(PER MAJORITY) (BY J.S. VERMA, J. FOR HIMSELF M.N. VENKATACHALIAH, C.J., G.N. RAY. J.)
The Judgement started with the words of Jonathan Swift and Swami Vivekananda. Jonathan Swift said:- "We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another." Swami Vivekananda said:- "Religion is not in doctrines, in dogmas, nor in intellectual argumentation; it is being and becoming, it is realisation." This thought comes to mind as we contemplate the roots of this controversy. Genesis of this dispute is traceable to erosion of some fundamental values of the plural commitments of our polity. The constitutional validity of the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act, 1993 (No. 33 of 1993) (hereinafter referred to as 'Act No. 33 of 1993' or 'the Act') and the maintainability of Special Reference No. 1 of 1993 (hereinafter referred to as "the Special Reference") made by the President of India under Article 143(1) of the Constitution of India are the questions for decision in this case.
White Paper on Ayodhya, February 1993, issued by the Government of India:-
HISTORY AS PER WHITE PAPER:- Ayodhya situated in the north of India is a township in District Faizabad of Uttar Pradesh. It has long been a place of holy pilgrimage because of its mention in the epic Ramayana as the place of birth of Sri Ram. The structure commonly known as Ram Janma Bhoomi-Babri Masjid was erected as a mosque by one Mir Baqi in Ayodhya in 1528 AD. It is claimed by some sections that it was built at the site believed to be the birthspot of Sri Ram where a temple had stood earlier. This resulted in a long-standing dispute. The controversy entered a new phase with the placing of idols in the disputed structure in December 1949. The premises were attached under Section 145 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Civil suits were filed shortly thereafter. Interim orders in these civil suits restrained the parties from removing the idols or interfering with their worship. In effect, therefore, from December 1949 till 6- 12-1992 the structure had not been used as a mosque.
SHAME FULL ACT AS PER WHITE PAPER:- A new dimension was added to the campaign for construction of the temple with the formation of the Government in Uttar Pradesh in June 1991 by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) which declared its commitment to the construction of the temple and took certain steps like the acquisition of land adjoining the disputed structure while leaving out the disputed structure itself from the acquisition. The focus of the temple construction movement from October 1991 was to start construction of the temple by way of kar sewa on the land acquired by the Government of Uttar Pradesh while leaving the disputed structure intact. This attempt did not succeed and there was litigation in the Allahabad High Court as well as in this Court. There was a call for resumption of kar sewa from 6-12-1992 and the announcement made by the organisers was for a symbolic kar sewa without violation of the court orders including those made in the proceedings pending in this Court. In spite of initial reports from Ayodhya on 6-12-1992 indicating an air of normalcy, around midday a crowd addressed by leaders of BJP, VHP, etc., climbed the Ram Janma Bhumi-Babri Masjid (RJM-BM) structure and started damaging the domes. Within a short time, the entire structure was demolished and razed to the ground. Indeed, it was an act of "national shame". What was demolished was not merely an ancient structure; but the faith of the minorities in the sense of justice and fairplay of majority. It shook their faith in the rule of law and constitutional processes. A five-hundred-year-old structure which was defenceless and whose safety was a sacred trust in the hands of the State Government was demolished.
CONCLUSION OF WHITE PAPER:- The demolition of the Ram Janma Bhoomi- Babri Masjid structure at Ayodhya on 6-12-1992 was a most reprehensible act. The perpetrators of this deed struck not only against a place of worship, but also at the principles of secularism, democracy and the rule of law enshrined in our Constitution. In a move as sudden as it was shameful, a few thousand people managed to outrage the sentiments of millions of Indians of all communities who have reacted to this incident with anguish and dismay. What happened on 6-12-1992 was not a failure of the system as a whole, nor of the wisdom inherent in India's Constitution, nor yet of the power of tolerance, brotherhood and compassion that has so vividly informed the life of independent India. It was, the Supreme Court observed on that day, 'a great pity that a constitutionally elected Government could not discharge its duties in a matter of this sensitiveness and magnitude'. Commitments to the Court and Constitution, pledges to Parliament and the people, were simply cast aside. Therein lay the failure, therein the betrayal. Today India seeks to heal, and not reopen its wounds; to look forward with hope, and not backwards with fear; to reconcile reason with faith. Above all, India is determined to press ahead with the National Agenda, undeterred by aberrations."
