrishna Savalram is an act which creates a continuing source of injury. This makes the doer of the act liable for the continuance of the injury. However, where a wrongful act amounts to an ouster, as in the present case, the resulting injury is complete on the date of the ouster itself. A wrong or default as a result of which the injury is complete is not a continuing wrong or default even though its effect continues to be felt despite its completion.

267. The submission of Nirmohi Akhara is based on the principle of continuing wrong as a defence to a plea of limitation. In assessing the submission, a distinction must be made between the source of a legal injury and the effect of the injury. The source of a legal injury is founded in a breach of an obligation. A continuing wrong arises where there is an obligation imposed by law, agreement or otherwise to continue to act or to desist from acting in a particular manner. The breach of such an obligation extends beyond a single completed act or omission. The breach is of a continuing nature, giving rise to a legal injury which assumes the nature of a continuing wrong. For a continuing wrong to arise, there must in the first place be a wrong which is actionable because in the absence of a wrong, there can be no continuing wrong. It is when there is a wrong that a further line of enquiry of whether there is a continuing wrong would arise. Without a wrong there cannot be a continuing wrong.

A wrong postulates a breach of an obligation imposed on an individual, where positive or negative, to act or desist from acting in a particular manner. The obligation on one individual finds a corresponding reflection of a right which inheres in another. A continuing wrong postulates a breach of a continuing duty or a breach of an obligation which is of a continuing nature. This indeed was the basis on which the three judge Bench in Maya Rani Punj approved the statement in a decision of the Calcutta High Court in the following terms: -In G.D. Bhattar v. State [AIR 1957 Cal 483 : 61 CWN 660 : 1957 Cri LJ 834] it was pointed out that a continuing offence or a continuing wrong is after all a continuing breach of the duty which itself is continuing. If a duty continues from day to day, the non-performance of that duty from day to day is a continuing wrong."

Hence, in evaluating whether there is a continuing wrong within the meaning of Section 23, the mere fact that the effect of the injury caused has continued is not sufficient to constitute it as a continuing wrong. For instance, when the wrong is complete as a result of the act or omission which is complained of, no continuing wrong arises even though the effect or damage that is sustained may enure in the future. What makes a wrong, a wrong of a continuing nature is the breach of a duty which has not ceased but which continues to subsist. The breach of such a duty creates a continuing wrong and hence a defence to a plea of limitation.

268. In the present case, there are several difficulties in accepting the submission of Nirmohi Akhara that there was a continuing wrong.

First and foremost, the purpose and object of the order of the Magistrate under Section 145 is to prevent a breach of peace by securing possession, as the Magistrate finds, on the date of the order. The Magistrate does not adjudicate upon rights nor does the proceeding culminate into a decision on a question of title. The order of the Magistrate is subordinate to the decree or order of a civil court. Hence, to postulate that the order of the Magistrate would give rise to a wrong and consequently to a continuing wrong is inherently fallacious. Secondly, would the surreptitious installation of the idols on the night between 22 and 23 December 1949 create a right in favour of Nirmohi Akhara? Nirmohi Akhara denies the incident completely.

The right which Nirmohi Akhara has to assert cannot be founded on such basis and if there is no right, there can be no corresponding wrong which can furnish the foundation of a continuing wrong. There was no right inhering in Nirmohi Akhara which was disturbed by the order of the Magistrate. The claim of Nirmohi Akhara was in the capacity of a shebait to secure management and charge of the inner courtyard. Nirmohi Akhara has itself pleaded that the cause of action for the suit arose on 5 January 1950. Proceeding on the basis of this assertion, it is evident that the ouster which the Akhara asserts from its role as a shebait had taken place and hence, there was no question of the principle of continuing wrong being attracted.

269. The decision of the Madras High Court in Ellappa Naicken v K Lakshmana Naicken172 is of no assistance to the Nirmohi Akhara. That was a case where during the pendency of the proceedings under Section 145, the Magistrate had passed an order under Section 146 for the appointment of a receiver as the court was unable to satisfy itself as to which of the parties was in possession. The respondents had filed a suit for a declaration of title and possession which was dismissed in default and an application to set aside the order under Order IX of Rule 9 of the CPC was also dismissed. An appeal from the order was also dismissed. Thereafter the petitioner who was the defendant applied for possession before the Magistrate after the dismissal of the suit on the ground that the District Munsif had determined his rights. The Magistrate passed an order holding that there was no declaration by a civil court as to who was entitled to the suit premises and therefore the land would continue in the possession of the receiver.

It is in that context, that the learned Judge held that either party to a decision under Section 146 has to file a suit for declaration of title within the period of limitation or to bring a suit for the recovery of the profits of the land. In such a suit, the question as to who is entitled to the profits will be decided with the result that the question of title would also to be adjudicated. This would operate as res judicata for the purpose of Section 146. These observations were made by the learned Single Judge of the Madras High Court in support of the ruling that it was not as if parties were without remedy, resulting in the property remaining custodia legis for all time. Either party was entitled to bring a suit for recovery of profits within limitation where the question of title would be adjudicated. This decision is of no assistance to the Nirmohi Akhara. Certain decisions have been relied upon by Nirmohi Akhara but these are in regard to the commencement of limitation for the enforcement of a decree by execution.

In Chandi Prasad v Jagdish Prasad173, a two judge Bench of this Court held that an appeal under the statute is a continuation of the suit for all intents and purposes. Hence, when a higher forum entertains an appeal and passes an order on merit, the doctrine of merger applies and there is a merger of the decree of the trial court with the order of the appellate court. Hence, once a decree is sought to be enforced for the purpose of execution, irrespective of being original or appellate, the date of the decree or any subsequent order directing payment of money or delivery of property at a certain date would be considered to be the commencement of limitation. The same principle has been emphasized by a three judge Bench in Union of India v West Coast Paper Mills Ltd.174 and in Shanti v T D Vishwanathan175. The essential issue is whether their suit was within limitation and for the reasons which have been indicated, the answer to that must be in the negative.

M.5 Oral testimony of the Nirmohi witnesses

270. Having held that Suit 3 instituted by Nirmohi Akhara is barred by limitation, it does not strictly speaking become necessary for this Court to deal with the evidence, oral and documentary. Mr Parasaran urged, that unlike the Trial Court, this Court is not required to answer all the questions which arise in the first appeal and if limitation alone concludes the issue it is unnecessary to deal with all the issues in contest. The Trial Court, it was urged, has to deal with all issues since its decision is subject to appeal. Having carefully evaluated this submission, it is appropriate to scrutinize the evidence adduced by Nirmohi Akhara and to render a full adjudication, having regard to the nature of the controversy. The evidence recorded in all the suits has been relied upon during the hearing of the appeals. Hence it becomes necessary to advert to the oral evidence. Nirmohi Akhara has relied on the oral evidence of the following witnesses during the course of the hearing:

271. Mahant Bhaskar Das (DW 3/1): The date of the Examination-in-Chief of the witness is 29 August 2003. He was 75 years of age on the date of the deposition and claimed to be a disciple of Baba Baldeo Das. He was the Sarpanch of Shri Manch Ramanandiya Nirmohi Akhara and prior to it claimed to be a Panch and pujari of the Ram Janmabhumi temple.

The witness stated that:

(i) Nirmohi Akhara is the owner of the idols, the disputed temple, Ram Janmabhumi and other temples in the vicinity for several hundred years;

(ii) The consecration of Lord Ram seated in Ram Janmabhumi temple and Ramchabutra was performed by a Mahant of Nirmohi Akhara;

(iii) This information was passed down to disciples from their old preceptors from generation to generation;

(iv) That he was performing worship and aarti in the Ramchabutra temple from 1946-1949;

(v) Both the inner and outer courtyards have always been in the possession of Nirmohi Akhara, there was a sanctum sanctorum in the inner part of which the attachment was made;

(vi) The entire outer part was in possession of Nirmohi Akhara since time immemorial;

(vii) No incident took place during the night of 22/23 December 1949, when he was asleep below the northern dome of the disputed structure;

(viii) Aarti and worship of Lord Ram was being conducted in the sanctum sanctorum even prior to 29 December 1949 and the inner temple was attached on 19 December 1949;

(ix) After the riot of 1934, no Muslim had visited the disputed site to offer namaz;

(x) No idol was taken from Ramchabutra temple on 22/23 December 1949 and the possession of the disputed temple had all along been with Nirmohi Akhara;

(xi) The servicing rights in respect of the main temple had been with Nirmohi Akhara until 29 December 1949. Nirmohi Akhara had been performing worship of Lord Ram and other idols in the outer premises till the second attachment in February 1982; and

(xii) Lord Ram was seated in the inner part even prior to 1934, which was in continuous possession of Nirmohi Akhara since then. Dr Dhavan, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the Sunni Central Waqf Board, has pointed out the following contradictions in the evidence of the witness: (i) While the witness stated that there was no incident on 22/23 December 1949, and that he was sleeping below the northern dome of the disputed structure, the High Court has recorded the statement of Counsel for Nirmohi Akhara to the effect that the idols were shifted from Ramchabutra and kept under the central dome of the disputed building; and

(ii) The witness initially stated that there were two idols of Ram Lalla in the disputed building; one on the throne and one on the stairs but he subsequently clarified that by two idols he meant one of Ram Lalla and another of Lakshman. Moreover, the witness claims that he had himself performed Aarti of Lord Ram inside the disputed site prior to its attachment on 29 December 1949 in spite of which he was not able to make any statement in regard to the number of idols inside the disputed structure. Moreover, while on the one hand, the witness stated that the parikrama was at the back of the disputed structure later on he stated that parikrama was being performed around Ramchabutra.

272. The testimony of the witness on certain other aspects also merits scrutiny. The witness stated that Babri Masjid was built in 1528 by demolishing the Ram Janmabhumi temple. Then he stated that: -Since the buildings built by Vikramaditya were 2500 years old, they collapsed on their own and the Janmbhumi temple was demolished in the year 1528. The building which was demolished in the year 1528, was originally built by Vikramaditya." The witness stated that the building of a Ram Janmabhumi temple by Vikramaditya and the construction of the disputed structure in 1528 upon the demolition of the temple was what he heard from his ancestors and was not read by him anywhere. According to the witness, worship in the mosque had been continuing by the Hindus before 1934.

According to him, the idols had been installed prior to 1934 but he was unaware by whom they were installed. The witness then stated: -I had heard it from my ancestors that the idols existed over there from before the year 1934. I will also not be able to tell how many years after the construction of the three domed disputed structure i.e. after the year 1528, were the idols installed in the disputed structure." According to the witness, in 1946, the gates of the grill-brick wall were opened for devotees and the temple used to remain open. He stated that namaz was not offered in the disputed structure till December 1949. As regards the incident on 22/23 December 1949, the witness has the following explanation: -No incident occurred in the disputed structure in the night of 22/23 December, 1949.

If somebody claims that some incidents occurred in the disputed structure in the night of 22/23 December, 1949, then he is stating wrongly. In the night of 22/23 December, 1949 I was present in the disputed premises. I go to bed at 11.30 PM and get up at 4.30 AM. I must have slept so in that night i.e. in the night of 22/23 December, 1949. At that time i.e. in that night, I had slept at the place beneath the dome." The ignorance which the witness feigns of the incident is evident. The deposition of the witness assumes importance because he was the Panch of Nirmohi Akhara since 1950 and was at the material time the Sarpanch. His evidence has several contradictions. He stated: -This throne existed in the disputed structure from before the year 1950. This throne was present in the disputed structure, from ten years before the year 1950. This throne was in the disputed structure in the year 1950, but it had not been attached." On the other hand, the witness stated: -Before 1986, the throne, visible in these photographs, did not exist at the disputed site.

This throne may have been placed in the disputed building after its lock was opened in 1986." The witness then admitted that he had referred to two idols of Lord Ram when there was only one idol of Lord Ram and one of Lakshman. As regards the idols at Ramchabutra, the witness stated that they were installed during Akbar's reign. While on the one hand, the witness stated that namaz had never been offered in the mosque since the days of Babur, on the other hand, when he deposed about the idol of Ram Lalla in the disputed structure, he stated that it was prior to 1934 but the exact date and period was not known to him. According to the witness, the idol of Ram Lalla seated on the throne was a chal – vigrah or moveable idol. Much of the evidence of the witness is hearsay in nature. His statements are based on what has been communicated to him by others. The explanation of the witness that he was asleep in the disputed premises on 22/23 December 1949 and that no incident had taken place is a figment of his imagination. The statement that the idols of Ram Lalla have been placed in the disputed structure much prior to 1934 is unworthy of credence.

273. Raja Ram Pandey (DW 3/2): The date of the Examination-in-Chief of the witness is 22 September 2003. The witness stated that he was 87 years old at the time of deposition and that he had come to Ayodhya in 1930 since when he claimed to have been visited the Ram Janmabhumi temple. The witness stated that:

(i) He had seen the Nirmohi Akhara Aarti prior to the attachment of the inner courtyard;

(ii) The duty of opening and closing the gates of the outer courtyard was performed by Nirmohi Akhara;

(iii) No Muslims were allowed to enter from the outer gate between 1930-1949 and he was able to view the inner part of the sanctum sanctorum where some idols had been engraved; and

(iv) Ever since his arrival until the date of attachment, the premises have never been used as a mosque. Dr Dhavan has during the course of his submissions emphasized the following aspects of the cross-examination:

(i) The witness has accepted that earlier the Chabutra was known as Janmabhumi temple;

(ii) The witness was unaware as to when the disputed structure with three domes was built and who had got it built; he had no knowledge as to when and who had installed the idols inside the disputed structure; and (iii) The witness was unaware as to when and by whom Nirmohi Akhara was made the owner of Ram Janmabhumi temple. The witness stated during the course of his examination that he was hearing of the Babri mosque since 1949 but he was unaware where in Ayodhya it is or was situated. He stated that he came to know later from the cross-examination that the building which he called the Ram Janmabhumi temple is called the Babri mosque by Muslims. Though, he stated he had held meetings with Muslims in 1992-93, he stated he was not informed by any of them that the mosque has been demolished on 6 December 1992.

On his own ability to recall events, the witness stated: -I have grown 87 years old and my discretion does not work in a proper manner. For this reason, I fail to remember which particular thing I stated at a particular time. Of the aforesaid statements, the above mentioned statement given by me today is correct; I have wrongly given the statement dated 30.09.2003." The witness deposed that he had no knowledge of who had installed the idols in the three domed disputed structure but claimed to have been seeing them ever since he was visiting it. While on the one hand, the witness admitted to the weakness of his memory, he purported to depose to what had taken place in 1930, 73 years earlier when he visited the disputed structure for darshan. According to him, his father had stated that the pillars contained images of Lord Hanuman.

274. Satya Narain Tripathi (DW 3/3): The Examination-in-Chief of the witness was on 30 October 2003 when he was 72 years old. The witness stated that he had first visited the Ram Janmabhumi temple in 1941 when he was ten years old and had been continuously visiting since then. The witness stated that no namaz was offered at the disputed site nor had any Muslims offered prayer. Though, the witness stated that he has been continuously visiting the disputed structure, when asked about the physical features, he stated that he never saw any part of the disputed structure with much attention. The witness expressed ignorance about whether certain individuals had entered the mosque and placed idols on the night of 23 December 1949.

The High Court has noted that most of the statements of this witness are on assumption and hearsay. While on the one hand, he referred to the idols which were placed on the sinhasan in the disputed structure which remained there from 1941-1992, he later retracted the statement when shown the photographs and stated that it was not clear to him when he used to visit and in what manner the idols were kept.

275. Mahant Shiv Saran Das (DW 3/4): The witness was examined on 14 November 2003. He was 83 years old. He stated that he had been going for darshan to Shri Ram Janmabhumi since 1933 and had darshan of Lord Ram inside the sanctum sanctorum until attachment in 1949. Dr Dhavan, learned Senior Counsel appearing for the Sunni Central Waqf Board, has emphasized the following aspects of the testimony of this witness:

(i) The witness submitted that he had read his affidavit of evidence only cursorily and had not read it completely;

(ii) Though the witness stated that when he visited the disputed site in 1936, there were no walls or iron-bars, it is relevant to note that grill-brick wall was placed in 1856-57 to separate the inner and the outer courtyards; and

(iii) Though, in the course of his Examination-in-Chief, the witness stated that he had taken darshan of the inner sanctum sanctorum until its attachment in 1949, during his cross-examination he stated that he had not visited the disputed building before 1986. On the above basis, it is urged that as a matter of fact, the witness has not visited the disputed site at the material time. On his residence in Ayodhya, the witness stated: -I did not reside at Ayodhya from 1938 to 1950 but whenever I came to Ayodhya I did not go towards the disputed site and if I at all went there I returned from outside after saluting the place with folded hands." The witness stated that he was a priest at the disputed structure which he must have visited several hundred times. However, he did not remember the year in which he was a priest. During the course of his cross-examination, the witness stated that he was a priest at the three domed structure for -2-4 years" but later admitted that his statement was wrong: -

Question: As per the aforesaid statement of your own, you have been at Ayodhya continuously for only 5-6 months between 1931 and 1957. Is it true?

Answer: Yes, Sir. It is true. Question: Then I have to say that your statement dated 5th February, 2004 – mentioned on page 74 and reading as 'You served as a priest at the three domed disputed building for 2- 4 years' – goes wrong. What have you to say in this respect? Answer: Going through the aforesaid the witness stated – this statement of mine has gone wrong." Later, he admitted that his statement in the Examination-in-Chief that he was going for darshan to the Ram Janmabhumi since 1933 contained a wrong reference to the year. Moreover, the witness accepted that he did not remember whether or not he had visited the disputed building before February 1986. The witness also stated that he had wrongly made a reference to his residing in Ayodhya continuously from 1930-42. 276. Raghunath Prasad Pandey (DW 3/5): The Examination-in-Chief of the witness is dated 18 November 2003. The witness was 73 years old when he deposed. According to him, the Ram Janmabhumi temple is about 16 or 17 kilometres from his village and he has visited it since the age of 7.

277. The following aspects of the cross-examination have been emphasized by Dr Dhavan:

(i) The witness had no knowledge of whether the pictures were of the west side wall or the lower portion of the middle dome of the disputed building because he had gone for darshan and had not paid careful attention to the walls; (ii) Though, he had seen the grill-brick wall, he did not remember if one had to pass through the barricades to enter the disputed structure; and

(iii) Though the witness claimed to have visited Ayodhya with his mother from 1937-1948, and that the idols of Lord Ram Lalla were inside the building under the central dome, he subsequently contradicted himself when confronted with various photographs.

The High Court has noted that most of his statements travelled into antiquity and were inadmissible since he had no personal knowledge of the facts. When questioned about the source of his knowledge, he stated that he had heard stories from his teachers. Initially, the witness stated that the three domed structure was constructed by Vikramaditya. He then stated that the building constructed by Vikramaditya was demolished and the disputed building was constructed. Though, he attributed this information to the Ayodhya Mahatmya, counsel for Nirmohi Akhara conceded before the High Court that the document does not mention that the building was constructed by Vikramaditya and was demolished after which the disputed structure was constructed. Though, the witness had served in the Indian Railways from 1948-1988, he claimed to have heard the name of Babri mosque for the first time on 18 November 2003.

278. Sri Sita Ram Yadav (DW 3/6): The date of the Examination-in-Chief of the witness is 6 January 2004. The witness stated that he was born in 1943 and that he attained the age of understanding in 1951 when he was 8 years of age. The statements of this witness were therefore not relevant to the controversy since his factual knowledge pertains to the period after 1951. This witness was born in 1943 and had no personal knowledge of the facts up to December 1949. The evidence of the witness was hearsay in nature.

279. Mahant Ramji Das (DW 3/7): The following aspects of the testimony have been emphasized by Dr Dhavan: (i) The witness accepted that the disputed building was built by Emperor Babur but he stated that it was constructed as Sita Pak but not as a mosque, which is contrary to the stand of Nirmohi Akhara in its written statement;

(ii) According to the witness, the disputed temple was constructed after the demolition of Janmasthan Mandir by Emperor Babur by way of Goodar Baba (which is not the pleaded case of any of the Hindu Parties); and

(iii) Babur got 'Sita Pak' written on the disputed building because he was unable to construct the mosque because Hanumanji would demolish the structure whenever an attempt was made to build a mosque. As to his own personal knowledge, the witness stated: -I cannot definitely tell as to on how many occasions had I gone to Ayodhya between the years 1934 to 1948. I do not remember as to what was my age, when I visited Ayodhya between the years 1934 to 1948. When I had gone along with my father. I do not remember as to when did I first go to Ayodhya after the year 1934, but when I first went to Ayodhya after the year 1934, I stayed for 3-4 days." Contrary to the stand of the Nirmohi Akhara, he stated that the disputed structure was built by Babur, though in the shape of Sita Pak: -The disputed structure, which was demolished on 6th December, 1992, was built by Babar in the shape of 'Sita Pak', (and) not in shape of mosque... In the period of Akbar, Muslims had the permission to offer Jumma namaz in the disputed structure and for the remaining period, Hindus were permitted to carry out prayer-worship. It is not found in literature or history as to whether in the period between Babar to Akbar, namaz was offered by Muslims in the disputed structure or not, or whether the prayer-worship of Lord Rama was carried out or not.

To the best of my knowledge and as told to me, namaz was never offered in the disputed structure after the riot of the year 1934 and instead prayer-worship was regularly carried out over there in the later days. As per my knowledge, which is based on hearsay, the Jumma namaz was offered at the disputed structure from the times of Akbar till the year 1934. Namaz was not offered on other days." Eventually, the witness stated that he had not read his affidavit by way of Examination-in-Chief at the time of signing it and had read it in the court room.

280. Pt Shyam Sundar Mishra (DW 3/8): He was born in 1914 and stated that Ram Janmabhumi is situated at a distance of less than 400 yards from his house. He was 90 years old at the time of deposing.

281. The following aspects of the testimony of the witness have been emphasised by Dr Dhavan:

(i) The statement of the witness that the central dome is swayambhu is against the pleaded case of Nirmohi Akhara;

(ii) According to the witness, in 1992 the dome of the janmasthan temple came down due to its antiquity and due to lack of proper maintenance; and

(iii) While deposing, the witness seems to distinguish between Ramchabutra temple and the -three dome temple" and stated that it was the Ramchabutra temple which was in the ownership of Nirmohi Akhara and remained silent about the management and ownership of the -three domed temple". The witness stated that he had no knowledge about the observance or nonobservance of worship at the disputed site before he attained the age of 14 years.

282. Sri Ram Ashrey Yadav (DW 3/9): The Examination-in-Chief of the witness was recorded on 22 March 2004 when he was 72 years of age. He claims to reside in close proximity to the Ram Janmabhumi temple.

283. Dr Dhavan has submitted that this witness is completely unaware of what is stated in his Examination-in-Chief, which needs to be completely disregarded for the following reasons:

(i) In the course of his cross-examination, the witness admitted that while he had no knowledge of what was written in his affidavit, he cannot recollect what exactly was written though it was read out to him;

(ii) The answers which he has furnished maybe right or wrong and that his memory had been affected;

(iii) He was unaware whether the main affidavit was typed in Faizabad or Lucknow;

(iv) He had visited the sanctum sanctorum for darshan even before 22/23 December 1949 and the statement that an idol was placed on those dates was untrue; and

(v) The witness was unaware whether the dates 22/23 December pertained to the year 1949 or not. Though, the affidavit was prepared merely ten months earlier, the witness was unable to recollect anything from the document. He was unaware of the history of Nirmohi Akhara and had no knowledge whether the disputed shrine was attached. This witness stated that he was unaware of the contents of his affidavit by way of Examination-in-Chief: -Today, I have filed an affidavit in this Court. I was not able to read on my own as to what was written in the affidavit filed by me.

This affidavit was read out to me by the 'Munshi' (advocate clerk), but I do not remember his name. I had only put my signature on the affidavit after hearing the same, but I do not know about its contents. This affidavit ran into three or four pages." Later, he stated that his mind was not functioning properly for eight to ten months and his memory had become weak.

He stated: -I do not recollect whether the facts mentioned in this paragraph, had been got incorporated by me or not. ... In second and third line of this paragraph, I have mentioned that 'the placement of idols in the 'Garbh-grih' portion on 22-23 December, is totally wrong'. I do not remember whether this fact is related to the incident of 1949 or not. In this very paragraph, I have also mentioned that 'few local Muslims. ... got the forged action taken'. I do not recollect as to in which behalf, was this forged action. Stated on his own that I cannot tell whether the forged action mentioned by me was related to the incident of year 1934 or not."

284. Sri Pateshwari Dutt Pandey (DW 3/10): The Examination-in-Chief of the witness is dated 23 March 2004. The witness who was 74 years of age stated that he was the local commissioner who performed a site survey in relation to another case (Nirmohi Akhara v Ram Lakhan Sharan Das – Suit 9 of 1973). Dr Dhavan has adverted to the following points in regard to the testimony to the witness:

(i) Though, his report marks the existence of a Mandir at the disputed site, he accepted that the word 'Mandir' had been inserted by him at the behest of certain other persons. He did not know whether the place was Babri Masjid or otherwise and stated that he had written what was informed to him by others; and (ii) Consequently, the report of the witness cannot be relied upon to establish that the disputed structure was a temple as he marked it as a temple only on the suggestion of others. These admissions of the witness cast serious doubt on his credibility.

285. Sri Bhanu Pratap Singh (DW 3/11): The Examination-in-Chief of this witness was recorded on 28 April 2004 when he was 70 years of age. He claimed to be visiting the Ram Janmabhumi temple since the age of 10. The witness stated that his memory is weak. He was unable to state whether any other temple apart from the Ram Janmabhumi temple is related to Nirmohi Akhara. When confronted with his Examination-in-Chief, he stated: -The portion 'temples all around' of my above statement, is wrong because temples were only on two sides... In this behalf, I cannot give any reason for making wrong statement. I forget few facts due to which such statements are made. By forgetting, I mean that I do not remember those facts at that time."

286. Sri Ram Akshaibar Pandey (DW 3/12): The Examination-in-Chief was recorded on 25 May 2004. The witness who was 70 years of age stated that he was visiting the Ram Janmabhumi temple since the age of 12. The following aspects of the testimony of the witness are significant:

(i) The witness admitted that his information about the disputed structure had been gathered from his grandfather;

(ii) Though, in his Examination-in-Chief, he stated that he used to do the parikrama, in the course of his cross-examination, he stated that he had never seen the three domes from behind the structure;

(iii) The witness stated that he had not performed the parikrama of the Ram Janmabhumi but of Ramchabutra;

(iv) According to the witness, he was informed by the villagers that the Ram Janmabhumi in which Ram Lalla was present had collapsed as it was old; and

(v) The witness stated that he neither read nor heard about who had constructed the disputed structure with three domes. The witness eventually accepted the weakness of his own memory rendering him unreliable.

287. Mahant Ram Subhag Shashtri (DW 3/13): The Examination-in-Chief was recorded on 25 May 2004. The witness was 86 years of age and stated that he had come to Ayodhya in 1933 and his guru was connected to Nirmohi Akhara. The following aspects of the testimony of witness are relevant:

(i) The witness stated that there was a disturbance on the night of 22/23 December 1949 in the disputed structure and though he was not aware about the arrangements which were made on that night, it transpired that new idols were installed;

(ii) As regards the construction of the mosque, the witness stated: -Babar had built the mosque by demolishing the structure of temple, but he was unable to make it a mosque completely. 14 pillars were fixed in this structure, which had idols engraved over them, and as such it became a place of idol."

(iii) The witness stated that possibly facts pertaining to the period after 1933- 34 had vanished from his memory. The statement of the witness that the idols were installed in the disputed structure on the night of 22/23 December 1949 is contrary to the case of Nirmohi Akhara. According to Nirmohi Akhara, there never existed any mosque at the disputed site and all along there was a temple which was in its management, and that no incident had taken place on 22/23 December 1949.

288. Jagad Guru Ramanandacharya Swami Haryacharya (DW 3/14): The Examination-in-Chief was recorded on 23 July 2004 when the witness was 69 years old. He was the head of Ramanand Sampradaya since 1985-86. He came to Ayodhya in 1949 at the age of 10. According to him, he had seen the idol of Ram Lalla inside the disputed structure under the central dome as well as outside at Ramchabutra. The witness deposed when he first had darshan from a distance of 15 feet, it was not from under the dome but from the courtyard. The witness had no information whether namaz was offered in the disputed structure before he came to Ayodhya.

The witness did not rule out the possibility that the idols were placed inside the disputed structure in 1949, when he stated: -It is possible that in the dispute that occurred in 1949 and in the incident in which idol had been placed in the disputed building, the local Hindus of Ayodhya had no role; rather, outsider ascetic saints were responsible for the same."

289. Narendra Bahadur Singh (DW 3/15): The Examination-in-Chief was recorded on 17 August 2004. The witness was 72 years of age. According to him, when he was 11 years old, he went to Ram Janmabhumi with his parents and saw the idol of Ram Lalla seated under the central dome. He claimed that since the age of 15, he was going alone to the temple until demolition. Dr Dhavan has adverted to the following points in regard to the testimony of the witness:

(i) The witness needs to be completely disregarded for having furnished varied time periods of when he commenced visiting the disputed site. Though, he stated in his Examination-in-Chief that he first visited at the age of 11, in his cross-examination, he stated that he had seen the Nirmohis managing the disputed structure since the age of 5-6 years and 8-9 years;

(ii) Regarding his statement that he had never seen any namaz at the disputed site, he stated that he was not there at the site and hence could not see whether namaz was being conducted; and

(iii) The witness denied the existence of the Janmasthan Mandir on the north side which has been accepted by Nirmohi Akhara in its replication.

290. Shiv Bhikh Singh (DW 3/16): The witness was 79 years of age on the date on which his affidavit, by way of Examination-in-Chief, dated 24 August 2004 was sworn. He claimed that he had been visiting Ram Janmabhumi temple since the age of 12 and had seen the idol of Lord Ram under the central dome. The witness stated that the idol of Ram Lalla was situated in the Ram Janmabhumi temple and there were three caves. He denied that the idols were placed in the disputed structure on 23 December 1949. According to him, the idols existed at the disputed structure even before his forefathers. The witness spoke about darshan in the three domed structure where the idol existed but stated that circumambulation was performed inside the grill-brick wall. According to him there was no place called Sita Rasoi in the disputed premises. The witness also stated that when he had first gone to the three domed structure, he had not been exactly under the central dome and that he had taken darshan from the gate in the front of the lower side of the dome.

291. Sri Mata Badal Tewari (DW 3/17): The witness was 84 years of age on the date of his Examination-in-Chief dated 31 August 2004. He claimed that he had visited the Ram Janmabhumi temple for the first time in 1935 at the age of 15 and has visited Ayodhya since then. The witness had no knowledge about the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya or where it is situated. He however stated that he heard of the mosque. The lack of awareness of this witness about the mosque is contradicted by his account of the riots of 1934: -I have mentioned about the riot of Ayodhya. This riot occurred in the year 1934. Some part of the disputed structure had been damaged at that time. Those domes were damaged by many people. The damagers were followers of Hindu religion." If, according to the witness, the persons who damaged the domes in 1934 were Hindus by religion, it is impossible to accept his lack of awareness about the existence of the mosque.

292. Sri Acharya Mahant Bansidhar Das (DW 3/18): The witness who was born in 1905, stated that he had come to Ayodhya in 1930. He was 99 years of age on the date of his Examination-in-Chief on 15 September 2004. He stated that he was continuously visiting the disputed structure and worshipping idols in the inner courtyard. The following aspects of the testimony of this witness need to be noted:

(i) The witness deposed that Ramchabutra is also called Bedi and the word can be used for a small or large Chabutra;

(ii) The witness stated that there is no harm in telling a lie if there is a religious place and if someone is acquiring it through wrong means or forcibly occupying it;

(iii) The witness admitted that his memory was not good due to age;

(iv) The witness had given testimony in about two hundred suits. The witness had varied theories about the construction of the temple contrary to the pleaded case of the litigating Hindu parties:

(a) According to him, the repairs of the Ram Janmabhumi was carried by Nirmohi Akhara during the last 700 years;

(b) The temple of Kasauti black stones was constructed by Nirmohi Akhara;

(c) The temple said to be made during the time of Vikramaditya was constructed by the King of Kannuz and not by the King of Ayodhya;

(d) Mir Baki destroyed the Ram temple but did not construct the Masjid, the temple was reconstructed by Govind Das who was the Mahant of Nirmohi Akhara during the regime of Babur;

(e) Govind Das Ji constructed the building with three domes;

(f) Some part of the temple was constructed during the regime of Babur which was destroyed during the regime of Humayun but was reconstructed by Govind Das Ji; and

(g) Anantananda, disciple of Ramanand, reconstructed the temple at the disputed site.

293. Sri Ram Milan Singh (DW 3/19): The witness was 75 years of age on 17 August 2004 when his Examination-in-Chief was recorded. He sought to prove the existence of idols under the central dome in the inner courtyard and on the Ramchabutra, stating that he had been visiting since 1940 till 1951 and occasionally after 1952. When questioned about his affidavit, he stated: -The person having prepared this affidavit, can only tell about this. I had not completely read the affidavit of examination-inchief before signing it... I had put my signature on the affidavit at the High Court, Lucknow. I cannot tell whether this affidavit had been typed out at Lucknow or not. At the time when the draft of this affidavit of mine had been prepared, I was at the place of my counsel in Ayodhya. He had told that 'I am preparing the draft of your affidavit'. I had not seen the contents of the draft of the affidavit, after it was prepared." The above admission renders his evidence untrustworthy and not deserving of credence.

294. Mahant Raja Ramchanbdr-Acharya (DW 3/20): The witness was 76 years old on the date of the Examination-in-Chief on 27 October 2004. He was a pupil of Mahant Raghunath Das, the second plaintiff in Suit 3. The witness stated that in 1943, when he first came to Ayodhya, the Babri Masjid did not exist and that the disputed building is not a mosque: -In 1943, when I first came to Ayodhya, the Babri mosque was not at all existing there. There was no mosque on the disputed site in 1943, because there used to be worship of idols over there. I have heard the name of the Babri mosque. The disputed building is the Babri mosque. (Again stated) It is not the Babri mosque; it is a temple. The disputed building has three domes. It is not a mosque.

It is the birthplace of Lord Rama. In 1943, when I first visited Ayodhya I did not see the Babri mosque at all. I never saw namaz being offered in the disputed building. I have seen Pooja being performed there. (Stated on his own) No question arises of offering namaz at a place where Pooja is performed. In 1943, when I first visited Ayodhya, I saw a temple, not a mosque, on the disputed site. (Stated on his own) There used to be Pooja- Sewa (offering worship and rendering service) over there. Three domes were built in the disputed building." According to the witness, namaz was not offered at the disputed building from 1943 to 1950 and puja was being performed; and the sanctum sanctorum was situated beneath the three domed structure of the disputed building.

295. The above account of the oral evidence of the witnesses who deposed in support of the Nirmohi Akhara indicates that their statements are replete with hearsay. Witnesses who claimed to have visited the disputed site on numerous occasions were unable to record its physical features. Though, the witnesses have purported to state that no incident had taken place on 22/23 December 1949 and one of them feigned ignorance on the ground that he was sleeping inside the disputed structure at the time, it is impossible to accept this as a credible or trustworthy account. The statements of the witnesses are replete with inconsistencies and contradictions.

The witnesses were unclear about the nature of the parikrama route and the number of idols. While furnishing a description of the idols inside the disputed structure, many witnesses acknowledged that they had not entered the disputed structure. Many of the witnesses had not read their affidavits in lieu of the Examination-in-Chief and had merely appended their signatures without understanding the contents. Many of the witnesses have not been able to confirm their assertions in the Examination-in-Chief and have in fact contradicted their own statements. Many of the witnesses offered accounts with respect to the disputed structure which are at variance with the pleaded case of Nirmohi Akhara.

Some of the witnesses in fact supported the case in Suit 4 that Babri Masjid existed where prayers had been conducted. Consequently, the witness accounts cannot be regarded as credible proof in support of the case of Nirmohi Akhara.

M.6 Nirmohi Akhara's claim to possession of the inner courtyard

296. The claim of Nirmohi Akhara in Suit 3 is in respect of the inner courtyard, including the three domed structure of the mosque. Nirmohi Akhara denies the incident of 22/23 December 1949 during the course of which the idols were surreptitiously installed into the disputed structure. According to Nirmohi Akhara, the structure is a temple and not a mosque. The oral evidence which has been adduced to support this submission has been analysed earlier. The oral evidence does not indicate any cogent, credible or trustworthy account of Nirmohi Akhara being in possession of the inner courtyard or structure. With this state of the record in regard to the oral accounts of the witnesses produced by Nirmohi Akhara, it becomes necessary to scrutinise whether the documentary evidence supports the case of Nirmohi Akhara being in possession of the inner courtyard and structure.

297. Mr S K Jain, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the plaintiffs in Suit 3, emphasized the findings contained in the judgments of Justice Sudhir Agarwal and Justice D V Sharma that Nirmohi Akhara had a presence at Ayodhya from 1734 after Mahant Govind Das left Jaipur to come to Ayodhya. Justice Sudhir Agarwal observed, while deciding issue 17 in Suit 3 that: -799...Nirmohi Akhara, plaintiff no. 1 is a Panchayati Math of Ramanandi Sect of Bairagies and as such is a religious denomination following its religious faith and pursuit according to its own custom. We however further hold that its continuance in Ayodhya find sometimes (sic) after 1734 AD and not earlier thereto." Justice D V Sharma placed reliance on the evidence of Mahant Bhaskar Das (DW 3/1) and Raja Ramachandracharya (DW 3/20) to hold that: -Nirmohi Akhara is a Panchayati of Ramanandi sect of Bairagies and as such is religious denomination. The custom has already been registered in the year 1949."

298. These findings do not establish Nirmohis being in possession of the inner courtyard. While scrutinizing the documentary evidence which has been relied upon by them, a distinction must be drawn between a mere presence of Nirmohi Akhara at Ayodhya or around the disputed site and actual possession of the disputed structure. Mr S K Jain in that context adverted to the account of Tieffenthaler of 1770 which refers to the presence of the Bedi or cradle symbolizing the place of birth of Lord Ram.

The reference to the cradle in Tieffenthaler's account cannot be regarded as indicative of the Nirmohi Akhara being in possession of the disputed structure or inner courtyard of the mosque. Sri Acharya Mahant Bansidhar Das alias Uriya Baba (DW 3/18), who was a witness for Nirmohi Akhara stated that Ramchabutra is also called Bedi. The statement of this witness to the effect that the Bedi / cradle was at Ramchabutra cannot be taken out of context and has to be read in the light of the entirety of the evidence, including Tieffenthaler's observations on what he had noticed. Among the other documents, which have been relied upon are:

(i) -East India Gazetteer of Hindustan" by Walter Hamilton;

(ii) Edward Thornton's -The Gazetteer of the Territories under the Government of East India Company";

(iii) The complaint of 25 September 1866 by Meer Rajab Ali Khateeb regarding the -Kothri" constructed by certain Bairagis inside the compound of the mosque;

(iv) Carnegie's -Historical Sketch of Faizabad";

(v) Permission granted to Mahant Khem Das on 13 April 1877 for the construction of a new gate on the northern side;

(vi) The appeal filed on 13 December 1877 against the grant of permission for the new gate;

(vii) The report made by the Deputy Commissioner in view of the above appeal;

(viii) The order of the Commissioner dated 13 December 1877 dismissing the appeal;

(ix) Gazetteer of the Province of Oudh (1877-78);

(x) The plaint in the suit instituted by Syed Mohd Asghar against Mahant Raghubar Das on 8 November 1882 seeking rent for the use of the Chabutra;

(xi) The order of the Sub-Judge, Faizabad dated 18 June 1883 dismissing the suit;

(xii) The application filed by Syed Mohd Asghar on 2 November 1883 for permission to carry out repairs of the mosque;

(xiii) The order of the Deputy Commissioner dated 12 January 1884;

(xiv) The order of the Assistant Commissioner dated 22 January 1884; and

(xv) The complaint by Mahant Raghubar Das dated 27 June 1884 seeking spot inspection in view of the work being carried out by Syed Mohd Asghar for white washing the walls of the mosque.

299. These documents have been analysed in the judgment of Justice Sudhir Agarwal who observed that the idol existed at Ramchabutra and Nirmohi Akhara was likely looking after the worship of the idol, which was not seriously disputed by the other Hindu parties. However, Justice Agarwal observed that there was no basis to hold that Nirmohi Akhara continued to do so even after the idols were shifted inside the structure on 22/23 December 1949. This finding was because Nirmohi Akhara plainly denied that any incident had taken place on 22/23 December 1949 and they had no cogent explanation to offer of the events which took place on the intervening night.

A careful scrutiny of the documents which have been relied upon by Nirmohi Akhara does not lead to the inference that Nirmohi Akhara had exclusive possession of the disputed structure. We must bear in mind the submission of Mr S K Jain that the disputed structure of the mosque was landlocked and that the outer courtyard which included Ramchabutra, Sita Rasoi and the Bhandar had to be traversed in order to gain entry to the mosque. There were two gates to the outer courtyard namely Singh Dwar and Hanumat Dwar. But, would the landlocked character of the disputed structure lead ipso facto of the conclusion that Nirmohi Akhara was in possession of the inner structure? It is not possible to draw that inference on a preponderance of probabilities.

300. In 1885, a suit was instituted by Mahant Raghubar Das seeking permission for the construction of the temple on the Chabutra. The Sub-Judge at Faizabad in his judgment dated 24 December 1985 observed that though the area occupied by the Chabutra was in the possession and ownership of the plaintiff, permission for carrying out construction should be refused on the ground that it was not in public interest and would lay the seeds of conflict between the Hindus and Muslim communities. In appeal, the District Judge Faizabad on 18/26 March 1886 deleted the observations on the ownership of the Chabutra made in favour of Mahant Raghubar Das. Mr S K Jain, in his written submissions has fairly accepted that the events arising out of the Suit of 1885 have been relied upon to show the presence of Mahant Raghubar Das at the Ramchabutra in the outer courtyard. Besides this, the Nirmohis have been ambivalent about the Suit of 1885 indicating unawareness about it at one stage and then adopting an inconsistent position at other times.

301. The next set of documents relied on by Nirmohi Akhara commence from 1900. These documents are set out below:

(i) Agreement permitting Jhingoo to provide drinking water to pilgrims176;

(ii) H R Nevill's -The Gazetteer of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh 1905" stating that the Nirmohi Akhara sect formerly held the Ram Janmabhumi temple in Ramkot, the remains of which still belong to them;

(iii) Mutation entry in favour of the Mahant Raghunath Das177; (iv) Agreement of Theka shop dated 13 October 1942178;

(v) Agreement dated 29 October 1945 executed in respect of a shop by Mahant Raghunath Das179;

(vi) The report by the Waqf Inspector stating that Muslims were not able to perform namaz Isha at the mosque due to the fear of Hindus and Sikhs180;

(vii) The report of the Waqf Inspector dated 29 December 1949 recording the presence of police personnel between 22/23 December 1949181, and that no namaz was being performed except on Friday when the mosque is open for 3-4 hours and that several bairagis were trying to forcibly take possession of the mosque;

(viii) The report of the receiver dated 5 January 1950 which refers to Nirmohi Akhara while depicting the boundaries of the property taken into possession by him.182 Post attachment on 5 January 1950, it has been submitted that objections were filed by Mahant Baldeo Das in the proceedings under Section 145183;

(ix) In 1961, permissions were sought for carrying out construction in the outer courtyard; and (x) The clarification of the City Magistrate dated 9 February 1961 stating that there was no objection to the replacing of canvas or cover. Adverting to the documents which have been relied upon by Nirmohi Akhara, Justice Sudhir Agarwal held that the contents of documents to which the defendants were not parties are not relevant on questions of title and possession. The documentary evidence relied upon by Nirmohi Akhara does not shed light in respect of the premises within the inner courtyard.

302. Dr Rajeev Dhavan has, in the course of the hearing of the appeal, filed a detailed response to the exhibits which were relied upon by Nirmohi Akhara. The course of events in the history of the communal conflict indicates a series of conflagrations between Hindus and Muslims in 1856-57 and 1934. The mosque was partially damaged in 1934 and subsequently, obstructions were placed in the course of offering namaz in the mosque involving a denial of the right to pray for the Muslims. This is followed by the events which took place on 22/23 December 1949 when idols were surreptitiously placed under the central dome. Soon thereafter, proceedings were initiated under Section 145 resulting in the attachment of the property. In this background, it is difficult to accept the case of Nirmohi Akhara that the disputed structure was a temple which was in its exclusive possession and that no incident had taken place on 22/23 December 1949.

Documentary evidence in regard to the mosque (1934-1949)

303. In order to refute the claim of Nirmohi Akhara in regard to possession of the disputed structure, Mr Zafaryab Jilani, learned Senior Counsel appearing for the Sunni Central Waqf Board relied on documentary evidence to support the case that the structure situated within the inner courtyard was a mosque and that it was being used by Muslims to offer namaz from 1934 to 1949. This documentary evidence has a bearing on the correctness of the claim of Nirmohi Akhara in regard to exclusive possession of the mosque and hence needs to be scrutinised. The documentary evidence consists of the following:

(i) Certified copy of the order dated 4 June 1942184 and decree dated 6 July 1942 in Regular Suit 95 of 1941 (Mahant Ramcharan Das v Raghunath Das) before the Additional Civil Judge, Faizabad.185 A compromise was arrived at in the Suit. The terms of compromise contain a specific reference to the -Babri Masjid"186: -2. A pucca temple along with lands situated at Janambhumi- Babri Masjid in Mohalla Ramkot, City Ayodhya, Pargana Haveli Awadh, Tehsil & Dist. Faizabad, whose boundaries are described as under:

East : Parti & Kabristan (Graveyard) West: Babri Masjid

North: Pucca Road

South: Kabristan (Graveyard)."

The suit was between the Nirmohis inter se. The above document indicates that the existence of the mosque cannot be denied;

(ii) After the riots which took place on 27 March 1934 on or about the occasion of Bakri-Eid, a portion of the mosque was destroyed. In that connection, there are documents relating to the repair of the premises:

(a) Permission granted for cleaning of Babri Masjid and its use for religious services187;

(b) Application of Mohd Zaki and others dated 5 June 1934 for the recovery of fines from the Bairagis for causing damage to the mosque188;

(c) The order of the District Magistrate dated 6 October 1934 for the payment of compensation for the damage caused to the mosque189;

(d) Application of Tahawar Khan, the contractor, dated 25 February 1935 for the payment of his bills for the repair of the mosque190;

(e) The order of the Deputy Commissioner, Faizabad dated 26 February 1935 for inspection of the work done by the SDM Sadar prior to payment of bills for the repair of the mosque191;

(f) Estimate of repairs submitted by the contractor on 15 April 1935 including the repair of the domes192;

(g) An application of the contractor dated 16 April 1935 in regard to the delay in the completion of work. The letter stated that the repair to the dome was under preparation as were the marble tablets with the inscriptions of Allah193;

(h) Inspection note dated 21 November 1935 of the Assistant Engineer, Public Works Department, Faizabad regarding repair of Babri Masjid, noting that the work was inspected and found to be satisfactory194;

(i) Report of the bill clerk dated 27 January 1936 on the bill of the contractor regarding the repair of the mosque195;

(j) Order of Mr A D Dixon dated 29 January 1936 regarding payment for the work of repair of Babri Masjid196; and (k) Application of the contractor dated 30 April 1936 complaining of the deductions made from his bill for the repair of Babri Masjid.197 The above documents which have been duly exhibited indicate that following the riots of 1934, a Muslim contractor was engaged for the repairs of the Babri Masjid. There is a reference to the damage sustained by the mosque and to the work of restoration that was carried out by the contractor. 304. Besides the documentary evidence relating to repair, another set of documents relates to the services of the Imam at Babri Masjid:

(i) An agreement/undertaking was executed by Syed Mohd Zaki, trustee of Babri Masjid on 25 July 1936 in favour of the Maulvi Abdul Ghaffar, Pesh Imam of Babri Masjid regarding the payment of his outstanding salary until 1935198;

(ii) Application of Syed Mohd Zaki dated 19/20 July 1938 before the Waqf Commissioner in response to a notice under Section 4 of the Muslim Waqf Act 1936199;

(iii) Application of Abdul Ghaffar, Pesh Imam Babri Masjid dated 20 August 1938 before the Waqf Commissioner, Faizabad, seeking a direction to the Mutawalli for the payment of the arrears of his salary due upto 31 July 1938200;

(iv) Reply of the brother of Syed Mohd Zaki (the former Mutawalli) dated 20 November 1943 to the notice of the Sunni Waqf Board dated 27 October 1943.201 The letter contains a clear reference to the arrangement made for maintaining the daily needs for the mosque as well as the requirements for Friday prayers: -That mat, floor cloth and janamaaz – prayer rug etc. are kept sufficient for daily needs only. Other floor cloth and prayer rugs are kept with the Maulavi Abdul Ghaffar, Pesh Imam. These are brought to the mosque on every Friday and are kept back in the same place after Jumah prayers because floor cloth often gets stolen from the masjid. It is for the reason that all mats and floor cloth are not kept in the masjid."

(v) Notice dated 11 April 1945 of the Shia Waqf Board to the Sunni Waqf Board before instituting a suit under Section 5(2) of the UP Muslim Waqf Act 1936, challenging the notification dated 26 February 1944 declaring the mosque as a Sunni Waqf202; (vi) Notice dated 25 November 1948 of the Secretary, Sunni Waqf Board about charge of Tauliat due to the death of the Mutawalli203;

(vii) The report of the Waqf Inspector dated 10/12 December 1949 regarding the harassment of Muslims while going for prayers204; and (viii) Report of Waqf Inspector dated 23 December 1949 in regard to the condition of Babri Masjid, stating that keys remained with the Muslims and only Friday prayers were being offered205: -I had to inquire into the present condition of Babri Masjid Ayodhya and Qabrastan (graveyard) on 22nd December, 49 I spent the whole day making inquiry.

My inquiry made me aware about the following conditions and events. A period of three months has elapsed to the arrival of Baba Raghunath ostensibly to visit the janamasthan. He exhorted the Beragis and Pujaris – worshippers forcefully that Ramayanpath – recitation of Ramayan – should be done at janmasthan. This message spread to all nearby and surrounding areas. After a month of the departure of Baba Raghubardas, thousands of Hindus and Pujaris and Pandits gathered there for Ramayan path. The path (recitation) went on for weeks. In the meantime the Beragis dug outside the front part of the Masjid and part of Qabrasthan and leveled it to the ground.