NATURE OF DISPUTE:- It may be mentioned that a structure called the Ram Chabutra stood on the disputed site within the courtyard of the disputed structure. This structure also was demolished on 6-12-1992 (Appendix-V to the White Paper). Worship of the idols installed on the Ram Chabutra by Hindu devotees in general, it appears, had been performed for a considerable period of time without any objection by the Muslims to its worship at that place, prior to the shifting of the idols from the Ram Chabutra to the disputed structure in December 1949. As a result of demolition of Ram Chabutra also on 6- 12-1992, the worship by Hindus in general even at that place was interrupted. Thereafter, the worship of idols is being performed only by a priest nominated for the purpose without access to the public.
LITIGATION HISTORY AS DISCLOSED IN WHITE PAPER:- A brief reference to certain suits in this connection may now be made. In 1950, two suits were filed by some Hindus; in one of these suits in January 1950, the trial court passed interim orders whereby the idols remained at the place where they were installed in December 1949 and their puja by the Hindus continued. The interim order was confirmed by the High Court in April 1955. On 1-2-1986, the District Judge ordered the opening of the lock placed on a grill leading to the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine in the disputed structure and permitted puja by the Hindu devotees. In 1959, a suit was filed by the Nirmohi Akhara claiming title to the disputed structure. In 1981, another suit was filed claiming title to the disputed structure by the Sunni Central Wakf Board. In 1989, Deoki Nandan Agarwal, as the next friend of the Deity filed a title suit in respect of the disputed structure. In 1989, the aforementioned suits were transferred to the Allahabad High Court and were ordered to be heard together. On 14-8-1989, the High Court ordered the maintenance of status quo in respect of the disputed structure (Appendix-1 to the White Paper).
MUTUAL CLAIMS AND DISPUTES:- 1. "....interim orders in these civil suits restrained the parties from removing the idols or interfering with their worship. In effect, therefore, from December 1949 till 6-12-1992 the structure had not been used as a mosque."
2. Prior to December 1949 when the idols were shifted into the disputed structure from the Ram Chabutra, worship by Hindu devotees at the Ram Chabutra for a long time without any objection from Muslims is also beyond controversy.
3. A controversy, however, is raised about use of the disputed structure as a mosque from 1934 to December 1949. One version is that after some disturbance in 1934, the use of the disputed structure as a mosque had been stopped from 1934 itself and not merely from December 1949.
4. The other side disputes the alleged disuse of the mosque for prayers prior to December 1949.
5. The stand of the Uttar Pradesh Government in the suits was that the place was used as a mosque till 1949.
6. At the centre of the RJB-BM dispute is the demand voiced by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and its allied organisations for the restoration of a site said to be the birthplace of Sri Ram in Ayodhya.
7. Till 6-12- 1992 this site was occupied by the structure erected in 1528 by 'Mir Baqi' who claimed to have built it on orders of the first Mughal Emperor Babar. This structure has been described in the old government records as Masjid Janmasthan. It is now commonly referred to as Ram Janma Bhumi-Babri Masjid.
8. The VHP and its allied organisations base their demand on the assertion that this site is the birthplace of Sri Ram and a Hindu temple commemorating this site stood here till it was destroyed on Babar's command and a Masjid was erected in its place. The demand of the VHP has found support from the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).
9. The construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site, after removal or relocation of the existing structure, was a major plank in BJP's campaign during elections held in 1989 and 1991.