They also erected a makeshift maker and put stones on the site of some graves. There was police bandobast at the time of recitation of Ramayan. Despite this, the graves were dug out. Police arrested four people who were later released on bond. Khawaja Rahmatullah's mausoleum which is nearby the graveyard on a rising mound has also been dug out and levelled to the ground. A Bairagi has started residing there. The Bairagis' are squatting near the pucca grave which is near the door of the courtyard adjacent to the walls of the Masjid. The Bairagis have erected a hut. Before the commencement of this recitation, the Bairagis had looted and broken the fence.

The muezzin was thrashed and thereafter they tried to dug out the inscription on the Masjid. Two Muslims who were strangers were beaten and they suffered serious injuries. Now there are two camps outside the Masjid. In one of them are stationed police constables and in another sepoys of the battalions. The total numbers of (constables and sepyoys) is about 7 to 8. Now the Masjid remains locked. No Azaan is allowed nor Namaaz performed except on the day and time of Jumaaah. The lock and the keys remain with Muslims. But the police do not allow them to open the lock. The lock is opened on the day of Jumaah, i.e. Friday for two or three hours. During this period, the Masjid is cleaned and Jumaah prayers are offered.

Thereafter it is locked as usual. At the time of Jummah much noise is created. When the Namazis go downstairs, shoes and clouds of earth are thrown at them. But Muslims do not react to it out of fear. After Raghavdas, Mr Lohia had also come to Ayodhya and he had addressed people saying that flower plants should be planted on the place of graves. A minister also came from Lucknow. The Bairagis told him that Masjid is the Janmbhoomi. Help us get it. He refused to do this by force. Hearing this Bairagis got angry with him, and he had to return to Faizabad under Police protection. In the meantime, in the Kanak Bhavan Mandir of Ayodhya, Mahant Babasthan, Mahant Raghubardas, Vedantiji, Narayan Das, Acharyaji wanted to call Muslims but none came out there with the exception of Zahoor Ahmad.

Hindus asked Zahoor Ahmad to help them get the Masjid. He was told that if it is done then we are brothers, otherwise, we are enemies. I stayed at Ayodhya during night. In the morning I came to know that Bairagis are trying to occupy the Masjid forcibly. It is Jumaah-Friday –today. When I reached the site, 10 to 15 Bairagis with clubs and axes were found present in the courtyard of the Masjid and many Bairagis are sitting on the door of the Masjid with clubs. Hindus of the surrounding area are also gathering there. City Magistrate, Police Officer of the City and other police force is deployed in sufficient numbers. Muslims from Faizabad would certainly come to offer of Jumaah (Friday) prayers. What would be their fate I do not know. Now I am crossing the river and going to Lakkadmandi Gonda."

(Emphasis supplied)

Justice Sudhir Agarwal held that the undertaking/agreement206 for the payment of salary including arrears to the Pesh Imam has not been proved. Besides being exhibited in evidence, this document finds a reference in an application by the Pesh Imam before the Waqf Inspector for the payment of his salary in terms of the agreement, a copy of which was filed with the application.207 As regards the reports of the Waqf Inspector, the written submissions filed on behalf of the Nirmohi Akhara in fact rely on both the reports. The reason indicated by Justice Sudhir Agarwal for not relying on the reports - that no one has seen the Waqf Inspector is specious. The report dated 10/12 December 1949 has been specifically relied upon in the plaint in Suit 5 and in the Examination-in-Chief of plaintiff 3 in Suit 5.

305. The above documents demonstrate:

(i) The steps taken after the riots of 1934 for the restoration of the mosque;

(ii) The repairs carried out by the contractor for repairing the mosque and payments made by Public Works Department;

(iii) The engagement of services of the Pesh Imam and the attendant dispute pertaining to non-payment of his arrears of salary;

(iv) The report of the Waqf Inspector in December 1949 stating that the Muslims were being harassed in offering prayers in the mosque as a result of which only Friday prayers were being offered; and

(v) The apprehension expressed by the Waqf Inspector of danger to the mosque.

306. In view of the above analysis of the oral evidence and documentary material, the following conclusions can be drawn:

(i) There are serious infirmities in the oral accounts of Nirmohi witnesses that the disputed structure was not a mosque but the Janmabhumi temple;

(ii) The documentary evidence relied on by Nirmohi Akhara does not establish its possession of the inner courtyard and the structure of the mosque within it, being the subject of Suit 3;

(iii) Contrary to the claims of Nirmohi Akhara, documentary evidence establishes the existence of the structure of the mosque between 1934 and 1949; and

(iv) As regards namaz within the mosque, the Muslims were being obstructed in offering prayers as a result of which by December 1949, Friday prayers alone were being offered. This documentary evidence in regard to the presence and use of the mosque until December 1949 is supported by the letter of the Superintendent of Police, Faizabad dated 29 November 1949 specifically, referring to the attempts which were being made to surround the mosque so as to lead the Muslims to abandon it. This is coupled with the letter dated 16 December 1949 of the District Magistrate to the Chief Secretary seeking to allay the apprehensions in regard to the safety of the mosque. 307. Suit 3 has been held to be barred by limitation. The oral and documentary evidence have been analysed above to render a full adjudication of the claims of Nirmohi Akhara:

(i) denying the existence of the mosque;

(ii) asserting that the structure in the inner courtyard was a temple which was in its exclusive possession; and

(iii) denying the incident on the night between 22/23 December 1949. Nirmohi Akhara has failed to prove its assertions. The documentary evidence will be of relevance in determining the objections raised by Nirmohi Akhara (supported by the Sunni Central Waqf Board) to the maintainability of Suit 5. Whether Nirmohi Akhara has established that they were a shebait in service of the deity of Lord Ram was an issue struck in Suit 5 and will hence be considered while dealing with that suit. Some of the evidence which has been discussed above is also of relevance on the question of title and will be re-visited at the appropriate stage in the course of this judgment.

N. Suit 5: The deities

N.1 Array of parties 308.

Suit 5 was instituted on behalf of the first and second plaintiffs through a next friend who was impleaded as the third plaintiff. The first and second plaintiffs are: "Bhagwan Sri Ram Lala Virajman" and "Asthan Sri Ram Janma Bhumi, Ayodhya". The third plaintiff was Sri Deoki Nandan Agarwala, a former Judge of the Allahabad High Court. The third plaintiff was subsequently substituted by an order of the High Court as a result of his death.

309. The first defendant is the legal representative of Gopal Singh Visharad (the plaintiff in Suit 1); the second defendant was the plaintiff in Suit 2 (which was subsequently withdrawn); the third defendant is Nirmohi Akhara (the plaintiff in Suit 3); the fourth defendant is the Sunni Central Waqf Board (the plaintiff in Suit 4); the fifth and sixth defendants are Muslim residents of Ayodhya and Faizabad; the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth defendants are the State of Uttar Pradesh and its officers; the eleventh defendant is the President of the All India Hindu Mahasabha; the twelfth and thirteenth defendants represent the All India Arya Samaj and the All India Sanatan Dharma Sabha respectively; the fourteenth defendant was Sri Dharam Das, described as the Chela of Baba Abhiram Das, who was allegedly involved in the incident which took place on 22/23 December 1949; defendants fifteen and sixteen are Hindu residents of Ayodhya and Faizabad; defendant seventeen was a resident of District Faizabad (since deleted); defendants eighteen and nineteen are Mahant Ganga Das and Swami Govindacharya Manas Martand; defendant twenty was Umesh Chandra Pandey who opposed the claim of the Nirmohi Akhara in Suit 3 (but did not lead any evidence); defendant twenty-one is described as the "Sri Ram Janma Bhumi Nyas", a trust which has been impleaded through its managing trustee Sri Ashok Singhal; defendants twenty-two to twenty-five are the Shia Central Board of Waqfs, individuals representing the Shias; defendant twenty-six is the General Secretary of the Jamaitul Ulema Hind U P and defendant twenty-seven is a Muslim resident of Faizabad.

N.2 No contest by the State of Uttar Pradesh

310. The State of Uttar Pradesh filed a statement (in Suit 4 of 1989) stating that "the government is not interested in the properties in dispute" and the actions of the officials in regard to the properties in dispute were bona fide in due discharge of their official duties.

N.3 Pleadings

311. The plaint in Suit 5 proceeds on the foundation that the first and second plaintiffs "are juridical persons with Bhagwan Sri Rama as a presiding deity of the place". The third plaintiff is described as a ‗Vaishnava Hindu'. The plaint adopts for its description of Ram Janmabhumi, "two site plans of the building premises and of the adjacent area known as Sri Ram Janma Bhumi prepared by Shiv Shankar Lal" in discharge of his duty as a Commissioner appointed by the Court of the Civil Judge, Faizabad in Suit 1. These site plans together with his report are Annexures I, II and III to the plaint.

312. After setting out a history of the earlier suits instituted before the civil court208 and the proceedings under Section 145, the plaint states that these suits continue to remain pending "with a dim prospect of their immediate hearing". Though, the seva and puja of the plaintiff deities is stated to have been carried out properly, it has been stated that darshan has been allowed only from behind a barrier for Hindu devotees. The plaintiff deities and devotees are stated to be "extremely unhappy" with the delay in the disposal of the suits, the deterioration in the management of the affairs of the temple and with the alleged misappropriation of the offerings of worshippers by pujaris and other temple staff.

The Hindu devotees, it has been stated, are desirous of having a new temple constructed after removing the existing structure at Ram Janmabhumi. According to the plaint, the head of the Ramananda Sampradaya was entrusted with the task of addressing the mismanagement of the temple and facilitating the construction of a new temple. This eventually led to the Deed of Trust dated 18 December 1985 which was registered with the Sub-Registrar. The trust has been named the "Sri Ram Janma Bhumi Nyas" and consists of ten trustees. In addition, the Vishva Hindu Parishad, through its Marga Darshak Mandal is to nominate four trustees, which it did.

Further, five trustees have been nominated from amongst "eminent Hindu citizens of India". Of the aforesaid five persons, the third plaintiff was nominated as one of the trustees. Ram Janmabhumi Nyas is stated to be directly interested in the seva-puja and other affairs of the plaintiff deities. The plaintiffs further indicate that the existing suits "are inadequate" and cannot result in a settlement of the dispute as neither the presiding deity, Bhagwan Sri Ram Virajman, nor Asthan Sri Ram Janma Bhumi (both of whom are stated to be juridical persons) were impleaded in the previous suits. Moreover, it is alleged that some of the parties to the earlier suits are "to some extent"involved in seeking to gratify their personal interest by obtaining control over worship of the plaintiff deities. In this background, the plaintiffs have instituted a suit of their own.

313. The plaint states that it is established by "unimpeachable authority" that the premises in dispute represent the place where Lord Ram was born. The second plaintiff, described as "Asthan Sri Ram Janma Bhumi", is stated to be an independent object of worship, worshipped by the devotees as personifying the divine spirit of Lord Ram. Hence, it has been averred that the land at Ram Janmabhumi has possessed a juridical personality even prior to the construction of the existing structure or the installation of idols within the central dome. It has been stated that Hindus worship not merely the material form or shape of an idol but the divine spirit which is invoked by consecration or prana pratishtha. It is stated that the divine spirit is worshipped as a deity at the site of the second plaintiff and hence it has been submitted that the place itself is a deity. The deity, it has been submitted, being indestructible, continues to exist so long as the place exists, and the place being land, continues to exist irrespective of any construction on it.

314. The plaint proceeds to rely on the 1928 edition of the Faizabad Gazetteer, in support of the plea that the ancient temple, called the Ram Janmabhumi temple, was destroyed by Babur in 1528 and on its site, a mosque was built largely with the materials of the destroyed temple, including the Kasauti pillars. Yet, according to the plaint, the worshippers continued to worship Lord Ram through symbols such as the Charan and Sita Rasoi and the idol of Lord Ram on the Ramchabutra within the enclosure. It has been submitted that no one could enter the building except after passing through areas where Hindus worshipped. The plaint disputes whether a mosque could validly be constructed in accordance with Islamic tenets on the site of a Hindu temple which is surrounded by Hindu places of worship.

According to the plaintiffs, worshippers of the deities have continued to pray at Ram Janmabhumi for centuries; the place belongs to the deities and no valid waqf was ever created or could have been created. Despite occasional trespass by the Muslim residents, it has been stated that title and possession vested in the plaintiff deities. It is alleged that no prayers were offered at the mosque. After independence, the graves surrounding Ram Janmabhumi were dug up by the Bairagis and eventually on the night of 22/23 December 1949, an idol of Lord Ram was installed with due ceremony under the central dome of the disputed building. This was followed by proceedings under Section 145 to which the plaintiff deities were not parties. In the alternate to the plea of the original title vesting in the plaintiff deities, it has been stated that the deities have been in possession and any claim of title adverse to the deities stands extinguished by adverse possession.

315. The plaint sets out that Hindu devotees were desirous of constructing a temple at the disputed site and, the "active movement" was scheduled to commence from 30 September 1989 with the foundation stone being laid on 9 November 1989. Nirmohi Akhara, it has been stated, has put forward a personal interest in the management of the worship of the plaintiff-deities and there being no other fit person to represent them, the third plaintiff has instituted the suit as next friend. It is averred that in order to remove any obstacles in the fulfilment of the movement to construct a new temple, the entire premises at the disputed site constitute "one integral complex" with "a single identity".

The claim of the Muslims is stated to be confined to the enclosure within the inner boundary wall. The plaint was amended after the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 to incorporate averments pertaining to the circumstances prior to, during and following the demolition. According to the plaintiffs, shebaiti rights were taken away and entrusted to the statutory receiver following the enactment of the acquisition ordinance and the law enacted by Parliament. The cause of action for the institution of the suit is stated to have accrued "from day to day" especially when the plans for construction of a new temple were alleged to be obstructed by violent action on the part of certain Muslims. On the above pleadings, two reliefs have been sought in Suit 5:

(a) A declaration that the entire premises of Sri Ram Janmabhumi described in Annexures I, II and III belong to the plaintiff-deities; and

(b) A permanent injunction prohibiting the defendants from interfering with or obstructing the construction of a new temple at Sri Ram Janmabhumi after the demolition and removal of the existing buildings and structures.

N.4 Written statements Nirmohi Akhara

316. In response to Suit 5, Nirmohi Akhara filed its written statement submitting that the suit instituted through a next friend is malicious and is a "design to damage the title and interest of the answering defendants". Nirmohi Akhara denies the locus of the next friend as the third plaintiff to represent the deities. It specifically denies the status of the second plaintiff as a juridical person. Bhagwan Sri Ram, according to Nirmohi Akhara is installed not at Ram Janmabhumi but in the temple known as the Janmabhumi temple for whose charge and management it has instituted Suit 3. According to the written statement, Asthan simply means a place and is not a juridical person. The third plaintiff, it has been asserted is not a worshipper of the deity and is a Vaishnavite and has no locus to represent the deity or the "so-called Asthan". It has been urged that there was an attempt to mobilise a sum of Rs. 25 crores for the construction of a new temple.

Nirmohi Akhara states that the birth-place of Lord Ram is not in dispute and it is located at Ayodhya where the Ram Janmabhumi temple stands. The Ram Janmabhumi temple is stated to be in the disputed land which the Muslims claim to be a mosque. Asthan Janmabhumi is stated to be the birth-place of Lord Ram comprising of the entire city of Ayodhya. Nirmohi Akhara has claimed that it is the shebait of the idol of Lord Ram installed in the temple in dispute and that it alone has the right to control, supervise, repair and reconstruct the temple. It has been submitted that Nirmohis' suit was filed in 1959, whereas, the Ram Janmabhumi Nyas has come into existence in 1985 "with an obvious design to damage the title and interest of the Akhara".

Nirmohi Akhara has alleged that the idol of Lord Ram was always installed in the Ram Janmabhumi temple; that the temple belongs to it and no one else has the right to construct a new temple. Suit 5 has been opposed on the ground that the plaintiffs have "no real title to sue" and that the suit is an encroachment on the rights of the Nirmohis to manage the temple. Hence, according to it, the disputed premises mentioned by the plaintiffs in Suit 5 belong to the Nirmohi Akhara and the plaintiffs cannot seek a declaration against the right and title of Nirmohi Akhara. Accordingly, Nirmohi Akhara has prayed for the dismissal of Suit 5. In its additional written statement, Nirmohi Akhara has stated that the outer Sahan (courtyard) "carried a little temple" of Lord Ram which was regularly worshipped according to the customs prevailing among Ramanandi Bairagis.

The outer part of this temple is stated to have been in the management and charge of Nirmohi Akhara as its shebait till the outer portion was attached on 16 February 1982 in Regular Suit 239 of 1982. The outer portion, it has been stated, has been in possession and management of Nirmohi Akhara and the idol of Lord Ram installed on Ramchabutra is stated to be a distinct legal entity owned by Nirmohi Akhara. It has been submitted that the Magistrate's order of attachment under Section 145 pertained only to the three-domed structure where the idol of Lord Ram is stated to have been installed by Nirmohi Akhara from time immemorial and which was always in its management and possession. In a further written statement, Nirmohi Akhara has claimed that the constitution of the Ram Janmabhumi Nyas is illegal.

All India Hindu Mahasabha

317. The President of the All India Hindu Mahasabha filed a written statement claiming that as a party to the Sri Ram Janmabhumi Nyas, it is directly dedicated to the seva-puja and other affairs of the Ram Janmabhumi temple.

Sunni Central Waqf Board

318. The Sunni Central Waqf Board has opposed the suit of the plaintiff-deities. In its written statement, it denies the juridical status of the first and second plaintiffs and the locus of the third plaintiff to act as a next friend. According to the Sunni Central Waqf Board, no deities were installed within the premises of Babri Masjid until the idol was surreptitiously brought in on the night between 22-23 December 1949. The written statement denies the presence of a presiding deity or of "any Asthan". Placing reliance on the dismissal of the Suit of 1885 instituted by Mahant Raghubar Das, it has been submitted that the plaintiffs cannot claim any portion of the Babri Masjid to have assumed a juridical personality by the name of "Ashthan Ram Janmabhumi", particularly in the absence of the installation of a deity or a personification in accordance with the tenets of Hindu religion or law.

The written statement contains a denial of the allegation that their existed any temple at the site of Babri Masjid or that the mosque was constructed after destroying it, with the material of the alleged temple. The mosque, it has been averred, has always been used as a mosque since its construction during the regime of Babur. The land is stated to have belonged to the State when it was constructed, and the mosque is claimed to have been built on vacant land. The Ramchabutra is alleged to have been created around 1857. The possession of the Muslims is stated to have been uninterrupted and continuous since the construction of the mosque up to 23 December 1949 and hence, any right, title or interest to the contrary would stand extinguished by adverse possession. According to the written statement, regular prayers were offered in the mosque up to 22 December 1949 and Friday prayers until 16 December 1949. According to the written statement, the cause of action must be deemed to have accrued in December 1949 when the property was attached, and the Muslims denied the claim of the Hindus to perform puja in the mosque. Hence, the suit is stated to be barred by limitation.

319. The fifth defendant209, in his written statement, has denied the locus of the Nyas. Besides this, it has been submitted that the premises have always been a mosque since its construction in the sixteenth century and were used by Muslims for offering namaz and for no other purpose. The fifth defendant denied the juridical status of the first and second plaintiffs and the locus of the third plaintiff. In an additional written statement filed jointly by the Sunni Central Waqf Board and the fifth defendant, the contents of the amended plaint have been denied and it has been urged that the claim in regard to the idols stood extinguished after they were removed on 6 December 1992.

N.5 Issues and findings of the High Court

320. The issues which were framed in the Suit and the findings of the three judges in the High Court are catalogued below:

1 Whether the first and second plaintiffs are juridical persons.

 Justice S U Khan - the idol is duly capable of holding property.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – Answered in the affirmative – both plaintiffs 1 and 2 are juridical persons.

 Justice D V Sharma – Decided in favour of the plaintiffs.

2 Whether the suit in the name of deities described in the plaint as the first and second plaintiffs is not maintainable through the third plaintiff as next friend.

 Justice S U Khan – Followed the decision of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – Suit held to be maintainable.

 Justice D V Sharma – Suit held to be maintainable.

3(a) Whether the idol in question was installed under the central dome of the disputed building (since demolished) in the early hours of December 23, 1949 as alleged by the plaintiff in paragraph 27 of the plaint as clarified in their statement under Order X Rule 2 of the CPC.

 Justice S U Khan - The idols were placed inside the mosque for the first time during the night of 22/23 December 1949.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – Answered in the affirmative.

 Justice D V Sharma – Answered in the affirmative.

3(b) Whether the same idol was reinstalled at the same place on a Chabutra under the canopy.

 Justice S U Khan – Adopted the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – Answered in the affirmative.

 Justice D V Sharma - Answered in the affirmative.

3(c) Whether the idols were placed at the disputed site on or after 6 December 1992 in violation of the court's order dated 14 August 1989 and 15 November 1991.

 Justice S U Khan - Adopted the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – Answered in the negative.

 Justice D V Sharma - Decided in favour of the plaintiffs. 3(d) If the aforesaid issue is answered in the affirmative, whether the idols so placed still acquire the status of a deity.

 Justice S U Khan - Adopted the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - Answered in the affirmative.

 Justice D V Sharma - Answered in the affirmative. 4 Whether the idols in question had been in existence under the "Shikhar" prior to 6 December 1992 from time immemorial as alleged in paragraph 44 of the additional written statement of Nirmohi Akhara (the third defendant).

 Justice S U Khan - the idols were placed inside the mosque for the first time on 22-23 December 1949.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - Answered in the negative; the idols under the central dome were in existence prior to 6 December 1992 but were placed during the night of 22-23 December 1949.

 Justice D V Sharma - the idols were not under the central dome prior to 22-23 December 1949. 5 Is the property in question properly identified and described in the plaint.

 Justice S U Khan - No temple was demolished for constructing the mosque. Until the mosque was constructed during the reign of Babur, the premises were neither treated nor believed to be the birth-place of Lord Ram.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - there is no ambiguity in the identification or description of the property.

 Justice D V Sharma – Answered in favour of the plaintiffs.

6 Is third plaintiff not entitled to represent plaintiffs 1 and 2 as their next friend and is the suit not competent on this account.

 Justice S U Khan - Adopted the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – Answered in the negative, in favour of the plaintiffs.

 Justice D V Sharma – Decided in favour of the plaintiffs.

7 Whether Nirmohi Akhara (the third defendant) alone is entitled to represent the first and second plaintiffs, and is the suit not competent on that account as alleged in paragraph 49 of the additional written statement of Nirmohi Akhara (the third defendant).

 Justice S U Khan - Adopted the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – Answered in the negative against Nirmohi Akhara, in favour of the plaintiffs.

 Justice D V Sharma – Answered against Nirmohi Akhara, in favour of the plaintiffs.

8 Is the defendant Nirmohi Akhara the "Shebait" of Bhagwan Sri Ram installed in the disputed structure.

 Justice S U Khan – Adopted the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – Answered against Nirmohi Akhara.

 Justice D V Sharma – Answered against Nirmohi Akhara, held that Nirmohi Akhara is incompetent to represent the first and second plaintiffs.

9 Was the disputed structure a mosque known as Babri Masjid?

 Justice S U Khan - the mosque was constructed by or under the orders of Babur. Until 1934, Muslims offered regular prayers and thereafter, until 22 December 1949 only Friday prayers were offered.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – Answered against the plaintiffs.

 Justice D V Sharma – Answered against the Sunni Central Waqf Board and in favour of the plaintiffs.

10 Whether the disputed structure could be treated to be a mosque on the allegations contained in paragraph 24 of the plaint.

 Justice S U Khan - the mosque was a valid mosque.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – Answered in the affirmative.

 Justice D V Sharma - the mosque was constructed upon demolition of the temple.

11 Whether on the averments made in paragraph 25 of the plaint, no valid waqf was created in respect of the structure in dispute to constitute it as a mosque.

 Justice S U Khan - the mosque is a valid mosque.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – Answered in the affirmative.

 Justice D V Sharma – No valid waqf with respect to the disputed property.

12 Deleted vide order dated 23 February 1996.

13 Whether the suit is barred by limitation.

 Justice S U Khan - the suit is not barred by limitation.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - the suit is not barred by limitation.

 Justice D V Sharma - the suit is not barred by limitation.

14 Whether the disputed structure claimed to be Babri Masjid was erected after demolishing Janmasthan temple at its site.

 Justice S U Khan – No temple was demolished for the construction of the mosque. Until the mosque was constructed during the reign of Babur, the premises were not believed to be the birth-place of Lord Ram.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – Answered in the affirmative.

 Justice D V Sharma – Decided in favour of the plaintiffs, against the Sunni Central Waqf Board.

15 Whether the disputed structure claimed to be Babri Masjid was always used only by the Muslims regularly for offering namaz ever since its alleged construction in 1528 A.D. to 22 December 1949 as alleged by the defendants 4 and 5.

 Justice S U Khan – Until 1934, Muslims were offering regular prayers in the mosque. Thereafter, until 22 December 1949, only Friday prayers were offered.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – At least from 1860, namaz was offered in the inner courtyard. The last namaz was on 16 December 1949.

 Justice DV Sharma – Connected with Issue Nos. 1-B(c), 2,4,12,13,14,15,19(a),19(b),19(c),27 and 28 of Suit 4 which were decided against the Sunni Central Waqf Board.