10. Other major political parties, however, had generally opposed this demand and had taken the stand that while a temple should be built, the issues in dispute should be resolved either by negotiations or by orders of the Court.
11. During the negotiations aimed at finding an amicable solution to the dispute, one issue which came to the fore was whether a Hindu temple had existed on the site occupied by the disputed structure and whether it was demolished on Babar's orders for the construction of the Masjid. It was stated on behalf of the Muslim organisations, as well as by certain eminent historians, that there was no evidence in favour of either of these two assertions. It was also stated by certain Muslim leaders that if these assertions were proved, the Muslims would voluntarily handover the disputed shrine to the Hindus. Naturally, this became the central issue in the negotiations between the VHP and AIBMAC.
12. It is tragic and ironical that the Ram Chabutra and Kaushalya Rasoi, which continued as places of worship during periods of Muslim and British rule have disappeared along with the RJB-BM structure at the hands of people professing to be 'devotees' of Lord Ram.
HOW THE ACT IS CHALLENGED AS OPPOSED TO SECULARISM:-
1. The argument is that the Act read as a whole is anti-secular being slanted in favour of the Hindu community and against the Muslim minority since it seeks to perpetuate demolition of the mosque which stood on the disputed site instead of providing for the logical just action of rebuilding it, appropriate in the circumstances.
2. It is urged that Section 4(3) provides for abatement of all pending suits and legal proceedings depriving the Muslim community of its defences including that of adverse possession for over 400 years since 1528 AD when the mosque was constructed on that site by Mir Baqi, without providing for an alternate dispute- resolution mechanism, and thereby it deprives the Muslim community of the judicial remedy to which it is entitled in the constitutional scheme under the rule of law.
3. It is urged that the Special Reference under Section 143(1) of the Constitution to this Court by the President of India is not of the core question, the answer to which would automatically resolve the dispute but only of a vague and hypothetical issue, the answer to which would not help in the resolution of the dispute as a legal issue.
4. It is also urged that Section 6 enables transfer of the acquired property including the disputed area to any authority, body or trust by the Central Government without reference to the real title over the disputed site.
5. It is further contended that Section 7 perpetuates the mischief of the demolition of the mosque by directing maintenance of the status quo as on 7-1-1993 which enables the Hindus to exercise the right of worship of some kind in the disputed site keeping the Muslims totally excluded from that area and this discrimination can be perpetuated to any length of time by the Central Government.
6. The provision in Section 7, it is urged, has the potential of perpetuating this mischief. Reference was also made to Section 8 to suggest that it is meaningless since the question of ownership over the disputed site remains to be decided and with the abatement of all pending suits and legal proceedings, there is no mechanism by which it can be adjudicated.
7. The objection to Section 8 is obviously in the context of the disputed area over which the title is in dispute and not to the remaining area specified in the Schedule to the Act, ownership of which is not disputed.
SECULARISM IN INDIA AS OBSERVED BY COURT:-
1. The polity assured to the people of India by the Constitution is described in the Preamble wherein the word 'secular' was added by the 42nd Amendment. It highlights the fundamental rights guaranteed in Articles 25 to 29 that the State shall have no religion of its own and all persons shall be equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion of their own choice. In brief, this is the concept of secularism as a basic feature of the Constitution of India and the way of life adopted by the people of India as their abiding faith and creed.
2. M.C. Setalvad stated thus: " (a) The coming of the partition emphasised the great importance of secularism. Notwithstanding the partition, a large Muslim minority, constituting a tenth of the population, continued to be the citizens of independent India. There were also other important minority groups of citizens. In the circumstances, a secular Constitution for independent India, under which all religions could enjoy equal freedom and all citizens equal rights, and which could weld together into one nation the different religious communities, became inevitable……………………..(b) The ideal, therefore, of a secular State in the sense of a State which treats all religions alike and displays a benevolent neutrality towards them is in a way more suited to the Indian environment and climate than that of truly secular State……………… (c) Secularism, in the Indian context, must be given the widest possible content. It should connote the eradication of all attitudes and practices derived from or connected with religion which impede our development and retard our growth into an integrated nation. (d) A concerted and earnest endeavour, both by the State and citizen, towards secularisation in accordance with this wide concept alone lead to the stabilisation of our democratic State and the establishment of a true and cohesive Indian nationhood."
3. Dr Shanker Dayal Sharma stated thus:- "We in India, however, understand secularism to denote 'Sarva Dharma Samabhaav': an approach of tolerance and understanding of the equality of all religions. This philosophical approach of understanding, coexistence and tolerance is the very spirit of our ancient thought. The Yajur Veda states: 'May all beings look on me with the eyes of a friend; May I look on all beings with the eyes of a friend. May we look on one another with the eyes of a friend.' A very significant manifestation of secular outlook is contained in the Prithvi Sukta in the Atharva Veda: This Earth, which accommodates peoples of different persuasions and languages, as in a peaceful home may it benefit all of us. 'Oh, Mother Earth, give to us, as your children the capacity to interact harmoniously; may we speak sweetly with one another.' And the Rig Veda emphatically declares: 'All human beings are of one race.' Thus a philosophical and ethnological composite is provided by ancient Indian thought for developing Sarva Dharma Samabhaav or secular thought and outlook. This enlightenment is the true nucleus of what is now known as Hinduism."
4. Proceeding further, referring to the impact of other religions on the Indian ethos, Dr Shanker Dayal Sharma said: "Two aspects in this regard are noteworthy. First, the initial appearance of Christianity or Islam or Zoroastrianism in India and their establishment on the mainland did not occur as a result of military conquest or threat of conquest. These religions were given a place by virtue of the attitude of accommodation and coexistence displayed by local authorities including the main religious authorities. The second aspect is even more important : Christianity, Islam and Zoroastrianism brought with them spiritual and humanistic thought harmonious and, in fact, identical to the core ideas of the established religious thought in India as exemplified by the basic beliefs of Vedic, Vedantic, Buddhist and Jain philosophy."
5. Dr Shanker Dayal Sharma stated thus:- There was natural interest, therefore, in Islam as a revealed religion brought forth by a Prophet of profound charisma who had faced adversities, and in Christianity, which spread the light of Jesus Christ who had suffered a terrible crucifixion for humanity's sake.
6. Dr Shanker Dayal Sharma stated thus:- Ummul Quran or the essence of the Quran refers to 'Allah' as Rab-ul-Alamin or Lord of the entire universe. It does not confine him to Muslims alone. The Second Surah in the Quran, titled 'Al-Baqurah' gives a warning, which is repeated throughout the Quran, that it is not mere professing of one's creed, but righteous conduct, that is true religion.
7. Dr Sharma also adverted to the contribution made to growth of secularism by Akbar who founded 'Din-e-Ilahi' and the support he was given by Abdul Rahim Khane Khana in addition to the secularism of Dara Shikoh. Impact of Muslim mysticism on Hinduism and contribution of Kabir to the Indian ethos has been lasting.
8. Secular ideals led to formation of the Sikh faith and the Gurus have made a lasting contribution to it. Dr Sharma said: "Guru Gobind Singh further magnified the secular ideal of the Sikh faith. The following lines composed by Guru Govind Singh come to mind. 'Mandir or Mosque, Puja or Namaz, Puran or Quran have no difference. All human beings are equal.’
9. Dr Zakir Hussain words: 'We want peace between the individual and groups within nations. These are all vitally interdependent. If the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, Buddha's philosophy of compassion, the Hindu concept of Ahimsa, and the passion of Islam for obedience to the will of God can combine, then we would succeed in generating the most potent influence for world peace.'