16 Whether the title of plaintiffs 1 and 2, if any, was extinguished as alleged in paragraph 25 of the written statement of defendant 4. If yes, have plaintiffs 1 and 2 reacquired title by adverse possession as alleged in paragraph 29 of the plaint.

 Justice S U Khan – Both parties were in joint possession before 1855 and hence, there was no need to decide the issue of adverse possession.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - the title of the first and second plaintiffs has never been extinguished.

 Justice DV Sharma - Connected with Issue Nos. 1B-(c), 2,4,12,13,14,15,19(a),19(b),19(c),27 and 28 of Suit 4 which were decided against the Sunni Central Waqf Board.

17 Deleted vide order dated 23 February 1996.

18 Whether the suit is barred by Section 34 of the Specific Relief Act as alleged in paragraph 42 of the additional written statement of defendant 3 and also as alleged in paragraph 47 of the written statement of defendant 4 and paragraph 62 of the written statement of defendant 5.

 Justice S U Khan – Adopted the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – Answered in the negative against the third, fourth and fifth defendants.

 Justice D V Sharma – In favour of the plaintiffs, against the defendants.

19 Whether the suit is bad for non-joinder of necessary parties, as pleaded in paragraph 43 of the additional written statement of defendant 3.

 Justice S U Khan – Adopted the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – Answered in the negative.

 Justice D V Sharma - the suit held to maintainable.

20 Whether the alleged Trust creating the Nyas, defendant 21, is void on the facts and grounds stated in paragraph 47 of the written statement of defendant 3.

 Justice S U Khan – Not answered.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – Not answered.

 Justice D V Sharma – Answered in favour of the plaintiffs. 21 Whether the idols in question cannot be treated as deities as alleged in paragraphs 1,11,12,21,22,27 and 41 of the written statement of defendant 4 and in paragraph 1 of the written statement of defendant 5.

 Justice S U Khan - Adopted the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal and Justice D V Sharma - Answered against the Sunni Central Waqf Board and fifth defendant. 22 Whether the premises in question or any part thereof is by tradition, belief and faith the birth-place of Lord Ram as alleged in paragraphs 19 and 20 of the plaint? If so, its effect.

 Justice S U Khan – Neither was any temple demolished for constructing the mosque nor until the construction of the mosque were the premises treated or believed to be birth-place of Lord Ram.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - the place of birth of Lord Ram as believed and worshipped by Hindus is covered under the central dome of the threedomed structure in the inner courtyard of the premises in dispute.

 Justice D V Sharma – Connected with Issue Nos 1, 1(a), 1(b),1B-(b), 11,19(d),19(e) and 19(f) in Suit 4. Decided against the Sunni Central Waqf Board.

23 Whether the judgment in Suit of 1885 filed by Mahant Raghubar Das in the Court of Special Judge, Faizabad is binding upon the plaintiffs by application of the principles of estoppel and res judicata as alleged by the defendants 4 and 5.

 Justice S U Khan - Section 11 of the CPC is not attracted as virtually nothing was decided in the Suit of 1885.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – Answered in the negative.

 Justice D V Sharma – Answered in favour of the plaintiffs.

24 Whether worship has been done of the alleged plaintiff-deity on the premises in the suit since time immemorial as alleged in paragraph 25 of the plaint.

 Justice S U Khan - Neither was any temple demolished for constructing the mosque nor were the premises treated or believed to be the birth-place of Lord Ram until the mosque was constructed.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – Worship of the first and second plaintiffs has been since time immemorial: issue answered in the affirmative.

 Justice DV Sharma – Connected with Issue Nos. 1-B(c), 2,4,12,13,14,15,19(a),19(b),19(c), 27 & 28 of Suit 4. Answered against the Sunni Central Waqf Board.

25 Whether the judgment and decree dated 30 March 1946 passed in Suit no 29 of 1945 is not binding upon the plaintiffs as alleged by the plaintiffs.

 Justice S U Khan - Adopted the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - The plaintiffs were not a party to the suit and the judgment is therefore not binding on them.

 Justice DV Sharma – Decided in favour of the plaintiffs.

26 Whether the suit is bad for want of notice under Section 80 CPC as alleged by the defendants 4 and 5.

 Justice S U Khan - Adopted the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – Answered in favour of the plaintiffs.

 Justice D V Sharma - Answered in favour of the plaintiffs.

27 Whether the plea of suit being bad for want of notice under Section 80 CPC can be raised by defendants 4 and 5.

 Justice S U Khan - Adopted the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal – Answered in favour of the plaintiffs.

 Justice D V Sharma - Answered in favour of the plaintiffs.

28 Whether the suit is bad for want of notice under Section 65 of the U.P. Muslim Waqf Act 1960 as alleged by defendants 4 and 5. If so, its effect.

 Justice S U Khan - Adopted the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - the provision is not applicable.

 Justice D V Sharma – Decided in favour of the plaintiffs. 29 Whether the plaintiffs are precluded from bringing the present suit on account of dismissal of Suit 57 of 1978 (Bhagwan Sri Ram Lala v State) of the Court of Munsif Sadar, Faizabad.

 Justice S U Khan - Adopted the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal and Justice D V Sharma - Answered in favour of the plaintiffs.

30 To what relief, if any, are plaintiffs or any of them entitled?

 Justice S U Khan - Adopted the findings of Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

 Justice Sudhir Agarwal - the suit was partly decreed in accordance with the directions contained in paragraph 4566.

 Justice D V Sharma - the plaintiffs were held entitled to relief and the suit was decreed.

321. Justice Sudhir Agarwal granted the following relief in the Suit: "

(i) It is declared that the area covered by the central dome of the three domed structure, i.e., the disputed structure being the deity of Bhagwan Ram Janamsthan and place of birth of Lord Rama as per faith and belief of the Hindus, belong to plaintiffs (Suit-5) and shall not be obstructed or interfered in any manner by the defendants. This area is shown by letters AA BB CC DD is Appendix 7 to this judgment.

(ii) The area within the inner courtyard denoted by letters B C D L K J H G in Appendix 7 (excluding (i) above) belong to members of both the communities, i.e., Hindus (here plaintiffs, Suit-5) and Muslims since it was being used by both since decades and centuries. It is, however, made clear that for the purpose of share of plaintiffs, Suit-5 under this direction the area which is covered by (i) above shall also be included.

(iii) The area covered by the structures, namely, Ram Chabutra, (EE FF GG HH in Appendix 7), Sita Rasoi (MM NN OO PP in Appendix 7) and Bhandar (II JJ KK LL in Appendix 7) in the outer courtyard is declared in the share of Nirmohi Akhara (defendant no. 3) and they shall be entitled to possession thereof in the absence of any person with better title.

(iv) The open area within the outer courtyard (A G H J K L E F in Appendix 7) (except that covered by

(iii) above) shall be shared by Nirmohi Akhara (defendant no. 3) and plaintiffs (Suit-5) since it has been generally used by the Hindu people for worship at both places.

(iv-a) It is however made clear that the share of muslim parties shall not be less than one third (1/3) of the total area of the premises and if necessary it may be given some area of outer courtyard. It is also made clear that while making partition by metes and bounds, if some minor adjustments are to be made with respect to the share of different parties, the affected party may be compensated by allotting the requisite land from the area which is under acquisition of the Government of India.

(v) The land which is available with the Government of India acquired under Ayodhya Act 1993 for providing it to the parties who are successful in the suit for better enjoyment of the property shall be made available to the above concerned parties in such manner so that all the three parties may utilise the area to which they are entitled to, by having separate entry for egress and ingress of the people without disturbing each others rights. For this purpose the concerned parties may approach the Government of India who shall act in accordance with the above directions and also as contained in the judgement of Apex Court in Dr. Ismail Farooqi (Supra).

(vi) A decree, partly preliminary and partly final, to the effect as said above (i to v) is passed. Suit-5 is decreed in part to the above extent. The parties are at liberty to file their suggestions for actual partition of the property in dispute in the manner as directed above by metes and bounds by submitting an application to this effect to the Officer on Special Duty, Ayodhya Bench at Lucknow or the Registrar, Lucknow Bench, Lucknow, as the case may be.

(vii) For a period of three months or unless directed otherwise, whichever is earlier, the parties shall maintain status quo as on today in respect of property in dispute."Justice S U Khan issued the following directions: "Accordingly, all the three sets of parties, i.e. Muslims, Hindus and Nirmohi Akhara are declared joint title holders of the property/ premises in dispute as described by letters A B C D E F in the map Plan-I prepared by Sri Shiv Shanker Lal, Pleader/ Commissioner appointed by Court in Suit No.1 to the extent of one third share each for using and managing the same for worshipping. A preliminary decree to this effect is passed. However, it is further declared that the portion below the central dome where at present the idol is kept in makeshift temple will be allotted to Hindus in final decree. It is further directed that Nirmohi Akhara will be allotted share including that part which is shown by the words Ram Chabutra and Sita Rasoi in the said map.

It is further clarified that even though all the three parties are declared to have one third share each, however if while allotting exact portions some minor adjustment in the share is to be made then the same will be made and the adversely affected party may be compensated by allotting some portion of the adjoining land which has been acquired by the Central Government. The parties are at liberty to file their suggestions for actual partition by metes and bounds within three months." Justice D V Sharma decreed the suit of the plaintiffs in the following terms: "Plaintiffs' suit is decreed but with easy costs. It is hereby declared that the entire premises of Sri Ram Janm Bhumi at Ayodhya as described and delineated in annexure nos. 1 and 2 of the plaint belong to the plaintiff nos. 1 and 2, the deities. The defendants are permanently restrained from interfering with, or raising any objection to, or placing any obstruction in the construction of the temple at Ram Janm Bhumi Ayodhya at the site, referred to in the plaint."

N.6 Shebaits: an exclusive right to sue?

The role and position of a shebait

322. Courts recognise a Hindu idol as the material embodiment of a testator's pious purpose. Juristic personality can also be conferred on a Swayambhu deity which is a self-manifestation in nature. An idol is a juristic person in which title to the endowed property vests. The idol does not enjoy possession of the property in the same manner as do natural persons. The property vests in the idol only in an ideal sense. The idol must act through some human agency which will manage its properties, arrange for the performance of ceremonies associated with worship and take steps to protect the endowment, inter alia by bringing proceedings on behalf of the idol. The shebait is the human person who discharges this role.

323. Nirmohi Akhara has instituted Suit 3 on the ground that it is the shebait of the deities of Lord Ram at the disputed site. Whether or not Nirmohi Akhara is a shebait, has a material bearing on the determination of rights inter se between the parties in Suits 3 and 5. To adjudicate on this controversy, it is necessary to analyse the position of a shebait in our law.

324. An early decision was rendered by the Privy Council in Posunno Kumari Debya v Golab Chand Baboo.210 A suit was instituted by the shebaits of an idol against their immediate predecessor to set aside two execution decrees directing the sale of the property. Analysing whether the actions of a shebait binds subsequent shebaits, the Privy Council, speaking through Justice ME Smith held: "It would seem to follow that the person so entrusted must, of necessity, be empowered to do whatever may be required for the service of the idol and for the benefit and preservation of its property, at least to as great a degree as the manager of an infant heir. If this were not so, the estate of the idol might be destroyed or wasted, and its worship discontinued for want of necessary funds to preserve and maintain them." The Privy Council summarised in the above extract the true function and purpose underlying the concept of a shebait.

Since, the dedicated property vests in an idol in an ideal sense, the shebait is entrusted with its management. An idol cannot personally take actions required for the benefit and preservation of its property. The idol must necessarily act through a human agent and it is for this reason that the manager of the idol is conferred by law with the status of a shebait. The law recognises the legal personality of the idol to facilitate the protection of the rights and the duties owed to the idol. The natural personality of the shebait is the human agency through which the needs and concerns of the idol are fulfilled.

325. The law expounded in 1875 by the Privy Council has found resonance in a decision of this Court in 1979. In Profulla Chorone Requitte v Satya Chorone Requitte211, a question arose whether it was the founder's intention to confer the status of a shebait upon the person designated as trustees in his will. Justice RS Sarkaria, speaking for a two judge Bench of this Court held: "20. … Property dedicated to an idol vests in it in an ideal sense only; ex necessitas, the possession and management has to be entrusted to some human agent. Such an agent of the idol is known as shebait in Northern India. The legal character of a shebait cannot be defined with precision and exactitude. Broadly described, he is the human ministrant and custodian of the idol, its earthly spokesman, its authorised representative entitled to deal with all its temporal affairs and to manage its property."

326. The recognition of a person or a group of persons as shebaits is a substantive conferment of the right to manage the affairs of the deity. A necessary adjunct of the status of a shebait, is the right to brings actions on the behalf of an idol and bind it and its properties to the outcomes. The purpose for which legal personality is conferred upon an idol as the material embodiment of the pious purpose is protected and realised through the actions of the human agent, that is the shebait. The shebait is entrusted with the power and the duty to carry out the purpose of the donor in respect of the idol and its properties. In the vast majority of cases, a shebait is appointed in accordance with the terms of a deed of dedication by which property is endowed to an idol.

It is for the protection of this property that the law recognises either the donor or a person named in the deed of endowment as the shebait. In the absence of an expressly appointed or identified shebait, the law has ensured the protection of the properties of the idol by the recognition of a de facto shebait. Where a person is in complete and continuous management of the deity's affairs coupled with long, exclusive and uninterrupted possession of the appurtenant property, such a person may be recognised as a shebait despite the absence of a legal title to the rights of a shebait. This will be adverted to in the course of the judgement.

327. The position of a shebait in Hindu Law is distinct from the position of a trustee in English Law. Before the Privy Council in Vidya Varuthi Thirtha v Balusami Ayyar212 the question was whether the terms "conveyed in trust" and "trustee" as they appear in Article 134 of the Limitation Act 1908 apply to properties endowed to the Mahant of a Hindu mutt. The Privy Council rejected the contention that persons managing endowed properties are in the position of trustees under English Law. Justice Ameer Ali held: "It is also to be remembered that a "trust" in the sense in which the expression is used in English Law, is unknown in the Hindu system, pure and simple. Hindu piety found expression in gifts to idols and images consecrated and installed in temples, to religious institutions of every kind….Religious institutions, known under different names, and regarded as possessing the same "juristic" capacity, and gifts are made to them eo nomine

…When the gift is directly to an idol or a temple, the seisin to complete the gift is necessarily effected by human agency. Called by whatever name, he is only the manager and custodian of the idol of the institution. In no case was the property conveyed to or vested in him, nor is he a ‗trustee' in the English sense of the term, although in view of the obligations and duties vesting on him, he is answerable as a trustee in the general sense, for maladministration… it would follow that an alienation by a manager or superior by whatever name called cannot be treated as the act of a "trustee" to whom property has been "conveyed in trust" and who by virtue thereof has the capacity vested in him which is possessed by a "trustee" in English law." … ...Neither under the Hindu law nor in the Mahomedan system is any property ‗conveyed' to a shebait or a mutavalli in the case of a dedication. Nor is any property vested in him, whatever property he holds for the idol or the institution he holds as manager with certain beneficial interest regulated by custom and usage."

(Emphasis supplied)

328. The decision in Vidya Varuthi affirms the distinction between the position of a shebait in Hindu Law and a trustee in English Law. Unlike in the case of a trust, dedicated property does not legally vest in the shebait. The purpose for which property is dedicated to an idol is executed and protected by the shebait. Though the dedicated property does not vest in the shebait, they are responsible for managing the properties and are answerable in law for any mismanagement of the endowed properties. The shebait holds the property of an idol for the benefit of the idol. There is thus a distinction between the proprietary right of a trustee in English law and a shebait in Hindu Law.

Chief Justice B K Mukherjea, in his seminal work "Hindu Law of Religious Charitable Trusts" states: "

In English law the legal estate in the trust property vests in the trustee who holds it for the benefit of the cestui que trust. In a Hindu religions endowment, the entire ownership of the dedicated property is transferred to the deity or the institution itself as a juristic person, and the Shebait or Mahant is a mere manager."213 The above distinction was affirmed by this Court in Profulla Chorone. In dealing with the concept of a shebait, Justice RS Sarkaria held: "As regards the administration of the debutter, his position is analogous to that of a trustee; yet, he is not precisely in the position of a trustee in the English sense, because under Hindu Law, property absolutely dedicated to an idol, vests in the idol, and not in the shebait.

Although the debutter never vests in the shebait, yet, peculiarly enough, almost in every case, the shebait has a right to a part of the usufruct, the mode of enjoyment, and the amount of the usufruct depending again on usage and custom, if not devised by the founder."

(Emphasis supplied)

329. These observations affirm that the position of a shebait is distinct from that of a trustee in English law. The dedicated property legally vests in the idol in an ideal sense and not in the shebait. A shebait does not bring an action for the recovery of the property in a personal capacity but on behalf of the idol for the protection of the idol's dedicated property. Ordinarily, a deed of dedication will not contain a provision for the duties of the shebait. However, an express stipulation or even its absence does not mean that the property of the idol vests in the shebait. Though the property does not legally vest in the shebait, the shebait may have some interest in the usufruct generated from it. Appurtenant to the duties of a shebait, this interest is reflected in the nature of the office of a shebait.

330. In Manohar Mukherji v Bhupendranath Mukherji214, the question before a Full Bench of the Calcutta High Court was whether shebaitship in Hindu law is property or an office to which the founder of an endowment is competent to appoint or nominate persons in any order of succession. Surveying the precedent, Justice Mukerji held: "…I can find no authority for the proposition that the limited ownership which a shebait, in ordinary cases, exercises over debuttor property is not property in the eye of Hindu law… having regard to the rights which ordinarily attach to the office of a shebait, the office and the property of the endowment go together and that when it is a question between two persons one claiming and the other disputing a right to be the shebait, the question is a question of property…The religious office itself, of course, cannot be the object of sale, and jewels and other materials used in religious worship, to the custody of which the alleged vendor is entitled and to the careful custody of which he is bound, are by all systems of law and by Hindu law more emphatically than by another, absolutely extra commercium."

(Emphasis supplied)

331. In addition to the duties that must be discharged in relation to the debutter property, a shebait may have an interest in the usufruct of the debutter property. In this view, shebaitship is not an office simpliciter, but is also property for the purposes of devolution.215 This view has been affirmed by this Court in Angurbala Mullick v Debabrata Mullick216. The controversy in that case was whether the appellant, as the widow of the shebait, was entitled to act as the shebait of the idol instead of the minor son of the shebait borne from his first marriage who was the respondent. It was contended that the office of shebaitship would devolve in accordance with the Hindu Women's Right to Property Act 1937. Justice BK Mukherjea speaking for a four judge Bench of this Court accepted this contention and held: "

12…But though a shebait is a manager and not a trustee in the technical sense, it would not be correct to describe the shebaitship as a mere office. The shebait has not only duties to discharge in connection with the endowment, but he has a beneficial interest in the debutter property. As the Judicial Committee observed in the above case, in almost all such endowments the shebait has a share in the usufruct of the debutter property which depends upon the terms of the grant or upon custom or usage. Even where no emoluments are attached to the office of the shebait, he enjoys some sort of right or interest in the endowed property which partially at least has the character of a proprietary right.

Thus, in the conception of shebaiti both the elements of office and property, of duties and personal interest, are mixed up and blended together; and one of the elements cannot be detached from the other. It is the presence of this personal or 215 Approved by Privy Council in Ganesh Chunder Dhur v Lal Behary Dhur (1935-36) 63 IA 448, and Bhabatarini Debi v Ashalata Debi (1942-43) 70 IA 57 beneficial interest in the endowed property which invests shebaitship with the character of proprietary rights and attaches to it the legal incidents of property." The Court held that a shebait has a beneficial interest in the usufruct of the debutter property. This beneficial interest is in the form of a proprietary right. Though the role of the shebait is premised on the performance of certain duties for the idol and the benefits are appurtenant, neither can be separated from the other. Thus, office and property are both blended in shebaitship, the personal interest of a shebait being appurtenant to their duties.217 Pujaris

332. A final point may be made with respect to shebaits. A pujari who conducts worship at a temple is not merely, by offering worship to the idol, elevated to the status of a shebait. A pujari is a servant or appointee of a shebait and gains no independent right as a shebait despite having conducted the ceremonies for a long period of time. Thus, the mere presence of pujaris does not vest in them any right to be shebaits. In Gauri Shankar v Ambika Dutt218, the plaintiff was the descendant of a person appointed as a pujari on property dedicated for the worship of an idol. A suit was instituted for claiming partition of the right to worship in the temple and a division of the offerings. A Division Bench of the Patna High Court held that the relevant question is whether the debutter appointed the pujari as a shebait. Justice Ramaswami held: "7…It is important to state that a pujari or archak is not a shebait.

A pujari is appointed by the Shebait as the purohit to conduct the worship. But that does not transfer the rights and obligations of the Shebait to the purohit. He is not entitled, to be continued as a matter of right in his office as pujari. He is merely a servant appointed by the Shebait for the performance of ceremonies. Where the appointment of a purohit has been at the will of the founder the mere fact that the appointees have performed the worship for several generations, will not confer an independent right upon the members of the family so appointed and will not entitle them as of right to be continued in office as priest…"

333. A shebait is vested with the authority to manage the properties of the deity and ensure the fulfilment of the purpose for which the property was dedicated. As a necessary adjunct of this managerial role, a shebait may hire pujaris for the performance of worship. This does not confer upon the appointed pujaris the status of a shebait. As appointees of the shebait, they are liable to be removed from office and cannot claim a right to continue in office. The distinction between a shebait and a pujari was recognised by this Court in Sree Sree Kalimata Thakurani of Kalighat v Jibandhan Mukherjee.219 A suit was instituted under Section 92 of the Code of Civil Procedure 1908 for the framing of a scheme for the proper management of the seva-puja of the Sree Sree Kali Mata Thakurani and her associated deities.

A Constitution Bench of this Court, speaking through Justice JR Mudholkar held: "…It is wrong to call shebaits mere pujaris or archakas. A shebait as has been pointed out by Mukherjea J. (as he then was), in his Tagore Law Lectures on Hindu Law of Religious and Charitable Trusts, is a human ministrant of the deity while a pujari is appointed by the founder or the shebait to conduct worship. Pujari thus is a servant of the shebait. Shebaitship is not mere office, it is property as well."

334. A pujari is appointed by the founder or by a shebait to conduct worship. This appointment does not confer upon the pujari the status of a shebait. They are liable to be removed for any act of mismanagement or indiscipline which is inconsistent with the performance of their duties. Further, where the appointment of a pujari has been at the will of the testator, the fact that appointees have performed the worship for several generations does not confer an independent right upon the appointee or members of their family and will not entitle them as of right to be continued in office as priests. Nor does the mere performance of the work of a pujari in and of itself render a person a shebait.

An exclusive right to sue?

335. The position of a shebait is a substantive position in law that confers upon the person the exclusive right to manage the properties of the idol to the exclusion of all others. In addition to the exclusive right to manage an idol's properties, the shebait has a right to institute proceedings on behalf of the idol. Whether the right to sue on behalf of the idol can be exercised only by the shebait (in a situation where there is a shebait) or can also be exercised by the idol through a ‗next friend' has been the subject of controversy in the proceedings before us.

The plaintiff in Suit 3 - Nirmohi Akhara contends that the Nirmohis are the shebaits of the idols of Lord Ram at the disputed site. Mr S K Jain, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of Nirmohi Akhara, urged that absent any allegation of maladministration or misdemeanour in the averments in the plaint in Suit 5, Devki Nandan Agarwal could not have maintained a suit on behalf of the idols as a next friend. Mr Jain placed significant reliance on the contention that the plaint in Suit 5 does not aver any mismanagement by the Nirmohis.

Mr S K Jain urged that though the plaintiffs in Suit 5 (which was instituted in 1989) were aware of Suit 3 which was instituted by Nirmohi Akhara (in 1959) claiming as a shebait, the plaint in Suit 5 does not challenge the position of Nirmohi Akhara as a shebait. Consequently, Nirmohi Akhara urged that a suit by a next friend on behalf of the idol is not maintainable. The argument that Nirmohi Akhara is the shebait of the idols and is consequently vested with the exclusive right to bring an action on behalf of the idols of Lord Ram was also supported by Dr Dhavan, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the plaintiffs in Suit

4. He urged that despite his submission that Suit 3 was barred by limitation, a dismissal of that suit only extinguished the remedy of Nirmohi Akhara to file a suit for possession but did not extinguish the Nirmohi's rights as shebaits. Therefore, in Dr Dhavan's submission, Nirmohi Akahara continued to be shebaits and possess an exclusive right to sue on behalf of the idols of Lord Ram even in 1989. This, it is urged, renders Suit 5 not maintainable. 336. The challenge to the maintainability of Suit 5 is premised on the contention that only a shebait can sue on behalf of the idol. The question of who can sue on behalf of the idol arises due to the unique nature of the idol. The idol is a juristic person and the owner of the debutter property, but (as we have discussed earlier) only in an ideal sense.

In law, the idol is capable of suing and being sued in its own name. However, for all practical purposes any suit by the idol must necessarily be brought by a human actor. In Maharaja Jagadindra Nath Roy Bahadur v Rani Hemanta Kumari Debi220 the plaintiff instituted a suit as shebait of an idol alleging dispossession of certain lands by the defendant. The defendant resisted the suit on the ground of limitation. The shebait alleged that at the time of the dispossession, he was a minor and therefore the period of limitation did not begin against him until he attained majority.