10. In S.R. Bommai v. Union of India [(1994) 3 SCC 1], a nine-Judge Bench of Supreme Court referred to the concept of 'secularism' in the Indian context. "As stated above, religious tolerance and equal treatment of all religious groups and protection of their life and property and of the places of their worship are an essential part of secularism enshrined in our Constitution. We have accepted the said goal not only because it is our historical legacy and a need of our national unity and integrity but also as a creed of universal brotherhood and humanism. It is our cardinal faith. Any profession and action which go counter to the aforesaid creed are a prima facie proof of the conduct in defiance of the provisions of our Constitution."
11. K. Ramaswamy, J. in the same decision In S.R. Bommai v. Union of India [(1994) 3 SCC 1], stated: “The concept of secularism of which religious freedom is the foremost appears to visualise not only of the subject of God but also an understanding between man and man. Secularism in the Constitution is not anti-God and it is sometimes believed to be a stay in a free society. Matters which are purely religious are left personal to the individual and the secular part is taken charge by the State on grounds of public interest, order and general welfare. The State guarantee individual and corporate religious freedom and dealt with an individual as citizen irrespective of his faith and religious belief and does not promote any particular religion nor prefers one against another. The concept of the secular State is, therefore, essential for successful working of the democratic form of Government. There can be no democracy if anti-secular forces are allowed to work dividing followers of different religious faith flaying at each other's throats. The secular Government should negate the attempt and bring order in the society. Religion in the positive sense, is an active instrument to allow the citizen full development of his person, not merely in the physical and material but in the non- material and non-secular life." ………….. "It would thus be clear that Constitution made demarcation between religious part personal to the individual and secular part thereof. The State does not extend patronage to any particular religion, State is neither pro particular religion nor anti-particular religion. It stands aloof, in other words maintains neutrality in matters of religion and provides equal protection to all religions subject to regulation and actively acts on secular part."
12. B.P. Jeevan Reddy, J. in the same context in the decision stated thus: "While the citizens of this country are free to profess, practice and propagate such religion, faith or belief as they choose, so far as the State is concerned, i.e., from the point of view of the State, the religion, faith or belief of a person is immaterial. To it, all are equal and all are entitled to be treated equally. How is this equal treatment possible, if the State were to prefer or promote a particular religion, race or caste, which necessarily means a less favourable treatment of all other religions, races and castes. How are the constitutional promises of social justice, liberty of belief, faith or worship and equality of status and of opportunity to be attained unless the State eschews the religion, faith or belief of a person from its consideration altogether while dealing with him, his rights, his duties and his entitlements? Secularism is thus more than a passive attitude of religious tolerance. It is a positive concept of equal treatment of all religions. This attitude is described by some as one of neutrality towards religion or as one of benevolent neutrality. This may be a concept evolved by western liberal thought or it may be, as some say, an abiding faith with the Indian people at all points of time. That is not material. What is material is that it is a constitutional goal and a basic feature of the Constitution as affirmed in Kesavananda Bharati (1973) 4 SCC 225 and Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain 1975 Supp SCC 1. Any step inconsistent with this constitutional policy is, in plain words, unconstitutional. This does not mean that the State has no say whatsoever in matters of religion. Laws can be made regulating the secular affairs of temples, mosques and other places of worships and maths.
13. Ahmadi, J. stated thus: "Notwithstanding the fact that the words 'Socialist' and 'Secular' were added in the Preamble of the Constitution in 1976 by the 42nd Amendment, the concept of Secularism was very much embedded in our constitutional philosophy. The term 'Secular' has advisedly not been defined presumably because it is a very elastic term not capable of a precise definition and perhaps best left undefined. By this amendment what was implicit was made explicit."