The Privy Council, speaking through Sir Arthur Wilson held: "But assuming the religious dedication to have been of the strictest character, it still remains that the possession and management of the dedicated property belongs to the shebait. And this carries with it the right to bring whatever suits are necessary for the protection of the property. Every such right of suit is vested in the shebait, not in the idol. And in the present case the right to sue accrued to the Plaintiff when he was under age. The case therefore falls within the clear language of sec. 7 of the Limitation Act which says that: "if a person entitled to institute a suit … be, at the time from which the period of limitation is to be reckoned, a minor," he may institute the suit after coming of age within a time, which in the present case would be three years."

(Emphasis supplied)

The Privy Council examined whether, at the time of the dispossession, limitation began running against the shebait. In doing this, the Privy Council located the right to sue as vested in the shebait and not the idol. Ultimately, the Privy Council held that the suit was not barred by limitation as the shebait was a minor at the time of the dispossession. Thus, it was not relevant whether or not limitation ran against the deity's right to sue as such right vested in the shebait.

337. Ordinarily, the right to sue on behalf of the idol vests in the shebait. This does not however mean that the idol is deprived of its inherent and independent right to sue in its own name in certain situations. The property vests in the idol. A right to sue for the recovery of property is an inherent component of the rights that flow from the ownership of property. The shebait is merely the human actor through which the right to sue is exercised. As the immediate protector of the idols and the exclusive manager of its properties, a suit on behalf of the idol must be brought by the shebait alone.

Where there exists a lawfully appointed shebait who is able and willing to take all actions necessary to protect the deity's interests and to ensure its continued protection and providence, the right of the deity to sue cannot be separated from the right of the shebait to sue on behalf of the deity. In such situations, the idol's right to sue stands merged with the right of the shebait to sue on behalf of the idol. This understanding is summarised by Justice B K Mukherjea in "The Hindu Law of Religious and Charitable Trusts" in the following manner: "This decision [in Jagadindra Nath], therefore, establishes three things: - (1) That the right of a suit in respect of the deity's property is in the Shebait; (2) this right is a personal right of the Shebait which entitles him to claim the privilege afforded by the Limitation Act; and (3) the Shebait can sue in his own name and the deity need not figure as a plaintiff in the suit, though the pleadings must show that the Shebait is suing as such."221

338. A suit by a shebait on behalf of an idol binds the idol. For this reason, the question of who can sue on behalf of an idol is a question of substantive law. Vesting any stranger with the right to institute proceedings on behalf of the idol and bind it would leave the idol and its properties at the mercy of numerous individuals claiming to be 'next friend'. Therefore, the interests of the idol are protected by restricting and scrutinising actions brought on behalf of the idol. For this reason, ordinarily, only a lawful shebait can sue on behalf of the idol. When a lawful shebait sues on behalf of the deity, the question whether the deity is a party to the proceedings is merely a matter of procedure. As long as the suit is filed in the capacity of a shebait, it is implicit that such a suit is on behalf of and for the benefit of the idol. A suit by a worshipper or person interested

339. There may arise a situation where a shebait has been derelict in the performance of duties, either by not taking any action or by being complicit in the wrongful alienation of the endowed property. In such a situation, where a suit is instituted for the recovery of the deity's property, the action is against both the shebait and the person possessing or claiming the property in a manner hostile to the deity. The remedy for an action against mismanagement simpliciter by a shebait can be found in Section 92 of the Civil Procedure Code 1908. However, where an action against a stranger to the trust is contemplated, the remedy is not a suit under Section 92 of the Civil Procedure Code 1908 but a suit in general law.

340. In Vemareddi Ramaraghava Reddy v Konduru Seshu Reddy222, the plaintiffs accused the defendants, who were the managers of the temple and its properties, of mismanagement. Subsequently, a compromise decree was executed between the defendants and the Hindu Religious Endowments Board which inter alia declared the temple properties as the personal property of the defendants. The plaintiffs sought a declaration under Section 42 of the Specific Relief Act 1963 that the provision of the compromise decree stating that the temple properties were the absolute personal properties of the defendant was not binding on the temple.

The defendants resisted this contention on the ground that the plaintiffs had no legal interest in the temple or temple property and were mere worshippers whose suit could not bind the temple. Justice V Ramaswami, speaking for a two judge Bench of this Court held: "

13. ... As a matter of law the only person who can represent the deity or who can bring a suit on behalf of the deity is the Shebait, and although a deity is a judicial person capable of holding property, it is only in an ideal sense that the property is so held. The possession and management of the property with the right to sue in respect thereof are, in the normal course, vested in the Shebait but where, however, the Shebait is negligent or where the Shebait himself is the guilty party against whom the deity needs relief it is open to the worshippers or other persons interested in the religious endowment to file suits for the protection of the trust properties. It is open, in such a case, to the deity to file a suit through some person as next friend for recovery of possession of the property improperly alienated or for other relief. Such a next friend may be a person who is worshipper a of the deity or as a prospective Shebait is legally interested in the endowment. In a case where the Shebait has denied the right of the deity to the dedicated properties, it is obviously desirable that the deity should file the suit through a disinterested next friend, nominated by the court..."

(Emphasis supplied)

341. A necessary adjunct of managing of the temple properties is the right to sue for recovery of the said properties. Ordinarily a shebait alone will be entitled to bring a suit on behalf of the idol. In addition to being convenient and providing immediate recourse for the idol, it also provides a valuable check against strangers instituting suits, the outcomes of which may adversely impact the idol without the knowledge of the idol or the shebait. But there may be cases where the conduct of a shebait is in question. In certain cases, where the shebait itself is negligent or sets up a claim hostile to the idol, it is open for a worshipper or a next friend interested in protecting the properties of the idol to file a suit to remedy the situation. In the above case, by entering into the compromise decree declaring the temple properties as personal properties of the defendant shebaits, the defendants set up a title contrary to the title of the idol itself. This Court held that it was hence permissible for the plaintiffs, who were worshippers, to maintain a suit invalidating the compromise decree.

342. However, in Vemareddi Reddy, the suit was not instituted on behalf of the deity. The suit was instituted in a personal capacity by the worshipper seeking a declaration that the property in question was debutter property. In this context, the court held: "11. ... If a shebait has improperly alienated trust property a suit can be brought by any person interested for a declaration that such alienation is not binding upon the deity but no decree for recovery of possession can be made in such a suit unless the plaintiff in the suit has the present right to the possession. Worshippers of a temple are in the position of cestuui que trustent or beneficiaries in a spiritual sense. ... Since worshippers do not exercise the deity's power of suing to protect its own interests, they are not entitled to recover possession of the property improperly alienated by the Shebait, but they can be granted a declaratory decree that the alienation is not binding on the deity..."

(Emphasis supplied)

The significance of the distinction between suing on behalf of the deity and the institution of a suit in a personal capacity for the benefit of the deity will be adverted to shortly.

343. In Bishwanath v Sri Thakur Radha Ballabhji223 a next friend of the idol challenged the alienation of its properties by the defendant shebait. One of the defences taken by the shebait was that the next friend was not capable of maintaining a suit on behalf of the deity. Justice Subba Rao, speaking for a three-judge Bench of this Court affirmed the principle that ordinarily a shebait possesses the exclusive right to sue on behalf of the idol: "

9. Three legal concepts are well settled:

(1) An idol of a Hindu temple is a juridical person;

(2) when there is a Shebait, ordinarily no person other than the Shebait can represent the idol; and (3) worshippers of an idol are its beneficiaries, though only in a spiritual sense. It has also been held that persons who go in only for the purpose of devotion have, according to Hindu law and religion, a greater and deeper interest in temples than mere servants who serve there for some pecuniary advantage..." The learned judge then evaluated when persons other than a shebait may be entitled to maintain a suit on behalf of the deity: "

10. The question is, can such a person represent the idol when the Shebait acts adversely to its interest and fails to take action to safeguard its interest. On principle we do not see any justification for denying such a right to the worshipper. An idol is in the position of a minor when the person representing it leaves it in a lurch, a person interested in the worship of the idol can certainly be clothed with an ad hoc power of representation to protect its interest. It is a pragmatic, yet a legal solution to a difficult situation. Should it be held that a Shebait, who transferred the property, can only bring a suit for recovery, in most of the cases it will be an indirect approval of the dereliction of the Shebait's duty, for more often than not he will not admit his default and take steps to recover the property, apart from other technical pleas that may be open to the transferee in a suit.

Should it be held that a worshipper can file only a suit for the removal of the Shebait and for the appointment of another in order to enable him to take steps to recover the property, such a procedure will be rather prolonged and a complicated one and the interest of the idol may irreparably suffer. That is why decisions have permitted a worshipper in such circumstances to represent the idol and to recover the property for the idol. It has been held in a number of decisions that worshippers may file a suit praying for possession of a property on behalf of an endowment..."

(Emphasis supplied)

344. The decision reiterates the holding in Vemareddi Reddy that where a shebait refuses to act for the benefit of the idol, or where the shebait's actions are prejudicial to the interest of the idol, an alternative method must be provided for protecting the idol's interests. In such cases, a next friend interested in the protection of the endowed properties is vested with the right to institute a suit. Where an action prejudicial to the interests of the idol is taken by the shebait, it is unlikely that the shebait will institute a suit challenging its own actions. Therefore, it becomes necessary to confer on a next friend the right to bring an action in law against the shebait and the stranger who threatens the idol's interests.

345. It is important to note that unlike in Vemareddi Reddy, this Court in Bishwanath permitted worshippers to sue on behalf of the idol. The suit in Bishwanath was not instituted by a worshipper in their personal capacity, but rather as a representative of the idol to the exclusion of the shebait. The next friend stepped into the shoes of the shebait for the limited purpose of the litigation.

346. The position in law with respect to when a worshipper may institute proceedings is settled. A worshipper can institute a suit to protect the interests of the deity against a stranger where a shebait is negligent in its duties or takes actions that are hostile to the deity. The question whether the remedy available to the worshipper is a suit in a personal capacity or a suit on behalf of the idol (as next friend) is one which must be answered. The suit in Vemareddi Reddy was a suit filed by worshippers in their personal capacity and the court had no occasion to determine whether a suit by a next friend on behalf of the idol itself would be maintainable. However, given the express observations that a worshipper cannot exercise the deity's right to sue, this matter must be considered.

347. In this regard, Dr Dhavan brought to our notice the separate opinion of Justice Pal in Tarit Bhushan Rai v Sri Sri Iswar Sridhar Salagram Shila Thakur224, as a member of a Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court. The case arose from a rather unique factual background. A suit was instituted by Anupama, who was not the shebait but the daughter of the then shebait. Anupama sought to stay the sale of certain property on the ground that the property was absolute debutter property. Anupama's suit was subsequently dismissed and fresh proceedings were instituted by the shebaits proper. Justice Nasim Ali and Justice Pal both held that Anupama was not a shebait and thus the dismissal of her suit was irrelevant for the purposes of deciding the fresh suit.

However, Justice Pal further observed: "Persons having individual rights under such endowments can bring suits to enforce such individual rights by an ordinary suit in their own name without being obliged to bring a suit in the name of the idol. This right reserved to the worshippers sufficiently safeguards the interest of the worshippers or other persons interested in the debutter. At the same time it obviates the risk of jeopardising the interests of the idol by allowing it to be affected by the intermeddling of persons whose fitness has never been enquired into and adjudicated upon."

(Emphasis supplied)

Justice Pal opines that even in situations where the shebait acts contrary to the interests of the idol, a worshipper cannot sue on behalf of the idol, but only in a personal capacity. This stems from the concern that persons whose fitness or bona fides has not been enquired into or adjudicated upon by the courts may be able to adversely bind the idol and its properties. In this view, the worshipper does not sue on behalf of the deity, but may, at the very highest, obtain a declaratory decree challenging the shebait's actions as not binding on the deity.

348. Where a shebait acts prejudicially to the deity's interests, there thus exist two views on the remedies available to the interested worshipper. The position taken by this Court in Bishwanath is that a worshipper can sue as a next friend on behalf of the deity. As next friend, the worshipper directly exercises the deity's right to sue. The alternative view taken by Justice Pal in Tarit Bhushan Rai and as observed by this Court in Vemareddi Reddy is that a worshipper can file a suit in a personal capacity to protect the deity's interests but cannot sue directly on behalf of the deity although the suit may be for the benefit of the deity. In this view, the deity is not bound by the suit of the worshippers unless the remedy provided is in rem in nature.

The matter raises two questions:

First, is a suit filed by a worshipper in a personal capacity a sufficient and expedient method to protect the interests of the deity? Second, does allowing a next friend to sue on behalf of the deity without establishing the bona fide intentions and qualifications of the next friend put the deity's interest at risk?

349. A suit by a worshipper in their personal capacity may be an appropriate remedy in certain cases. For example, where a shebait denies worshippers access to the idol, a suit by the worshipper in a personal capacity to grant access to the idol may constitute a suitable remedy against the shebait. A further benefit of confining the suits of worshippers to suits filed in a personal capacity is that in cases concerning the recovery of property, a suit by a worshipper in a personal capacity does not raise the question as to whom the possession of the land would be given. However, where a suit is filed by a next friend on behalf of the deity itself, a problem arises: in a suit for the recovery of property on behalf of the idol, the court cannot deliver possession of the property to the next friend. The next friend is merely a temporary representative of the idol for the limited purposes of the individual litigation. Where a worshipper can only sue in their personal capacity, the question of the delivery of possession does not arise.

350. A suit by a worshipper in their personal capacity cannot however canvas the range of threats the idol may face at the hands of a negligent shebait and it may be necessary for the court to permit the next friend to sue on behalf of the idol itself to adequately protect the interests of the idol. For example, where a shebait fails to file a suit for possession on behalf of a deity, a suit by a worshipper in their personal capacity is inadequate. Rather, what is required is a suit by a next friend on behalf of the idol for the recovery of possession of the property. It is true that possession will not be delivered to the next friend. However, the court can craft any number of reliefs, including the framing of a scheme upon an application by the Advocate General or two persons under Section 92 of the Civil Procedure Code 1908225, to ensure that the property is returned to the idol. Where the inaction or mala fide action of the shebait has already been established, such a scheme may be the appropriate remedy, however this will necessarily depend on the facts and circumstances of every case.

351. In view of these observations, it is apparent that where the interests of the idol need to be protected, merely permitting interested worshippers to sue in their personal capacity does not afford the deity sufficient protections in law. In certain situations, a next friend must be permitted to sue on behalf of the idol – directly exercising the deity's right to sue. The question of relief is fundamentally 225 92. Public charities.—

(1) In the case of any alleged breach of any express or constructive trust created for public purposes of a charitable or religious nature, or where the direction of the Court is deemed necessary for the administration of any such trust, the Advocate-General, or two or more persons having an interest in the trust and having obtained the [leave of the Court,] may institute a suit, whether contentious or not, in the principal Civil Court of original jurisdiction or in any other Court empowered in that behalf by the State Government within the local limits of whose jurisdiction the whole or any part of the subject-matter of the trust is situate to obtain a decree—

(a) removing any trustee;

(b) appointing a new trustee;

(c) vesting any property in a trustee; [(cc) directing a trustee who has been removed or a person who has ceased to be a trustee, to deliver possession of any trust property in his possession to the person entitled to the possession of such property;]

(d) directing accounts and inquiries;

(e) declaring what proportion of the trust property or of the interest therein shall be allocated to any particular object of the trust;

(f) authorising the whole or any part of the trust property to be let, sold, mortgaged or exchanged;

(g) settling a scheme; or (h) granting such further or other relief as the nature of the case may require. contextual and must be framed by the court in light of the parties before it and the circumstances of each case.

352. This, however, brings us to the second question whether allowing a next friend to sue on behalf of the idol puts the idol at risk. The idol and its properties must be protected against the threat of a wayward 'next friend'. Where the shebait acts in a mala fide manner, any person claiming to be a 'next friend' may sue. Such a person may in truth have intentions hostile to the deity and sue under false provenance. Even a well-intentioned worshipper may sue as a next friend and purely due to financial constraints or negligence lose the suit and adversely bind the deity. A solution offered by Justice Pal in Tarit Bhushan Rai, and urged by Dr Dhavan in the present proceedings, is that only court appointed next friends may sue on behalf of the idol. No doubt this would satisfy the court that the next friend is bona fide and can satisfactorily represent the deity.

353. It is true that unless the fitness of the next friend is tested in some manner, an individual whose bona fides has not been determined may represent and bind the idol to its detriment. However, it would be unnecessarily burdensome to require every next friend to first be appointed by a court or for a court to find a disinterested person to represent the deity. The deity's interests would be sufficiently protected if, in cases where the bona fides of the next friend are contested by another party, the court substantively examines whether the next friend is fit to represent the idol. In an appropriate case, the court can do so of its own accord where it considers it necessary to protect the interest of the deity. In the absence of any objection, and where a court sees no deficiencies in the actions of the next friend, there is no reason why a worshipper should not have the right to sue on behalf of the deity where a shebait abandons his sacred and legal duties.

Very often, worshippers are best placed to witness and take action against any maladministration by a shebait. Therefore, where a shebait acts adverse to the interests of the deity, a worshipper can, as next friend of the deity, sue on behalf of the deity itself, provided that if the next friend's bona fides are contested, the court must scrutinise the intentions and capabilities of the next friend to adequately represent the deity. The court may do so of its own accord, ex debito justitae. The competence of the third plaintiff

354. In the present proceedings, both Mr S K Jain and Dr Dhavan urged that the third plaintiff in Suit 5 was not fit to represent the first and the second plaintiffs. Suit 5 was instituted in 1989 by Deoki Nandan Agarwal, a Vaishnavite. The principal deity of Vaishnavas is Lord Vishnu. The Vaishnava sect worships Lord Ram as one of the many avatars of Lord Vishnu. Deoki Nandan Agarwal was appointed as next friend to the first and the second plaintiffs by an order of the Civil Judge dated 1 July 1989. 355. A Mohd. Hashim filed a civil miscellaneous application226 challenging the appointment of Shri Deoki Nandan Agarwal. The relevant enquiry is whether any substantial contest was raised to the bona fides of the third plaintiff to represent the first and second plaintiff.

The application stated: "5. That the alleged plaintiffs 1 and 2, taking into account the plaint averments to be gospel truth are not legal persons, and, as such, suit being not for the leg 0000al person the question of appointment of next friend could not be considered and without prima facie satisfying that the suit has been filed by a legal person the question of appointment of next friend could not be considered.

8. That for appointment of next friend there has to be an averment that the alleged next friend has got no interest adverse to the interest of the next person for whom he is being appointed next friend and in the absence of any averment regarding the same and without satisfying about absence of adverse interest by the court the order appointing plaintiff no. 3 as a next friend is bad and illegal."

(Emphasis supplied)

In para 5 of the application, the applicant questioned the juristic personality of the first and the second plaintiff. It was averred that absent an established juristic person, the question of appointing a next friend did not arise. Be that as it may, the averment cannot be read as challenging the bona fides of the third plaintiff. In para 8, the applicant stated that any application for appointment of a next friend must be accompanied by a specific averment that there is no interest adverse to the deity the person seeks to represent. Further, the applicant must satisfy the court of the absence of an adverse interest. It is true that where the fitness of the next friend is in dispute the court should scrutinise the bona fides of the next friend. However, a bare allegation that is not substantiated with any evidence does not constitute a contest to the bona fides of the next friend. Barring a stray statement in para 8, the application did not substantiate or raise contest to the bona fides of the third plaintiff.

356. Deoki Nandan Agarwal passed away on 8 April 2002 and an application was made to the court to allow Dr T P Verma to be appointed as next friend of the first and the second plaintiffs. By an order dated 25 April 2002, Dr T P Verma was appointed as next friend by the Allahabad High Court. Subsequently, an application was filed to allow Triloki Nath Pande to replace Dr T P Verma as next friend of the first and the second plaintiffs. This application was dismissed by the Allahabad High Court. On appeal, by an order dated 8 February 2010, this Court held: "

3. Mr. K.N. Bhat, learned senior counsel appearing on behalf of the appellants very earnestly argues that instead of Dr. Thakur Prsad Verma, Mr. Triloki Nath Pande be appointed as next friend of appellant-plaintiff Nos. 1 & 2 under the provisions of Order XXXII Rule 8 of Code of Civil Procedure since Dr. Verma has serious health problems. He futher points out that insofar as the costs already incurred are concerned, the present next friend Dr. Verma shall give an undertaking to the High Court indicating therein that he would be responsible for the costs already incurred.

4. The other side has no objections for this arrangement. In that view, it is not necessary for us to examine the correctness or otherwise of the impugned order passed by the High Court. If the aforesaid undertaking is given and the willingness of Mr. Triloki Nath Pandey is indicated to the High Court, in that case, Mr. Triloki Nath Pandey shall act as a next friend of appellant-plaintiff Nos. 1 and 2 subject to the undertaking given by Dr. Verma." By the order of this Court, Triloki Nath Pande was permitted to act as next friend of the first and the second plaintiffs. No objection was raised to the appointment of Triloki Nath Pande in the proceedings before this Court. There was no reason for this Court to examine the correctness of the order of the High Court dismissing the application to permit TP Verma to retire from acting as the next friend. The Allahabad High Court subsequently appointed Triloki Nath Pande as next friend by an order dated 18 March 2010.

357. Where the fitness of the next friend is in dispute the court should scrutinise the bona fides of the next friend. However, in the present case, this enquiry is not necessary as the third plaintiff in Suit 5 has been appointed as next friend of the first and the second plaintiffs under the orders of the court. With the appointment of Triloki Nath Pande, this Court has applied its mind to the question and permitted Triloki Nath Pande to act as next friend of the first and the second plaintiffs. Given the scrutiny that the appointment of the next friend has been subject to in the present proceedings there is no merit in the argument that the third plaintiff in Suit 5 is not fit to institute a suit as the next friend of the first and the second plaintiffs.

Nirmohi Akhara and shebaiti rights

358. Where there exists an express deed of dedication identifying the shebait, the position in law with respect to who can sue on behalf of an idol is as follows:

(i) The right to sue vests exclusively in the lawfully appointed shebait; however,

(ii) Where the shebait acts in a manner negligent or hostile to the interests of the idol through express action or inaction, any person who is interested in the endowment may institute a suit on behalf of the idol; and

(iii) The exact nature of the interest possessed by the next friend, and whether the next friend is bona fide are matters of substantive law. If contested, it must be adjudicated upon by the court. The maintainability of Suit 5 hinges on the question whether Nirmohi Akhara were shebaits, and whether they have acted in a manner prejudicial to the interests of the idol. It is to this that issue we must now turn. During the oral arguments before this court, a question was put to Mr Jain whether by challenging the maintainability of the idol's suit, Nirmohi Akhara have set up a claim hostile to the interests of the idol. In response, Mr S K Jain submitted to this Court a statement conditionally modifying the position of the Nirmohi Akhara with respect to the maintainability of Suit 5 stating that the Nirmohi Akhara would not press the issue of maintainability in suit 5 provided that the plaintiffs in Suit 3 do not question the shebaiti rights of Nirmohi Akhara. It was submitted that Nirmohi Akhara can independently maintain their suits as shebaits.

359. The statement by Nirmohi Akhara does not alter its claim that it is the shebait of the idols of Lord Ram. It merely stipulates that, in the event that the plaintiffs in Suit 5 choose to recognise Nirmohi Akhara as the shebait of the idols, it will no longer challenge the maintainability of Suit 5. Such a position is untenable in a court of law. Nirmohi Akhara has consistently taken the stand that the Nirmohis are shebaits of the idols of Lord Ram. If this Court finds that they are the shebait of the idols, they alone can sue on behalf of the idols and Suit 5 instituted by a next friend would not be maintainable, absent an adjudication by this Court that the Nirmohis have acted contrary to the interests of the idol.

360. The present case does not concern an express deed of dedication identifying a shebait. Rather, it is the submission of Nirmohi Akhara that by virtue of their long-standing presence at the disputed site, and their exercise of certain actions with respect to the idol, they are shebaits de facto. Further, the unique nature of the present proceedings is that the suit instituted by the next friend, thirty years after the suit by Nirmohi Akhara, is being adjudicated upon along-side with the suit filed by the alleged shebait, Nirmohi Akhara. The consequence of this is that when the suit of the next friend was instituted in 1989, no determination had yet been made that Nirmohi Akhara was a shebait.

361. The present proceedings are of a composite nature, hence the question of the maintainability of Suit 5 must be answered in a staggered manner. The first question is whether the Nirmohi Akahara are the de facto shebaits of the idols of Lord Ram. If this is answered in the affirmative, the second question that arises is whether Nirmohi Akhara have acted in a manner prejudicial to the interest of the idol. If the Nirmohi Akhara are found to be the de facto shebaits and have not acted prejudicially, Suit 5 is not maintainable as it is the shebait that enjoys the exclusive right to sue on behalf of the deity. Alternatively, if the Nirmohi Akhara are found not to be de facto shebaits of the idols, or are found to have acted prejudicially with respect to the idols, the suit by the next friend is maintainable. With this, we turn to the question whether Nirmohi Akhara are shebaits de facto.

Rights of a de facto shebait to sue

362. The rights of a de facto shebait to institute suits on behalf of the deity can be traced to two early decisions of the Privy Council: Mahant Ram Charan Das v Naurangi Lal227 and Mahadeo Prasad Singh v Karia Bharti228. In Mahant Ram Charan Das, the Mahant of a Paliganj mutt executed a lease for 70 acres of the mutt's land and subsequently executed a sale deed subject to the lease. Upon his death, another person claiming to be Mahant took possession and subsequently surrendered all his rights by way of a registered sale deed to the plaintiff who was the Mahant of another mutt (of which the Paliganj mutt was a subordinate).

The plaintiff instituted a suit claiming that there was no necessity warranting the execution of the lease deed and the subsequent sale deed. On the question of maintainability of the suit at the behest of the plaintiff, the Privy Council, speaking through Lord Russell, held: "...Their Lordships, however are not now concerned with any question of title because both the Courts below have found that the plaintiff is the person in actual possession of the Paliganj mutt and as such entitled to maintain a suit to recover property not for his own benefit but for the benefit of the mutt."

363. In Mahadeo Prasad Singh, a village which formed part of the estate annexed to a mutt was sold by the Mahant in 1914. Upon his death in 1916, the suit in question was instituted in 1926 challenging the alienation by a person alleging to be the Mahant of the mutt. One objection to the suit was that the respondent was not entitled to maintain the suit as he was neither the chela of the previous Mahant, nor was he entitled to be the Mahant in any other capacity. Rejecting this contention, the Privy Council, speaking through Sir Shadi Lal held: "There can be little doubt that Karia has been managing the affairs of the institutions since 1904, and has since the death of Rajbans been treated as its mahant by all the persons interested therein. The property entered in the revenue records in the name of Rajbans was, on his death, mutated to Karia, and it is not suggested that there is any person who disputes his title to the office of the mahant. In these circumstances their Lordships agree with the High Court that Karia was entitled to recover for the benefit of the math the property which belonged to the math and is now wrongly held by the appellants. They are in no better position than trespassers. As observed by this Board in 1933 PC 75 (1), a person in actual possession of the math is entitled to maintain a suit to recover property appertaining to it, not for his own benefit, but for the benefit of the math." The Privy Council noted the following: (i) Karia was recognised as a mahant by the villagers;

(ii) The revenue record reflected Karia's name; and (iii) It was not suggested that there existed any dispute to his title to the office of the Mahant. It is on the basis of these considerations that the Privy Council held that the rights exercised by Karia were in the nature of a Mahant. The considerations outlined above weighed with the Privy Council in its analysis of whether the rights exercised were in the nature of those exercised by a Mahant.

364. Though both the decisions of the Privy Council adverted to above were in the context of the right of a Mahant to bring an action on behalf of a mutt, the position in law that a de facto Mahant is entitled to institute an action on behalf of the mutt for its benefit has equally been applied to a de facto shebait of an idol and its properties. In Panchkari Roy v Amode Lal Burman229, Ramdas Mohunt, by virtue of a will, dedicated property to certain idols and appointed his widow as the manager of the property till the attainment of the age of majority of their daughter, at which point, she would take over as a shebait. The widow sold the property as secular property and the daughter, upon attaining majority, alleged that though the property was secular, it devolved upon her by the virtue of the will. She sold the property to another party.

The plaintiff, claiming to be the religious preceptor of the debutter instituted a suit alleging that the idols were handed over to him. The question before the court was whether the plaintiff, who was not a member of the family or named in the will, could validly institute a suit in a private endowment. The relevant question before the Calcutta High Court was whether the plaintiff was a de facto shebait. Justice BK Mukherjea (as he then was) held: "The Judicial Committee in the case of Ram Chandra v. Nourangi Lal (4) and again in Mahadeo Prosad Singh v. Karia Bharti

(5) laid down that a person in actual possession of the Math is entitled to maintain a suit to recover property appertaining to it not for his own benefit but for the benefit of the Math...There may be and, in fact there is difference between a Math and an idol but I do not see any reason why a de facto shebait cannot be allowed to sue in case of family endowment or private debottar....In order to make a person a de facto shebait it is necessary, however, that he should be in actual possession of the office and the debottar estate....The de facto shebait would, in my opinion, be one who exercises all the functions of a shebait and is in possession of the debottar property though the legal title may be lacking."

(Emphasis supplied)

365. Where a person claims to be a shebait despite the lack of a legal title, the relevant enquiry before the Court is whether the person was in actual possession of the debutter property and was exercising all the rights of a shebait. The paramount interest in the protection of the debutter property underlines the recognition of a de facto shebait. Where there is no de jure shebait, the court will not countenance a situation where a bona fide litigant who has exercised all the managerial rights over the debutter property cannot be recognised in law as the protector of the property. It is only for the paramount interest of the institution that the right to sue is conceded to persons acting as managers though lacking a legal title of a manager.

366. This rationale was outlined by the Madras High Court in Subramania Gurukkal v Abhinava Poornapriya A Srinivasa Rao Sahib230. The Court of Wards dismissed the 'archaka' in possession of lands belonging to a temple on the ground that he had failed to render services and account for certain charges made on the property. A suit was then filed by the Jagirdar represented by his next friend the manager of the estate under the Court of Wards as a trustee of the temple to recover possession. The order of dismissal was passed after the death of the previous Jagirdar. It is after the suit was instituted and before the decision in the suit that a notification was passed making the new Jagirdar a ward under the Act. The question arose as to whether the order of dismissal was validly passed.

The Court held that where the successor of the Jagirdar took no step to assume control, the Court of Wards assumed the position of a de facto trustee. Justice Wodsworth held: "It is the duty of the Court to protect trust property from misappropriation and diversion from the objects to which it was dedicated. When trust property is without a legal guardian owing to defects in the machinery for the appointment of a trustee or owing to the unwillingness of the legal trustee to act, it would be a monstrous thing if any honest person recognised as being in charge of the institution and actively controlling its affairs in the interests of the trust should not be entitled, in the absence of any one with a better title to take those actions which are necessary to safeguard the objects of the trust."

367. This observation of the Madras High Court merits a closer look for two reasons: First, the Court held that the right to bring an action to protect the interest of the trust vests in a person who is 'recognised as being in charge of the institution and actively controlling its affairs'. A single or stray act of management does not entitle a person to be determined as a de facto shebait. The relevance of this observation shall be considered shortly. Second, the de facto shebait is vested with a right to bring an action only in the absence of a person with a better title i.e. the de jure shebait.

With the above conditions, the Court held: "...I am moreover inclined to think, quite apart from these statutory provisions, that a de facto trustee of a Hindu temple in actual management of that temple and acting bona fide in the interests of the institution can validly pass an order dismissing a temple servant or officer, provided that the dismissal is for good grounds and that the procedure is one to which no objection can be taken...There is moreover no doubt as to the capacity of a de facto trustee in possession and management of a temple to bring a suit for the recovery of temple lands." In this view, a person in actual management and acting bona fide for the interests of the institution can bring a claim for the recovery of temple property as a de facto shebait.

368. It is relevant here to advert in some detail to the Full Bench judgment of the Madras High Court in Sankarnarayanan Iyer v Sri Poovananathaswami Temple231. In this case, the de jure trustee alienated the properties of a temple and his whereabouts were not known. The succeeding trustee appointed under a compromise decree passed by the court instituted a suit for the recovery of possession of the suit property as the property of the temple. It was contended that independent of the compromise decree, he was vested with the right to institute a suit for the protection of the debutter properties as the de facto manager. Chief Justice P V Rajamannar held: "In the case of these endowments the so-called trustee is not really a trustee, in the technical sense, in whom the property is vested.

He is really a manager (even in cases where he also has a beneficial interest in the usufruct) and the title always is vested in the idol or the institution. In either case, the analogy is to that of an individual having a manager to carry on the administration of his affairs and properties. Viewed in this light, the position reduces itself to this. In some cases, the manager has a rightful claim to the office of manager, in other cases, his only claim is that he is in actual possession of the office. "De facto" means, "by the title of possession", in antithesis to "de jure" i.e., "by the title of right". So long as the action is for the benefit of the real owner, namely, the idol or the mutt, and the person bringing the action is the only person who is in management of the affairs of the idol or the mutt for the time being, there is no reason why such person should not be allowed to maintain the action on behalf of the idol or the mutt."

(Emphasis supplied)

The above observations clarify that a person claiming to be de facto shebait must be in exclusive possession of the debutter property and must be the only person in management of the property.

369. In his separate opinion, Justice Viswanatha Sastri clarified the grounds of challenge to the exercise of the power of management by a de facto shebait in the following terms: "...If a de facto trustee is guilty of any breach of trust, he can be removed like a de jure trustee. The law fixes him with the responsibility for the proper administration of the trust and also gives him the power to act on behalf of and in the interests of the trust, until a lawful trustee emerges...A person who asserts his own title to the property of a religious endowment, who does not sue as a trustee or manager of the endowment and who claims to recover the property for himself and not for the trust, can never be allowed to sue as a de facto trustee.

He is entirely in the position of a trespasser so far as the trust is concerned and cannot be considered to be one who has taken upon himself the duties and obligations of a trustee."232 Consistent with the jurisprudence on the rights of a shebait with respect to the properties of an endowment, a de facto shebait is entrusted with the power and the duty to carry out the purpose of the debutter in respect of the idol and its properties. Though the shebait may have an interest in the usufruct of the debutter property, the de facto shebait is not vested with an independent right of title over the debutter property. Thus, where a de facto shebait raises an independent claim to the debutter property to the idol, it assumes the position of a trespasser and no action at its behest is maintainable. A claim raised by a shebait adverse to the idol defeats the very purpose for which shebaits are vested with the right to manage the idol and its properties.

370. It is of crucial importance to advert to the standard laid by the learned judges in their separate opinions as to when a person may be deemed to be a de facto shebait. Justice Viswanatha Sastri held: "A fugitive or isolated act of a person with regard to the property of a religious endowment would not make him a de facto trustee. One swallow does not make a summer. There must be a continuous course of conduct, the length of the same depending on the facts and circumstances of the case. The possession of the office or the institution which is the object of the trust and the exercise of the rights pertaining to the office, would be important indicia of a de facto trusteeship."

(Emphasis supplied)

Similarly, Justice Raghava Rao held: "I must confess, however, that I should have experienced greater difficulty in the determination of the point in controversy... whence comes the right of the de facto manager to sue? There again, where and how are we to draw a line between a manager de facto and a manager ad hoc exercising isolated acts on particular occasion? I respectfully agree with my learned brother Viswanatha Sastri, J. in his picturesque observation that one swallow does not make a summer; but the practical question still remains, how many do?...how best to make sure that the person suing on behalf of the institution does not enter into improper agreements or compromises pre-decretal and post-decretal. Or walk away with the monies representing the fruits of a particular decree obtained on behalf of the institution? If that is not possible, is it any consolation that at the hands of a de jure manager too the institution may sustain sometimes a similar detriment?"

371. All the above observations are of crucial importance. For, in Sankarnarayanan Iyer and in the consistent jurisprudence of our courts thereafter,233 it has been held that a stray act or intermittent acts of management do not vest a person with the rights of a de facto shebait. Absent a deed of dedication, the contention urged by Nirmohi Akhara that they have been in management and charge of the disputed property is a claim in law, for the rights of management as de facto shebaits. Both Justices Viswanatha Sastri and Raghava Rao in Sankarnarayanan Iyer unequivocally held that isolated acts do not vest a person with the rights of a de facto shebait. The conduct in question, must be of a continuous nature to show that the person has exercised all the rights of a shebait consistently over a long period of time.

The duration of time that would satisfy this requirement would, by necessity, be based on the facts and circumstances of each case. Justice Raghava Rao endorsed the view of Justice Viswanatha Sastri but went a step further to outline the practical difficulties in laying down a standard against which the acts of a person claiming to be a de facto shebait must be tested. The caution against adopting a low legal threshold to confer on a person who merely has possession of the debutter property and exercises intermittent managerial rights the position of a de facto trustee is well founded.

372. A de facto shebait is vested with the right to manage the debutter property and bring actions on behalf of the idol. A bona fide action for the benefit of the idol binds it and its properties. As compared to a de jure shebait whose rights can legally be traced to a deed of endowment, a de facto shebait is vested with the right by mere possession and exercise of management rights. The protection of the idol's properties is at the heart of this extraordinary conferral of rights. If courts were to adopt a standard that is easily satisfied, large tracts of debutter property may be left at the mercy of persons claiming to be in possession of and managing such properties. It is the duty of the court in every case to assess whether there has been not just exclusive possession but a continuous and uninterrupted exercise of all management rights which are recognised by the beneficiaries of the trust property before conferring on a person a right to which they have no legal title.

373. The duties that bind the exercise of powers of a de jure shebait apply equally to a de facto shebait. Thus, no action can be brought by the de facto shebait which is not in the beneficial interest of the idol or its properties. However, the position of a de facto shebait and a de jure shebait is not the same in all respects. In Sankaranarayanan Iyer, Justice Viswanatha Sastri held: "It should be observed that the rights of a de facto trustee are not in all respects identical with those of a de jure trustee. A de jure trustee of a public religious endowment can be removed only for misconduct and that only in a suit instituted with the sanction prescribed by Section 92, Civil Procedure Code or section 73 of Madras Act II of 1927.

Where, however, there is only a de facto shebait functioning as such, it is open to persons interested in the trust to bring a suit under the above provisions alleging a vacancy in the office and requiring that it should be filled up by the appointment of a trustee by the court. This would entail the removal of the de facto trustee without any misconduct on his part...The de facto trustee so long as he is functioning as such, has, from the necessities of the situation, the right to bring suits on behalf of and in the interests of the trust for evicting trespassers claiming adversely to the trust. In this respect and for this purpose, his rights and powers are the same as that of a de jure trustee..." A de jure shebait can be removed from office only on the grounds of mismanagement or claiming an interest adverse to the idol. However, no such averment is required to remove a de facto shebait.

A de jure shebait may, unless the right of the de facto shebait has been perfected by adverse possession, displace a de facto shebait from office and assume management of the idol at any point. Further, where there is a de facto shebait, a suit may be instituted under Section 92 of the Civil Procedure Code 1908 requiring the court to fill up the vacancy by the settling of a scheme. It is for the limited purpose of bringing an action for the protection of the idol that the rights and powers of the de facto shebait are the same as that of the de jure shebait.

374. The position of law that a person in continuous and exclusive possession of the debutter property who exercises management rights in the interests of the idol can bring actions on its behalf has found recognition by this Court in Vikrama Das Mahant v Daulat Ram Asthana234. The appellant was confirmed as a manager by virtue of a judgment of the Privy Council (on the ground that the previous Mahant had transferred the property to him). Prior to the date of the judgment of the Privy Council, another compromise decree was entered into by the then Mahant with certain persons who instituted a proceeding to have him removed. While some of the persons who brought the actions took over as trustees under the terms of the compromise, one of them took over as the Mahant and entered into possession of the property.

Three of the trustees and the successor of the previous mahant filed a suit against the appellant. Both lower courts held against the appellant. The High Court held that even if the compromise decree is set aside, the plaintiffs are entitled to maintain the suit by virtue of being de facto trustees whose possession has been clear and undisputed. Both courts below recorded that pursuant to the compromise decree, the plaintiffs and the appointed Mahant entered into possession and the properties were mutated in the name of the Mahant, and had been in possession since then. Justice B Jagannadhadas, speaking for a Constitution Bench of this Court held: "

33...the question before us is whether a person who has been in de facto possession and management of the Asthan and its properties from 1934 to 1941 (and thereafter up-todate) claiming to be its trustee under the decree of a court, valid or invalid has not sufficient interest to maintain proceedings for the warding off of a cloud cast by the defendant's actions against the interests of the Asthan..." "

34..where public trusts are concerned, courts have a duty to see that their interests and the interests for whose benefit they exist are safeguarded...We consider that, in view of Ram Sarup Das's long management and possession as Mahant and in view of the fact that he is purporting to act on its behalf and for its interest, it is proper that he should be allowed to continue to act on behalf of the trust until his title in investigated in appropriate proceedings and that this Court should grant a decree in his favour in these proceedings for the benefit of the trust." The Court affirmed that it is only for the paramount interest of the institution that the right of suit is conceded to persons acting as managers though lacking a legal title of a manager. The long management and possession of the claimant in the case vested in him a right to act on behalf of the deity to protect its interests.

375. In Sree Sree Kalimata Thakurani of Kalighat v Jibandhan Mukherjee235, a suit was instituted under Section 92 of the Code of Civil Procedure 1908 for the framing of a scheme for the proper management of the seva-puja of the Sree Kali Mata Thakurani and her associated deities and for the proper management of the vested properties. A scheme was framed and subsequently challenged on the ground that the inclusion of de facto shebaits in the management committee in the scheme was impermissible. Justice JR Mudholkar, speaking for a Constitution Bench of this Court rejected this contention and held:

"Whatever that may be, we cannot ignore the fact that the present predecessors have been functioning as shebaits for a very long period and their rights in that regard have not been called into question ever before. In these circumstances we cannot accept the contention of the learned counsel that they should be completely excluded from the management of the temple." In crafting the relief, the Court was mindful of the long exercise of rights by those acting as shebaits. The initial scheme framed by the High Court comprised eighteen members on the managerial board of which twelve were shebaits. The Court modified this to a Board of eleven members, with five shebaits and a majority of Hindus who were not shebaits.

376. The protection of the trust property is of paramount importance. It is for this reason that the right to institute proceedings is conceded to persons acting as managers though lacking a legal title of a manager. A person claiming to be a de facto shebait can never set up a claim adverse to that of the idol and claim a proprietary interest in the debutter property. Where a person claims to be the de facto shebait, the right is premised on the absence of a person with a better title i.e. a de jure manager. It must be shown that the de facto manager is in exclusive possession of the trust property and exercises complete control over the right of management of the properties without any hindrance from any quarters. The person is, for all practical purposes, recognised as the person in charge of the trust properties. Recognition in public records as the manager would furnish evidence of being recognised as a manager.

377. Significantly, a single or stray act of management does not vest a person with the rights of a de facto shebait. The person must demonstrate long, uninterrupted and exclusive possession and management of the property. What period constitutes a sufficient amount is determined on a case to case basis. The performance of religious worship as a pujari is not the same as the exercise of the rights of management. A manager may appoint one or several pujaris to conduct the necessary ceremonies. In the ultimate analysis, the right of a person other than a de jure trustee to maintain a suit for possession of trust properties cannot be decided in the abstract and depends upon the facts of each case.

The acts which form the basis of the rights claimed as a shebait must be the same as exercised by a de jure shebait. A de facto shebait is vested with the right to institute suits on behalf of the deity and bind its estate provided this right is exercised in a bona fide manner. For this reason, the court must carefully assess whether the acts of management are exclusive, uninterrupted and continuous over a sufficient period of time.

Duration of time

378. A final question that is relevant for our present enquiry is whether a de facto shebait can claim a right to continue indefinitely in office. As seen earlier, a de jure shebait and a de facto shebait exercise similar rights in the limited sense of acting for the benefit of the idol. Even absent an averment of mismanagement by the shebait, a person may institute proceedings under Section 92 of the Code of Civil Procedure 1908 against a de facto shebait for the settling of a scheme. In this view, legal certainty and the sustained interest of the deity would be served by circumscribing the claim of a de facto shebait to continue, as a matter of right, in perpetuity.

379. In Gopal Krishnaji Ketkar v Mahomed Jaffar Mohamed Hussein236 the plaintiffs instituted a suit praying for a declaration that the second plaintiff is the guardian and 'vahivatdar' of the Darga. The defendant claimed to be its rightful manager and Mutawalli. The plaintiffs' family were managers since 1817. Since 1902-03, the defendant was given the right to manage prayers during a certain period every year in the temple and collect the offerings for his upkeep. Upon alleged interference with the plaintiffs' right to manage and collect offerings, the suit was instituted. The Court found that the plaintiffs and their family had been managing from at least the year 1886.

The Court held that as the right claimed by the defendant was not that of a hereditary trustee, the right dies with him and the only question was whether or not the plaintiffs were entitled to management and the offerings. Justice Vivan Bose, speaking for a three-judge Bench of this Court held: "

30. Now a 'de facto manager or a trustee de son tort' has certain rights. He can sue on behalf of the trust and for its benefit to recover properties and moneys in the ordinary course of management.

It is however one thing to say that because a person is a 'de facto' manager he is entitled to recover a particular property or a particular sum of money which would otherwise be lost to the trust, for and on its behalf and for its benefit, in the ordinary course of management; it is quite another to say that he has the right to continue in 'de facto' management indefinitely without any vestige of title, which is what a declaration of this kind would import. We hesitate to make any such sweeping declaration... That being so, we think it undesirable that things should be allowed to drift in this uncertain way, no one knowing where the legal rights of management lie or of what they consist; no one knowing how the rights are to devolve or how the large charitable offerings which are collected are to be distributed and used."

(Emphasis supplied)

380. The Court drew a distinction between a claim in law to be vested with the right to bring an action on behalf of the deities and a claim to continue indefinitely as a de facto shebait which, for all purposes, would be equating a de facto shebait with a de jure shebait and conferring upon the former a legal title where it has always been absent. Legal certainty and the ultimate protection of the trust properties underlie Section 92 of the Code of Civil Procedure 1908. Under this provision, the Court is, upon an application by the Advocate-General or two or more persons having an interest in the trust and having obtained the leave of the court, vested with wide powers to replace trustees and settle a scheme with respect to the trust property. Keeping this in mind, the Court framed directions in accordance with the above observations: "

32. We are told by the learned Solicitor-General that a suit under Section 92, Civil P.C. is under contemplation. Without in any way prejudicing matters which will arise there, we make the following order. We direct-

1. That the present arrangement regarding the collection and disposal of the offerings continue for a period of six months from the date of this judgment.

2. That in the interval the offerings so collected, as well as those already in deposit, he not handed over to the second plaintiff except to the extent necessary for meeting the expenses. The legal representatives of the defendant have no right at all to those offerings.

3. If such a suit is instituted within the said period, then the said offerings and collections be disposed of in accordance with such scheme as may then be framed, and in accordance with such directions as may be given in that suit.

4. If no such suit is instituted within the said six months, then the second plaintiff, as the person in 'de facto' management of the Darga from 13-11-1938, the date of his adoption, till the date of suit, 7-10-1946, will be entitled to receive the offerings now lying in deposit in the Treasury for and on behalf of the Darga and for its benefit and in future to collect all the offerings all the year round for and on behalf of the Darga and for its benefit until he is displaced by a person with better title or authority derived from the Courts."

381. In Vikrama Das Mahant v Daulat Ram Asthana237, the compromise decree on the basis of which the Mahant claimed a right and entered into possession was not given effect. The decree of the trial court giving effect to the compromise decree was set aside. Though the court sustained the rights of the Mahant to continue as a de facto manager, the Court held: "

19. But this is only a stop gap expedient. We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that we have before us a public trust of which, on the facts now before us, an alleged intermeddler claiming under a decree said to be void is in possession and management. It may be, when proper proceedings are instituted to determine the matter, that it will be found that he is not without legal authority or it may be proper to invest him with that authority if he has not already got it, or again it may be better to have another person or body. But those are not matters we need decide in these proceedings. All we need do is to bring the present state of facts to the notice of the Advocate General of Uttar Pradesh and leave him to consider whether he should not, of his own motion, institute proceedings under S. 92, Civil P. C., or take other appropriate steps. Let a copy of this judgment be sent to him."

382. The decisions of this Court in Gopal Krishnaji Ketkar and Vikrama Das affirm that the interest of protecting the trust properties was the basis of conferring upon a de facto shebait the limited right of instituting bona fide suits on behalf of the idol. Where there was no de jure shebait, the law recognised the person managing the property as a shebait to the extent of protecting the idol and its properties. However, this limited recognition did not confer upon de facto shebaits the right to continue in perpetuity.

The Nirmohi Claim

383. Having adverted to the legal standard that must be satisfied for a court to recognise a de facto shebait, the stage has been reached to adjudicate upon the contention urged by the Nirmohi Akhara that it is the shebait of the idols at the disputed site. Nirmohi Akhara is a Panchayati Math of the Ramanandi sect of Bairagis which is a religious denomination. The customs of Nirmohi Akhara purport to have been reduced to writing by a registered deed dated 19 March 1949. It was contended that the disputed structure is a temple building which has been in the possession of Nirmohi Akhara and only the Hindus have been allowed to enter the temple and make offerings. Nirmohi Akhara claims that it has been receiving the offerings through its pujaris. The averments contained in the plaint as well as the reliefs which have been claimed by Nirmohi Akhara indicate that the claim is to a right to manage and have charge of the temple. Nirmohi Akhara contended that it has been in possession of the property and has exercised management rights which amounts to a conferral on them of the status of a de facto shebait.

384. At the outset, it was contended by Nirmohi Akhara that absent an averment in the plaint in Suit 5 disputing its status as the shebait of the idols of Lord Ram, their status as shebaits cannot be disputed. It was further contended that no rival claim to the rights of the shebait have been set up in any suit. Consequently, it was urged that it must be held that the Nirmohis are the shebaits of the idols of Lord Ram. This contention cannot be accepted. If Nirmohi Akhara were to be recognised as a de facto shebait, this would confer on it a substantive right in law to bring actions on behalf of the idol to the exclusion of all other persons. The actions of a shebait bind the idol and its properties.

Absent an express deed of dedication conferring shebaiti rights on Nirmohi Akhara, there is a positive burden on it to demonstrate that it was in fact a shebait of the idols. For this reason, the Nirmohi Akhara must establish, on the basis of oral and documentary evidence, that they have exercised all the rights required to be recognised as de facto shebaits.

385. Nirmohi Akhara denies the incident of 22/23 December 1949 during which the idols were surreptitiously introduced into the inner sanctum of the disputed structure. The claim that Nirmohi Akhara were in possession of the inner courtyard on the basis of the evidence on record has already been rejected. Nirmohi Akhara has failed to prove that at the material time, the disputed structure was a temple which was in its possession and that no incident had taken place on 22/23 December 1949. Absent exclusive possession of the inner courtyard, the claim that Nirmohi Akhara was managing the inner courtyard as shebaits does not arise.

It was in this context that Justice Sudhir Agarwal held: "2994. Now coming to Issue No. 3 (suit-3), it has to be kept in mind that this suit is also confined to the premises within the inner Courtyard and not the entire premises, i.e., the outer and the inner Courtyard including the building. This is what is stated by the counsel for Nirmohi Akhara in his statement made on 17.5.1963 under Order X Rule 1 CPC. 4537. In these particular facts and circumstances and the stand of Nirmohi Akhara, we have no option but to hold that so far as the idols of Bhagwan Sri Ram installed in the disputed structure i.e. within the inner courtyard is concerned, the defendant Nirmohi Akhara cannot be said to be a Shebait thereof."

386. In the written submissions of Nirmohi Akhara it has been contended that the inner and outer courtyard form a composite whole and Suit 3 was only filed with respect to the inner courtyard as only the inner courtyard was the subject of the attachment proceedings. Nirmohi Akhara submits that the attachment order made an arbitrary distinction between the inner and outer courtyard and a finding with respect to the inner courtyard does not undermine their claim to shebaitship of the entire premises.

Even if this argument is accepted, apart from the determination that Nirmohi Akahra was not in possession of the inner courtyard, the independent question that arises for our determination is whether Nirmohi Akhara consistently exercised management rights over the idols in the outer courtyard to claim a right in law as a de facto shebait of the idols of Lord Ram. To support their contention, Nirmohi Akhara has relied on the oral evidence of witnesses in Suits 3 and 5 and also submitted certain additional documents to establish its status as shebait.

387. Mr S K Jain, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the plaintiff in Suit 3 placed reliance on the witness statements of Mahant Bhaskar Das (DW 3/1) and Raja Ram Pandey (DW 3/2) in Suit 3 to contend that it was admitted that the Nirmohi Akhara had been exercising the rights of a shebait since time immemorial. The oral evidence submitted by Nirmohi Akhara has already been analysed in the course of this judgement. The statements by their witnesses cannot be relied on to establish a cogent account of the activities undertaken by Nirmohi Akhara at the disputed site. Numerous witnesses admitted to not having read their own affidavits in lieu of their Examination-in-Chief.

The witnesses merely signed the relevant documents without understanding the testimony contained therein. Further, under cross-examination, a number of the witnesses expressly contradicted their own statements. Several witnesses admitted to not having even entered the disputed structure or rescinded earlier statements about their visits to the disputed structure. In light of these observations, the oral evidence relied upon by Nirmohi Akhara to establish their position as shebaits cannot be accepted. However, for the sake of completeness, the relevant extracts are examined below.

388. Mahant Bhaskar Das (DW 3/1) was the Panch of Nirmohi Akhara since 1950 and was at the material time the Sarpanch. In his affidavit, it was stated: "81. Lord Ram Lalla is seated in the inner part even before 1934 and it had been in the possession of Nirmohi Akhara continuously since 1934. The Muslims are not ignorant about it. The Lord is seated there. His worship, royal offering all is done on behalf of Nirmohi Akhara. On the day of the attachment (viz 29.12.1949) of the inner part also it was in possession of the Akhara. The ownership got ordained in Nirmohi Akhara due to its being a religious trust." It has been held, in the course of this judgement, on an analysis of the evidence on record, that the idols were shifted under the central dome on in the intervening night of 22/23 December 1950.

The affidavit of this witness contains references to the existence of Nirmohi Akhara in Ayodhya for 200 years and in the disputed site. However, with regard to the exercise of shebaiti rights, the witness states: "35. An annual contract was given to provide flowers, fruits, batasha, etc., to the visitors of the eastern door temple of Sri Ram Janambhomi. This was being done since ancient time by the previous Mahants of Nirmohi Akhara and an agreement was executed for it. The Brahmins were given the contract to provide holy and fresh water from the Sita Koop to the visitors/devotees. The tax was paid to the Mahant of the Akhara. I have submitted all the available agreements with me and many documents were plundered. The report was lodged for the same." In the cross examination of this witness by Mr Zafaryab Jilani, learned Senior Counsel appearing for the Sunni Central Waqf Board, on 11 September 2003, the witness replied: "After the attachment the offerings which were made on the idols places in the disputed building were not a part of any contract by Niromohi Akhara. There is a mention of agreement about the contract in para 36 of my affidavit but I do not remember how many such agreements were submitted in this court on behalf of Nirmohi akhara. I do not remember this time the names of those people who were made to write the aforesaid so called agreement by Nirmohi Akhara. I do not remember any name this time. I have written in para 35 of my affidavit about submitting such agreement in the court and Bindeshwari Dubey was one of them who wrote the agreement and it is submitted in the them who wrote the agreement and it is submitted in the court. Which is the Document No. 39 C-1/39, I cannot tell it by the number but the paper is titled."

(Emphasis supplied)

Though the witness makes reference to the presence of the Nirmohi Akhara in the disputed site, the witness is unable to recall any of the documents mentioned to have been submitted by him as evidence that the Nirmohi Akhara were exercising management rights as the shebait. It is also important to note the answer of this witness to the question put by Mr Jilani in the cross-examination dated 17 September 2003: "Question: - Shall I take it that most of the part of this affidavit was drafted by your advocate on the basis of his knowledge? Answer:- It is wrong to say so. Some parts of this affidavit is based on the knowledge of my advocate but I do not remember which is that part and I will not be able to tell it."

(Emphasis supplied)

The statements of DW 3/1 demonstrate that the witness was completely unaware of the documents alleged to have been submitted by him as evidence. The statements do not inspire confidence that the Nirmohi Akhara was exercising management rights as the shebait. 389. Mr S K Jain then relied on the Examination-in-Chief by way of affidavit of Raja Ram Pandey (DW 3/2) wherein it was stated: "14. ...Before attachment of Garb Grah and till the taking over of its charge by the receiver, I have seen the Priest and the Assistant Priest of Nirmohi Akhara reciting Aarty, offering deferential situations and giving 'prasad' and 'Charanamrit' and similarly I have seen upto February, 1982 the Priest, The Assistant Priest the Panch of Nirmohi Akhara reciting Aarti and performing 'pooja' (worship) in 'Chabootra Mandir and "Chhati Poojan sthal"." As noted above, a pujari who conducts worship at a temple is not elevated to the status of a shebait.

A pujari gains no independent right despite having conducted the ceremonies for a long period of time. Thus, the mere presence of pujaris does not vest in them any right to be shebaits. The mere performance of the work of a pujari does not in and of itself render a person a shebait. The statement of DW 3/2 establishes at the highest that some priests of Nirmohi Akhara were acting as pujaris, but does not evidence the exercise of management rights for the recognition of their status as a shebait.

390. Mr S K Jain also placed reliance on the testimony of Sri Acharya Mahant Bansidhar Das alias Uriya Baba (DW 3/18) in Suit 3 to contend that Nirmohi Akhara had been exercising management rights over the disputed site, including the performance of pujas. DW 3/18 was an intermittent resident of Ramkot, Ayodhya since 1930 and claimed to have lived at various temples and religious shrines in close proximity to the disputed site. During his Examination-in-Chief, DW 3/18 states: "In 1930 I went for darshan of Shri Ram Janam Bhoomi Mandir about which the suit is subjudice. At that time too Bhagwan Ram Lalla was sitting there, I took darshan and also took prasad, Aarti and charnamrit (sacred water). I had been receiving prasad, Aarti and Charnamrit from the Priest and Sadhus of Nirmohi Akhara living in the outer part i.e. in the Sant Niwas and store rooms situated in the north of main eastern gate, called Hanumatha dwar, in the north of Ram Chabutra."

(Emphasis supplied)

The witness stated that the priests in charge of the puja were priests of Nirmohi Akhara. However, under cross-examination by learned Senior Counsel Mr Jilani, the witness stated: "...First of all, I have darshan of Ramchabutra, then Ramlalla, Sita Kitchen and to Shankar Chabutra and from there I used to come back. Sometime I used to offer prasada while having darshan to Pujari (Priest) for offering in the inner side. I do not remember the name of Priest. Priest kept on changing. He himself said that Mahant of Hanumangarhi Faizabad remained the Priest for long time. I do not remember his name at present. On being reminded by learned cross-examiner advocate, he said priest name was Bhaskar Das. ... Bhaskar Dasji remained the priest of the disputed site for years but he was not a Mahant of Nirmohi Akhara ever. He was a priest of Hanumangarhi, Faizabad.

At present he is neither a Mahant of Nirmohi Akhara nor a priest. He is a member of the committee. I do not know how many members are there in a committee."

(Emphasis supplied)

Despite the initial statement that it was Nirmohi Akhara that performed the puja at the disputed site, the witness contradicts this statement under cross examination. The witness stated that it was one Bhaskar Das who performed puja. Bhaskar Das, according to the witness himself, was not associated with the Nirmohi Akhara. The contradictory stance of the witness cannot be relied upon to establish that Nirmohi Akhara were exercising management rights or even conducting the performance of the puja at the disputed site prior to 1949.

391. The testimony of several of the witnesses relied upon by the plaintiffs in Suit 3 is riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions. The testimony of DW 3/18 is no different. During his testimony he stated: "...The size of chabutra was about three-four feet, three feet in width and at one and half feet high from the ground level. This chabutra was just below the mid dome and is made of cement and bricks. This chabutra was at distance of two feet from western wall and was in the east... ... It is not correct to say that 5-6 thousand Hindus have kept the idols there on the night of 22/23.12.49, by making forceful entry into. It is also not correct to say these people have desecrated the Masjid. It is also not correct to say that idols were kept there in the night because idols have already been there. The point reported in the F.I.R. that idols were kept on the night of 22.12.1949, was incorrect...."

(Emphasis supplied)

During the course of this judgement a wealth of evidence has been produced by the parties. There is no evidence to suggest that the Ramchabutra was ever under the central dome of the mosque or that the idols existed inside the mosque prior to December 1949. The witness further goes on to state: "Telling a lie have been described as a sin in the dharmshastras. But if by telling a lie, proves a savior then there is no harm in telling a lie. Similarly there is no harm in telling a lie by a person who is dying of hunger. If there is a religious place and if somebody is acquiring it through wrong means or forcibly occupying them, there is no harm in telling a lie. If the religious place is taken away forcibly by others by telling a lie then it is correct."

(Emphasis supplied)

In light of these statements by the witness no reliance can be placed on his testimony.

392. Mr S K Jain has relied on the statement of Mr Jilani recorded on 22 April 2009 under Order X Rule 2 of the Code of Civil Procedure where it was stated: "...the existence of Nirmohi Akhara from the second half of nineteenth century onwards is also not disputed. It is however denied and disputed that Nirmohi Akhara was in existence and special in Ayodhya in 16th century AD or in 1528 AD and it also denied that any idols were there in the building of the Babri Masjid up to 22nd December, 1949." There is a distinction between the mere presence of Nirmohi Akhara at Ayodhya or around the disputed site and the actual possession and management of the disputed site. A mere presence within an area or possession of an area is not sufficient to be vested with the powers of a shebait. Nothing in Mr Jilani's statement demonstrates or concedes management or even possession by Nirmohi Akhara.

393. Reliance was then placed on the oral testimony of plaintiff witnesses in Suit 5. Mr S K Jain urged that these witnesses have admitted that it was the priests of the Nirmohi Akhara who were managing the idols at the disputed structure, before and after attachment. It was submitted that as the witnesses in Suit 5 had admitted the status of the Nirmohi Akhara as shebaits, no more evidence was required to be placed before this Court to establish that the Nirmohis are the shebaits. The relevant portions of these witness statements are as follows:

(i) Sri Mahant Paramhans Ram Charan Das (OPW-1) "... Before attachment, Hindus had been going to Garba Griha without any restrictions for having Darshan. Idols of Lord Saligram, Hanumanji and Ramlalla were installed there. People Belonging to the Nirmohi Akhara never obstructed any Hindu from going to the Garba Griha. Members of the Nirmohi Akhara used to manage Garbha Griha before attachment..."

(ii) Deoki Nandan Agarwal (OPW-2) "...Bairagis of Nirmohi Akhara who used to worship at the Ram Chabutra did not allow muslims to enter inside. Therefore Namaz could never be performed in this place in spite of efforts made constantly" "...Worship of idols which existed earlier on Ram Chabutra and of the idol installed after 1949 was got done only by the two people of the Nirmohi Akhara till a quarrel arose with Dharamdasji"

(iii) Shri Ram Nath Panda @ Bansari Panda (OPW-5) "In the Barred wall, there were two doors which used to remain locked and those doors were opened and closed by the Pujaris of the Nirmohi Akhara. The same very pujari used to offer prayers and perform Arti at Ram Chandra and Sita Rasoi Etc. We used to arrange Darshan of the Garbh Griha for the pilgrims from the railing itself. A Donation box was also kept there. On the main gates were the shops of Batasha and flowed/garlands. One of those belong to Sehdev mali." "...The key of the lock used to be in the possession of people of Nirmohi Akhara and whose pujari would open the lock, close the lock, and perform Arti puja and sounded bells and bugles..." "...from 1949 to 1970, I used to go to Ram Janm Bhumi Temple regularly. After the attachment of 1949, the receiver of Garbh Girha-Babu Priya Dutt Ram became the chairman of the Municipality Faizabad and at places like Ram Chabutra Temple, Chhathi Puja Sthal, Bhandar Sthal and Shiv Darbar Puja continued to be performed in the same way as before and was performed by the same people who used to perform it before..."

The testimony of the plaintiff witnesses in Suit 5 have been selectively extracted and do not bear out the conclusion that Nirmohi Akhara was a shebait. The statements of OPW - 1 that Nirmohi Akhara managed the inner courtyard are not supported by the evidence adduced, on which findings are recorded elsewhere in this judgement. Similarly, the isolated statement by OPW - 5 that the Nirmohis possessed the key to the outer courtyard is not corroborated by any other statements. If the Nirmohis possessed the key to the outer courtyard, every visitor to the disputed site, whether Hindu or Muslim, would have required the permission of the Nirmohis to enter. If true, such a state of affairs would have surely been recorded by other witnesses in their testimony. The statement of OPW - 2 once again merely indicates the presence of the Nirmohis in and around the disputed site. It indicates a disagreement between the Nirmohis and Dharam Das about the movement of the idols to the inner courtyard in 1949. This statement undermines the claim of the Nirmohis as exclusive managers of the deity as it evidences disagreement about the placement of the idols. The continued disavowal of the events of 22/23 December by the Nirmohi Akhara lends credence to this observation.

394. The oral testimony relied on by Nirmohi Akhara establishes, at best, that they were present in and around the disputed site. However, the presence of the Nirmohis around the disputed site does not amount to the exercise of management rights which entitle them in law to the status of a de facto shebait. The oral evidence in Suit 3 upon which reliance was placed is riddled with inconsistencies and does not bear out the conclusion that Nirmohi Akhara exercised management rights on behalf of the idols of Lord Ram. The oral evidence of the three witnesses in Suit 5 has been selectively extracted and the statements therein are not corroborated by the testimony of any other witness. Independent of the oral testimonies, Nirmohi Akhara has placed reliance upon documentary evidence to establish its status as shebait of the idols at the disputed site.

These documents are as follows:

(i) The complaint dated 25 September 1866 by Meer Rajab Ali Khateeb against Tulsidas regarding the "Kothri" constructed by certain bairagis inside the compound of the mosque;

(ii) Exhibit 30 - Suit 1: The appeal dated 13 December 1877 by Mohd. Asghar against Mahant Khem Das with respect to the order permitting the construction of a new gate on the northern side;

(iii) Exhibit 7 - Suit 5: Gazetteer of the Province of Oudh (1877-78);

(iv) Exhibit 24 - Suit 1: The plaint dated 8 November 1882 in the suit instituted by Syed Mohd. Asghar against Mahant Raghubar Das seeking rent for the use of the Chabutra;

(v) Exhibit 28 - Suit 1: The complaint dated 27 June 1884 by Mahant Raghubar Das seeking spot inspection in view of the work being carried out by Syed Mohd. Asghar for painting the mosque;

(vi) Exhibit A-22 - Suit 1: Suit dated 19 January 1885 filed by Mahant Raghubar Das seeking permission for the construction of a temple on the site of the Ramchabutra;

(vii) Exhibit 8 - Suit 3: Copy of agreement dated 11 June 1900 permitting Jhingoo (son of Gaya) to provide drinking water to the pilgrims visiting Ram Janmabhumi site at Ayodhya;

(viii) H R Nevill's "The Gazetteer of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh" (1905) stating that the Nirmohi Akhara sect formerly held the Janmasthan temple in Ramkot, the remains of which still belong to them;

(ix) Exhibit 9 - Suit 3: Copy of agreement dated 13 October 1942 regarding the Theka Shop of Janmabhumi Ram Kot Ayodhya executed by Narottam Das in favour of Gopal (son of Babu);

(x) Exhibit 10 - Suit 3: Agreement dated 29 October 1945 executed in respect of a shop by Mahant Raghunath Das;

(xi) Exhibit 49 - Suit 4: Mutation entry in favour of the Mahant Raghunath Das; and

(xii) Statement by DW - 10 by Umesh Chandra Pandey. It was further contended that while the Supurdaginama, by which the Receiver took possession does not record from whom possession was taken, the document indicates the presence of the Nirmohi Akhara in the outer courtyard.

Lastly, it was urged that after the interim order was passed in the Section 145 proceedings, the seva-puja continued "as before" and was conducted by the priests of the Nirmohi Akhara.

395. Nirmohi Akhara urged that the presence of numerous Bairagis of the Nirmohi Akhara at the disputed site evidences the exercise of management rights. To support this, Nirmohi Akhara relied on the following:

(i) Edward Thornton (1854, Gazetteer of the territories under the Government of East India Company) refers to the presence of about 500 Bairagis;

(ii) Letter dated 29 November 1949: Kripal Singh, the then Superintendent of Police at Faizabad addressed a letter to K K Nayar, the Deputy Commissioner mentioning that "several thousand Hindus, Bairagis and Sadhus" are to participate in the performance of the proposed Kirtan;

(iii) Letter dated 16 December 1949: K K Nayar (the Deputy Commissioner and District Magistrate, Faizabad) addressed a communication to Govind Narayan stating that "some time this year probably in October or November some grave-mounds were partially destroyed apparently by Bairagis who very keenly resent Muslim associations with this shrine"; and

(iv) Reference is also made to the presence of the Bairagis in the report of Waqf Inspector dated 23 December 1949 marked as Exhibit A-64 in Suit 1. The evidence relied on by the Nirmohi Akhara in this regard, evidences at best the presence of the Bairagis of the Nirmohi Akhara at the disputed site. No other credible documents or evidence was produced to show that these Bairagis in fact exercised the rights of management of a shebait.

396. The complaint of 25 September 1866 filed by Meer Rajab Ali Khateeb states that it is filed against one ‗Tulsidas'. Nirmohi Akhara sought to rely on oral evidence to prove that Tulsidas was in fact a Mahant of the Nirmohis and that it was Nirmohi Akhara who constructed the "Kothri". It has already been held that the oral evidence relied on by the Nimohis to substantiate their claim is not reliable. The document itself does not prove that Tulsidas was a Mahant of the Nirmohis nor that the construction was carried out by the Nirmohis. It is not corroborated by any other documentary evidence ordinarily associated with such a construction at the time and does not evidence the exercise of rights as a shebait.

397. Exhibits 8, 9 and 10 in Suit 3 establish that the Nirmohis were providing various services to the pilgrims visiting the disputed structure. However, all three exhibits pertain to the grant of permission to provide these services outside the disputed structure. At its highest, these exhibits show that the Nirmohis were present in and around the disputed structure and assisted the pilgrims. It does not however evidence any management over the idols or the disputed site itself.

398. Significant reliance was placed on the role of Mahant Rahubar Das as a Mahant of the Nirmohi Akhara. Reliance in this regard was placed on Exhibits 24 (suit dated 8 November 1882 filed for the collection of rent), Exhibit 28 (complaint dated 27 June 1884 seeking plot inspection) and Exhibit A-22 (1885 suit filed for the construction of a temple on the Ramchabutra) in Suit 1 adverted to above. It was contended that Mahant Raghubar Das filed the above suits as a Mahant of the Nirmohi Akhara. On this basis, it was contended that the management and charge of the deity was taken care of by the Nirmohi Akhara. A closer analysis reveals the numerous contradictions in the stand of the Nirmohi Akhara with respect to Mahant Raghubar Das. In the Suit of 1885, Mahant Raghubar Das claimed to be the "Mahant, Janmasthan, Ayodhya". In the written submissions filed by Nirmohi Akhara it was stated that Mahant Raghubar Das filed the Suit of 1885 in a personal capacity: "...the said suit [1885] was filed by Mahant Raghbar Das in his personal capacity without even mentioning the name of Nirmohi Akhara and in any case the subject property in the said suit - (Chabutra in Outer Courtyard) was different from the suit-property (Inner Courtyard) which is the subject matter of OOS No. 3".

(Emphasis supplied)

However, in the same written submissions, while speaking of the report of the Waqf Inspector dated 23 December 1949, it was said: "He mentions the name of Mahant Raghubar Das along with others who invited the Muslims for talks. Mahant Raghubar Das is the Mahant of Nirmohi Akhara."

(Emphasis supplied)

In the replication, Nirmohi Akhara disavowed any awareness about the suit by Mahant Raghubar Das: "...The plaintiffs are not aware of the said suit, if any, filed by any person known as Mahant Raghubar Das as Mahant of Janma Asthan." In the Written Statement filed on the behalf of Nirmohi Akhara in Suit 4, it was stated: "...The answering defendants are not aware of any suit having been filed by any person known as Mahant Raghubar Dass styling himself to be the Mahant of Janam Asthan..." In the suit of 1885, Mahant Raghubar Das claimed to be the Mahant, Janmasthan, Ayodhya.

In the oral hearings before this Court as well as the hearings before the High Court, Nirmohi Akhara claimed that Mahant Raghubar Das was a Mahant of Nirmohi Akhara. Justice Sudhir Agarwal makes the following observation: "964. What we have already noticed, it has not been disputed by Nirmohi Akhara that in 1885 Raghubar Das was Mahant of Nirmohi Akhara..." It is clear from the above extracts that Nirmohi Akhara sought to espouse Mahant Raghubar Das as a Mahant of the Nirmohi Akhara to establish that they have acted as shebaits since the 1800s. Yet they distance themselves from the Mahant when dealing with the question of res judicata. Nirmohi Akhara even stated that it was unaware of the Suit of 1885. The inconsistent stance of the Nirmohi Akhara with respect to Mahant Raghubar Das leads to an adverse inference against them.

399. The documentary evidence which has been produced by Nirmohi Akhara does not show that it was managing the property in question. Apart from the documentary evidence analysed above which does not further the case of Nirmohi Akhara, no evidence has been produced to show the exercise of management rights by Nirmohi Akhara. Stray acts do not constitute sufficient evidence to establish continuous, exclusive and uninterrupted exercise by Nirmohi Akhara of the rights and duties of a de facto shebait. No document that evidences repairs, construction, appointment of pujaris, or other activities has been produced before this Court. Significantly, apart from a stray reference in the account of the travellers, no document of Nirmohi Akhara has been put on record to show the exercise of management rights. The customs of Nirmohi Akhara were reduced to writing by a registered deed only on 19 March 1949.

400. When a question was put to Mr S K Jain to produce the original documents that establish the claim of the Nirmohi Akhara as shebaits, it was contended that an alleged dacoity had led to loss of the documents necessary to substantiate the claim. To substantiate this claim, it was contended that an FIR was filed on 18 February 1982 against Dharam Das. However, in the written submission submitted by the Nirmohis, it is stated that though Dharam Das remained in jail for two months, the case was subsequently quashed on the basis of a compromise. No documents have been adduced to substantiate this claim other than a reliance on the statement of a single witness - Raja Ramachandracharya (DW 3/20). This argument is an attempt to gloss over the glaring absence of any substantial proof of the exercise of management rights by the Nirmohis to confer on them the status of a shebait. The position of a shebait in law is of crucial significance. The shebait is the human ministrant and custodian of the idol and acts as its authorised representative. The shebait is vested with the right to bring an action on behalf of the deity and bind it. In this view, the claim of Nirmohi Akhara that it is a de facto shebait on the basis of the oral and documentary evidence on record has been analysed and it has been found that the claim has not ripened into shebait rights.

401. A claim of rights as a de facto shebait must be substantiated with proof that person is in exclusive possession of the trust property and exercises complete control over the right of management of the properties without any let or hindrance from any quarters whatsoever. For all practical purposes, this person is recognised as the person in charge of the trust properties. Though it cannot and has not been denied in the present proceedings that Nirmohi Akhara existed at the disputed site, the claim of Nirmohi Akhara, taken at the highest is that of an intermittent exercise of certain management rights. Their rights were peripheral, usually involving the assistance of pilgrims, and were constantly contested. As held above, a stray or intermittent exercise of management rights does not confer upon a claimant the position in law of a de facto shebait. It cannot be said that the acts of Nirmohi Akhara satisfy the legal standard of management and charge that is exclusive, uninterrupted and continuous over a sufficient period of time. Despite their undisputed presence at the disputed site, for the reasons outlined above, Nirmohi Akhara is not a shebait.

402. In light of the holding that Nirmohi Akhara is not the shebait for the idols of Lord Ram at the disputed site, it was open for an interested worshipper to sue on behalf of the deity. There existed no recognised shebait in law. In such a situation the idol's independent right to sue was exercised through its next friend, a worshipper interested in the protection of the idol and its interests. Suit 5 is maintainable as a suit instituted by a next friend on behalf of the first and second plaintiffs in the absence of a lawfully recognised shebait.

403. Mr Jaideep Gupta, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of Mahant Shri Dharam Das, respondent 12 in the present appeal urged that he is the successor (Chela) of Late Baba Abhiram Das, who was the priest of the Ram Janmabhumi temple before 1949. The present respondent is the Mahant of Akhil Bhartiya Sri Panch Nirvani Ani Akhara and Mahanth of Hanuman Garhi, Ayodhya. Late Baba Abhiram Das was defendant no 13/1 in Suit 4 and Defendant no 14 in Suit 5 and upon his death, the present respondent was substituted as defendant in the said suits. It is submitted that Late Baba Abhiram Das was the pujari of Janmasthan temple and played an instrumental role in its affairs. It has been submitted that prior to 1949, Late Baba Abhiram Das conducted the puja and even after the idol was placed inside the disputed structure, he continued to perform puja till 5 January 1950 when the receiver took charge. It is submitted that the present defendant being the chela of Late Baba Abhiram Das, is entitled to perform sewa-puja and bhog at the disputed structure as the shebait. In support of the above, the following submissions have been urged:

(i) The idol of Lord Ram was placed at the disputed structure in the intervening night of 22-23 December 1949. The deity after being placed inside the three domed structure (pratishthit) and the Ramjanmabhumi (swayambhu) are juristic persons and have the right and title over the disputed structure;

(ii) Nirmohi Akhara cannot claim to be the shebait with respect to the juristic entities after having denied their existence in their pleadings. When the incident took place in the intervening night of 22-23 December, no individual of Nirmohi Akhara was present there and no members of the Nirmohi Akhara were named as accused persons in the proceedings;

(iii) The respondent is the only person who can claim to be a shebait of the shrine of Ram Lalla and Janmabhumi. Respondent's Guru Late Baba Abhiram Das along with several others resolved to restore the sacred Janmasthan to its pristine glory by taking a collective vow on the occasion of Vijayadashmi at a public meeting held on 2 October 1949, pursuant to which the surrounding area around the disputed site was sanitised. This was followed by Navahana pathas, Japa and Sankirthan both inside and outside the three domed structure;

(iv) As long there exists a shebait, the management of the deity cannot be handed over to the next friend or the Ram Janmabhumi Nyas in Suit 5. Both Suit 1 and Suit 5 have been filed in a personal capacity and no management or possession can be handed over to them; and

(v) The fact that Late Baba Abhiram Das was the pujari/priest/shebait of the deity has been established from the following facts and records:

(a) One Shri Bhaskar Das (DW 3/1) in Suit 4, who was the Sarpanch of Nirmohi Akhara in his cross examination stated and confirmed that Late Baba Abhiram Das was the priest of the disputed structure and not the priest of Nirmohi Akhara;

(b) In his statement dated 29 December 1950 given before the Magistrate under Section 145, Late Baba Abhiram Das had categorically stated that he and his other co-pujaris had been maintaining and managing the Janmabhumi temple and the surrounding land since 1934;

(c) The respondent stated before the High Court that various religious functions at the disputed premises were organised under the supervision of his Guru, Late Baba Abhiram Das and electricity connections were also in his name;

(d) Mohd Hashim, who is plaintiff no 7 in Suit 4 and defendant no 3 in Suit 5 stated in his cross examination that the idols were placed inside the mosque by Abhiram Das, Dharam Das and others;

(e) On 30 April 1992, Late Deoki Nandan Agarwal, plaintiff 3 in Suit 5 had stated that the idol was placed inside the central dome on 22-23 December 1949 by Shri Paramhans Ramchandra and Late Baba Abhiram Das along with others;

(f) Late Baba Abhiram Das has been named as accused no 1 in both the FIR dated 23 December 1949 and chargesheet dated 1 February 1950 for placing the idol inside the disputed structure. Late Baba Abhiram Das has submitted that he is the pujari of the Ram Janmabhumi in the bail bond dated 1 February 1950;  

(g) The District Magistrate, Faizabad in his report dated 23 December 1949 observed that the crowd was controlled by permitting two or three persons including Abhiram Das, Ram Shukal Das and Sudarshan Das to offer bhog to the idol inside the disputed structure; and

(h) By an application dated 21 December 1962, Late Baba Abhiram Das applied for permission before the receiver for organising the program of 62 jayanti Samaroh. It is stated that the said Samaroh had been held each year and organised by Late Baba Abhiram Das and Janam Bhoomi Sewa Samiti.

404. The dispute inter se between Nirmohi Akhara and Nirvani Ani Akhara is not the subject matter of the existing dispute. Nirvani Ani Akhara has not pursued any proceedings of its own to establish its claim. The claim that Nirmohi Akhara was a shebait has been rejected. In discussing Nirmohi Akhara's claim, it has been held that to establish a claim as a shebait or even as a de facto shebait, one needs to rely on evidence that indicates more than a mere act of performing the functions of a priest. A pujari is merely a servant or appointee of a shebait and gains no independent right as a shebait despite having conducted ceremonies over a period of time. All the evidence relied upon to support the claim of Late Baba Abhiram Das is restricted to his having performed puja at the disputed premises and does not confer any shebaiti rights.

N. 7 Limitation in Suit 5

405. The cause of action leading to the institution of Suit 5 has been pleaded in paragraphs 14, 18, 30 and 36 of the plaint which read as follows: "14.That the plaintiff Deities and their devotees are extremely unhappy with the prolonged delay in the hearing and disposal of the said suits and the deteriorating management of the affairs of the Temple, particularly the way the money offered by the worshippers, who come in great numbers, is being misappropriated by the Pujaries and other Temple staff, and the receiver has not controlled this evil. Further devotees of the Plaintiff Deities are desirous of having a new Temple constructed, befitting their pristine glory, after removing the old structure at Sri Rama Janam Bhumi, Ayodhya. ...

18. That although the aforesaid suits have been pending trial for such an extraordinarily long number of years, they are inadequate and cannot result in a settlement of the dispute which led to their institution or the problems arising there from, in as much as neither the presiding Deity of Bhagwan Sri Rama Virajman nor the Asthan Sri Rama Janma Bhumi, the Plaintiffs Nos. 1 and 2 herein, who are both juridical persons, were impleaded therein, although they have a distinct personality of their own, separate from their worshippers and sewaks, and some of the actual parties thereto, who are worshippers, are to some extent involved in seeking to gratify their personal interests to be served by obtaining a control of the worship of the Plaintiff Deities. Moreover, the events which have occurred during these four decades, and many material facts and points of law require to be pleaded from the view point of the Plaintiff Deities, for a just determination of the dispute relating to Sri Rama Janma Bhumi, Ayodhya, and the land and buildings and other things appurtenant thereto.

The Plaintiffs have been accordingly advised to file a fresh suit of their own. ... 30. That the Hindu Public and the devotees of the Plaintiff Deities, who had dreamed of establishing Ram-Rajya in Free India, that is, the rule of Dharma and righteousness, of which Maryada Purushottam Sri Ramchandra Ji Maharaj was the epitome, have been keenly desirous of restoring his Janamsthan to its pristine glory, as a first step towards that national aspiration given to us by Mahatma Gandhi. For achieving this, they are publicly agitating for the construction of a grand Temple in the Nagar style. Plans and a model of the proposed Temple have already been prepared by the same family of architects who built the Somnath Temple. The active movement is planned to commence from September 30, 1989, and foundation stone of the new Temple building, it has been declared, shall be laid on November, 9, 1989. ... 36. That the cause of action for this suit has been accruing from day to day, particularly since recently when the plans of Temple reconstruction are being sought to be obstructed by violent action from the side of certain Muslim Communalists."

(Emphasis supplied)

The above averments of the cause of action comprise of the following components:

(i) A prolonged delay in the hearing and disposal of Suits 1, 3 and 4;

(ii) Deterioration in the management of the affairs of the temple and the failure of the receiver to control it;

(iii) Offerings by the worshippers have been misappropriated by the pujaris and temple staff;

(iv) The first and second plaintiffs who are claimed to be juridical persons were not impleaded as parties to the earlier suits;

(v) The worshippers and sevaks and some of the parties to the suits are seeking to pursue their own personal interest in seeking control of the worship of the deities;

(vi) Hindu devotees have been agitating for the construction of a new temple for which plans have been prepared; and

(vii) Plans for reconstruction are sought to be obstructed "by violent action from the side of certain Muslim communalists".

406. Suit 5 was instituted for "a declaration that the entire premises of Sri Ram Janmabhumi at Ayodhya, as described and delineated in Annexures I, II and III belong to the plaintiff deities" and for a consequential perpetual injunction. Annexures I, II and III were described in paragraph 2 of the plaint as "two site plans of the building premises and of the adjacent area known as Sri Rama Janma Bhumi, prepared by Shiv Shankar Lal Pleader ... along with his Report dated 25.05.1950." After the decision of the Constitution Bench of this Court in Dr M Ismail Faruqui v Union of India238, the dispute has been circumscribed to the area comprised in the inner and outer courtyards. Suit 5 was instituted on 1 July 1989, on which date, the Limitation Act 1963 was in force.

Submissions

407. Setting up the bar of limitation, Dr Rajeev Dhavan, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the Sunni Central Waqf Board, canvassed the following propositions:

(a) Section 10 of the Limitation Act 1963 has no application to the present case since the provision applies to a suit against a person in whom property has become vested in trust for any specific purpose, or his legal representative or assigns (other than for lawful consideration) for following in his or their hands the property or the proceeds thereof or for an account of the property or proceeds;

(b) The suit could not have been instituted when the deity was being "well represented" through its shebait - the Nirmohi Akhara - and no removal of the shebait has been sought on account of a grievance bearing on misconduct;

(c) The defence that a deity is a perpetual minor will not aid the plaintiffs in Suit 5 for the reason that the deity was represented by the shebait and a suit can be instituted by a worshipper as a next friend only when the shebait is found to have acted adversely to the interest of the deity. However, no allegation has been made by the next friend against the shebait;

(d) It is a settled principle of law that limitation runs against a perpetual minor; and

(e) Suit 5 is not maintainable as there was no cause of action for instituting it. Even otherwise, whichever provisions of the Limitation Act are applicable,

Suit 5 would be barred by limitation. On 23 September 2019, Dr Dhavan during the course of his oral submissions responded to the submissions of Mr Parasaran on limitation. While doing so, Dr Dhavan proceeded on the basis that Mr Parasaran had sought the benefit of Section 10 of the Limitation Act in submitting that the suit was within limitation. Subsequently, on 24 September 2019, in the fair tradition of the Bar of this Court, Dr Dhavan clarified that he was informed by Mr Parasaran that he was not taking the benefit of Section 10 and did not make a submission seeking the benefit of that provision. Dr Dhavan hence urged that the submissions under Section 10 be read as submissions urged by him.

408. Mr Parasaran urged that the contentions of Dr Dhavan, appearing for the Defendant-Sunni Waqf Board proceed on the footing that the plaintiffs are not juridical persons and that the Mahant of Nirmohi Akhara is a valid shebait both for the first and second plaintiffs. On the issue of limitation, the three judges of the Allahabad High Court unanimously held in favour of the plaintiffs (except that Justice S U Khan did not determine as to whether the second plaintiff is a juristic person). Hence, Mr Parasaran urged that the issue of limitation would depend upon the findings of this Court on issues 1,6 and 8239 in Suit 5 and in the event that these issues are held in favour of the plaintiffs in Suit 5, the attack of the defendants to the suit being barred by limitation would, in consequence, fail. 409. At the outset, it is necessary to record that in the course of the present judgment, it has been held that:

(i) Nirmohi Akhara has failed to establish its case of being a shebait;

(ii) As a consequence of (i), the challenge to the maintainability of Suit 5 on the ground that it was only Nirmohi Akhara as shebait which could have instituted the Suit must fail; and

(iii) The first plaintiff in Suit 5 is a juristic person. 239 Issue 1: Whether the first and second plaintiffs are juridical persons. Issue 6: Is third plaintiff not entitled to represent plaintiffs 1 and 2 as their next friend and is the suit not competent on this account. Issue 8: Is the defendant Nirmohi Akhara the "Shebait" of Bhagwan Sri Ram installed in the disputed structure. The issue of limitation would hence be addressed on the basis of the above position. Essentially, the Sunni Central Waqf Board in the course of its submissions sought to assail the findings of the High Court on limitation on three broad grounds:

(i) Suit 5 could not have been instituted when the deity was being ‗well represented' through its shebait against whose conduct there is no grievance and since the removal of the shebait has not been sought;

(ii) The defence of the deity being a perpetual minor cannot aid the plaintiffs since the deity was being represented by a shebait and a suit by a next friend can lie only when the shebait has acted adverse to the interest of the deity; and

(iii) It is a settled principle of law that a deity is not a minor for the purpose of limitation. The first and the second grounds noted above now stand concluded by the finding that Nirmohi Akhara was not a shebait and hence Suit 5 has been held to be maintainable at the behest of the next friend. The issue which then falls for consideration at this stage, is as to whether Suit 5 can be held to be within limitation on the ground that a deity is a perpetual minor. This submission of Mr C S Vaidyanathan, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the plaintiff in Suit 5, it is again necessary to reiterate would govern the first plaintiff alone which has been held to be a juristic person.

A statute of repose

410. The law of limitation is embodied in a statute which is based on the principles of repose or peace, as held by this Court in Pundlik Jalam Patil v Executive Engineer, Jalgoan Medium Project240: "An unlimited and perpetual threat of limitation creates insecurity and uncertainty; some kind of limitation is essential for public order..." The applicability of the provisions of the Limitation Act cannot be extended by analogy or implication. The right to claim in perpetuity is embodied in a specific situation which is referred to in Section 10 and the ambit of the provision cannot be extended as a matter of implication. Before 1929, Section 10 was cast in the following terms: "10. Suits against trustees and their representatives. - Notwithstanding anything contained in the foregoing provions of this Act, no suit against a person in whom property has become vested in trust for any specific purpose, or against his legal representatives or assigns (not being assigns for valuable consideration), for the purpose of following in his or their hands such property, or the proceeds thereof or for an account of such property or proceeds, shall be barred by any length of time." Section 10 was amended by the introduction of an explanation by the Indian Limitation (Amendment) Act 1929 (1 of 1929).

As amended, the provision came to read as follows: "10. Suits against express trustees and their representatives. - Notwithstanding anything hereinbefore contained, no suit against a person in whom property has become vested in trust for any specific purpose, or against his legal representatives or assigns (not being assigns for valuable consideration), for the purpose of following in his or their hands such property, or the proceeds thereof or for an account of such property or proceeds, shall be barred by any length of time.

Explanation : For the purposes of this section any property comprised in Hindu, Mohammedan, Buddhist religious or charitable endowment shall be deemed to be property vested in trust for a specific purpose, and the manager of any such property shall be deemed to be the trustee thereof."

411. The background of the amendment is understood by considering the decision of the Privy Council in Vidya Varuthi Thirtha v Balusami Ayyar241. Dealing with the alienation of property, the decision had wider implications which led to the statutory changes which were brought in 1929. The Privy Council held: "From the above review of the general law relating to Hindu and Mahommedan pious institutions it would prima facie follow that an alienation by a manager or superior by whatever name called cannot be treated as the act of a "trustee" to whom property has been "conveyed in trust" and who by virtue thereof has the capacity vested in him which is possessed by a "trustee" in the English law. Of course, a Hindu or a Mahommedan may "convey in trust" a specific property to a particular individual for a specific and definite purpose, and place himself expressly under the English law when the person to whom the legal ownership is transferred would become a trustee in the specific sense of the term."

(Emphasis supplied)

Alienation by a manager was held not to constitute an act of a trustee to whom property had been conveyed in trust in the same sense in which the expression was used in English law. As a result of the amendment of 1929, a deeming fiction was introduced consequent upon which property comprised in a Hindu, Mohammedan or Buddhist religious or charitable endowments was deemed to be property vested in trust for a specific purpose. Section 10 applies to suits filed against:

(i) A person in whom property has become vested in trust for a specific purpose; and

(ii) Legal representatives and assigns of such a trustee. However, it does not cover assigns of such a trustee for valuable consideration. The suit can be filed for the purpose of:

(i) Following in the hands of the trustee such property; (ii) Following in the hands of the trustee the proceeds of such property; and

(iii) For an account of such property or proceeds. Significant in the opening words of Section 10 is the absence of the words "by or against". The Section, in other words, does not apply to suits by a trustee against third parties. (See also in this context, the decision of a Division Bench of the Madras High Court in Palaniandi Gramani Manickammal v V Murugappa Gramani242).

Section 10 has no application to Suit 5. The argument of perpetual minority

412. Mr C S Vaidyanathan, learned Senior Counsel, urged that the idol is a minor by legal fiction. Hence, no adverse title can be acquired against a minor. Dr Rajeev Dhavan, learned Senior Counsel, submitted that although a deity is treated as a minor because of its inability to sue except through a human agency, a deity is not a minor for the purposes of limitation. He submitted that the dictum in Bishwanath v Sri Thakur Radha Ballabhji243 that a deity is a perpetual minor was not made in the context of limitation.

413. In Bishwanath, this Court was tasked with deciding whether a worshipper can maintain a suit for eviction on behalf of the idol if the shebait acts adversely to the interest of the idol. Chief Justice Subba Rao, speaking for a two-judge bench of this Court, held thus: "10. The question is, can such a person represent the idol when the Shebait acts adversely to its interest and fails to take action to safeguard its interest. On principle we do not see any justification for denying such a right to the worshipper. An idol is in the position of a minor when the person representing it leaves it in a lurch, a person interested in the worship of the idol can certainly be clothed with an ad hoc power of representation to protect its interest. It is a pragmatic, yet a legal solution to a difficult situation. Should it be held that a Shebait, who transferred the property, can only bring a suit for recovery, in most of the cases it will be an indirect approval of the dereliction of the Shebait's duty, for more often than not he will not admit his default and take steps to recover the property, apart from other technical pleas that may be open to the transferee in a suit. Should it be held that a worshipper can file only a suit for the removal of a Shebait and for the appointment of another in order to enable him to take steps to recover the property, such a procedure will be rather a prolonged and a complicated one and the interest of the idol may irreparably suffer. That is why decisions have permitted a worshipper in such circumstances to represent the idol and to recover the property for the idol. It has been held in a number of decisions that worshippers may file a suit praying for possession of a property on behalf of an endowment..."

(Emphasis supplied)

414. The suit in that case was instituted by Shri Thakur Radha Ballabhji, the deity represented by a next friend for possession of immoveable property and for mesne profits. The case of the plaintiff was that the second defendant, who was the Sarvarakar and manager, had alienated the property to the first defendant and the sale not being for necessity or for the benefit of the idol was not binding on the deity. Both the trial court and on appeal, the High Court held that the sale was not for the benefit of the deity and the consideration was not adequate. But it was urged that the suit for possession could only have been filed by the shebait and none else could represent the deity.

It was in that context, that this Court held that on principle there was no reason to deny to a worshipper a locus to institute a suit challenging the alienation when the shebait had acted adversely to the interest of the deity. The observation that the idol is in the position of a minor was not made in the context of the provisions of the Limitation Act. The observation was in the context of deciding whether a suit by a worshipper was maintainable when the manager had dealt with the property adverse to the interest of the deity. The dictum that the idol is in the position of a minor cannot be construed to mean that the idol is exempt from the application of the Limitation Act 1963.

415. In B K Mukherjea's "The Hindu Law of Religious and Charitable Trust"244, the position of law has been thus summarised: "A Hindu Idol is sometimes spoken of as a perpetual infant, but the analogy is not only incorrect but is positively misleading. There is no warrant for such doctrine in the rules of Hindu law and as was observed by Rankin, C.J. In Surendra V. Sri Sri Bhubaneswari, it is an extravagant doctrine contrary to the decision of the Judicial Committee in such cases as Damodar Das Vs. Lakhan Das. It is true that the deity like an infant suffers from legal disability and has got to act through some agent and there is a similarity also between the powers of the shebait of a deity and those of the guardian of an infant.

But the analogy really ends there. For purposes of Limitation Act the idol does not enjoy any privilege and regarding contractual rights also the position of the idol is the same as that of any other artificial person. The provisions of the Civil Procedure Code relating to suits by minors or persons of unsound mind do not in terms at least apply to an idol; and to build up a law of procedure upon the fiction that the idol is an infant would lead to manifestly undesirable and anomalous consequences."245

(Emphasis supplied)

These are prescient words of a visionary judge. Over the years, Courts have elucidated on the juristic character of the idol as a minor and the consequences of this legal fiction.

416. In 1903-4, the Privy Council in Maharaja Jagadindra Nath Roy Bahadur v Rani Hemanta Kumari Debi246 dealt with a case where the plaintiff, in his capacity as the shebait of an idol, had instituted suits for proprietary rights in certain property. The High Court held that the idol being a juridical person capable of holding property, limitation started running against him from the date of the transfer and hence the suit by the shebait was barred by limitation.

The Privy Council concurred with the judges of the High Court that being a juridical person, the idol was capable of holding property. However, limitation was saved because when the cause of action arose, the shebait to whom the possession and management of the dedicated property belonged, was a minor. Hence, the Privy Council held that the right to institute a suit for the protection of the property vested in the idol could be brought within three years of the attainment of majority of the shebait. Sir Arthur Wilson observed: "But assuming the religious dedication to have been of the strictest character, it still remains that the possession and management of the dedicated property belong to the sebait. And this carries with it the right to bring whatever suits are necessary for the protection of the property.

Every such right of suit is vested in the sebait, not in the idol. And in the present case the right to sue accrued to the plaintiff when he was under age. The case therefore falls within the clear language of s. 7 of the Limitation Act, which says that, "If a person entitled to institute a suit... be, at the time from which the period of limitation is to be reckoned, a minor," he may institute the suit after coming of age within a time which in the present case would be three years."

(Emphasis supplied)

The basis for holding that suit to be within limitation was not that the idol was not subject to the law of limitation but that the shebait was a minor on the date of the accrual of the course of action. The suit could be instituted within three years of the shebait attaining majority.

417. In 1909-10 a judgment was rendered by the Privy Council in Mahant Damodar Das v Adhikari Lakhan Das247 where there was a dispute between the senior chela and junior chela of a Mutt with regard to succession after the Mahant passed away. This was settled by an ikrarnama dated 3 November 1874. Under the ikrarnama, a math at Bhadrak was allotted in perpetuity to the senior chela and his successors, while a math at Bibisarai and the properties annexed to it were allotted to the junior chela in the capacity of an ‗adhikari', subject to an annual payment of Rs. 15 towards the expenses of the Bhadrak math. After the death of the senior chela, a suit was instituted by his successor for possession of the math at Bibisarai.

It was contended that the property was dedicated to the worship and service of the plaintiff's idol and was held by the junior chela in the capacity of an adhikari. The respondent set up limitation as a defence claiming that neither the plaintiff nor his predecessors had been in possession of the disputed property within twelve years prior to the institution of the suit. The trial court held that the suit was not barred by limitation, but the High Court reversed the decree on the ground that the respondent had held the disputed mutt adversely for more than twelve years. The Privy Council rejected the plea of the senior chela that the cause of action arose on the death of the senior chela and affirmed the ruling of the High Court that the suit was barred by limitation, having been instituted within twelve years of the death of the senior chela, but twenty seven years after the ikrarnama.

Sir Arthur Wilson held thus: "The learned Judges of the High Court have rightly held that in point of law the property dealt with by the ekrarnama was prior to its date to be regarded as vested not in the Mohant, but in the legal entity, the idol, the Mohant being only his representative and manager. And it follows from this that the learned Judges were further right in holding that from the date of the ekrarnama the possession of the junior chela, by virtue of the terms of that ekrarnama, was adverse to the right of the idol and of the senior chela, as representing that idol, and that, therefore, the present suit was barred by limitation."

(Emphasis supplied)

Though the above observations did not specifically deal with whether an idol could be regarded as a perpetual minor, the Privy Council held in clear terms that the plea of adverse possession as against the right of the idol was available and that therefore the suit was barred by limitation.

418. In Chttar Mal v Panchu Lal248, a Division Bench of the Allahabad High Court considered whether an idol suffers a disability of being a perpetual minor and hence a suit by an idol at any period of time after the date of the transfer would be saved from the bar of limitation under Section 7 of the Limitation Act. The argument was premised on the following opinion put forth in the fifth edition of Sastri's "Hindu Law"249: "As regards limitation it should be considered whether section 7 of the Limitation Act is not applicable to a suit to set aside an improper alienation by a sebait of the property belonging to a Hindu god. As the god is incapable of managing his property he should be deemed a perpetual minor for the purpose of limitation." The Division Bench, however, held: "...With respect, it may be pointed out that in a transfer by a minor the question of a proper or improper alienation would not arise.

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