14. "Law in a Pluralist Society" by M.N. Venkatachaliah, J., says;- "The purpose of law in plural societies is not the progressive assimilation of the minorities in the majoritarian milieu. This would not solve the problem; but would vainly seek to dissolve it. 'The purpose of the law must be not to extinguish the groups which make the society but to devise political, social and legal means of preventing them from falling apart and so destroying the plural society of which they are members.' In a pluralist, secular polity law is perhaps the greatest integrating force. A cultivated respect for law and its institutions and symbols; a pride in the country's heritage and achievements; faith that people live under the protection of an adequate legal system are indispensable for sustaining unity in pluralist diversity…………………. To those that live in fear and insecurity all the joys and bright colours of life are etched away. There is need to provide a reassurance and a sense of belonging. It is not enough to say: 'Look here .... I never promised you a rose garden. I never promised you perfect justice.' But perfect justice may be an unattainable goal. At least it must be a tolerable accommodation of the conflicting interests of society. Though there may really be 'royal road to attain such accommodations concretely'.
REASONS FOR DECISION
1. The narration of facts indicates that the acquisition of properties under the Act affects the rights of both the communities and not merely those of the Muslim community. The interest claimed by the Muslims is only over the disputed site where the mosque stood before its demolition. The objection of the Hindus to this claim has to be adjudicated. The remaining entire property acquired under the Act is such over which no title is claimed by the Muslims. A large part thereof comprises of properties of Hindus of which the title is not even in dispute. The justification given for acquisition of the larger area including the property respecting which title is not disputed is that the same is necessary to ensure that the final outcome of adjudication should not be rendered meaningless by the existence of properties belonging to Hindus in the vicinity of the disputed structure in case the Muslims are found entitled to the disputed site. This obviously means that in the event of the Muslims succeeding in the adjudication of the dispute requiring the disputed structure to be handed over to the Muslim community, their success should not be thwarted by denial of proper access to, and enjoyment of rights in, the disputed area by exercise of rights of ownership of Hindu owners of the adjacent properties. Obviously, it is for this reason that the adjacent area has also been acquired to make available to the successful party, that part of it which is considered necessary, for proper enjoyment of the fruits of success on the final outcome to the adjudication. It is clear that one of the purposes of the acquisition of the adjacent properties is the ensurement of the effective enjoyment of the disputed site by the Muslim community in the event of its success in the litigation; and acquisition of the adjacent area is incidental to the main purpose and cannot be termed unreasonable. The "Manas Bhawan" and "Sita ki Rasoi", both belonging to the Hindus, are buildings which closely overlook the disputed site and are acquired because they are strategic in location in relation to the disputed area. The necessity of acquiring adjacent temples or religious buildings in view of their proximity to the disputed structure area, which forms a unique class by itself, is permissible.
2. It may also be mentioned that even as Ayodhya is said to be of particular significance to the Hindus as a place of pilgrimage because of the ancient belief that Lord Rama was born there, the mosque was of significance for the Muslim community as an ancient mosque built by Mir Baqi in 1528 AD. As a mosque, it was a religious place of worship by the Muslims. This indicates the comparative significance of the disputed site to the two communities and also that the impact of acquisition is equally on the right and interest of the Hindu community.
3. Maintenance of status quo as on 7-1-1993 does not, therefore, confer or have the effect of granting to the Hindu community any further benefit thereby. It is also pertinent to bear in mind that the persons responsible for demolition of the mosque on 6-12- 1992 were some miscreants who cannot be identified and equated with the entire Hindu community and, therefore, the act of vandalism so perpetrated by the miscreants cannot be treated as an act of the entire Hindu community for the purpose of adjudging the constitutionality of the enactment. Strong reaction against, and condemnation by the Hindus of the demolition of the structure in general bears eloquent testimony to this fact. Rejection of Bhartiya Janata Party at the hustings in the subsequent elections in Uttar Pradesh is another circumstance to that effect. The miscreants who demolished the mosque had no religion, caste or creed except the character of a criminal and the mere incident of birth of such a person in any particular community cannot attach the stigma of his crime to the community in which he was born.
4. It is difficult to visualise how Section 7(2) can be construed as a slant in favour of the Hindu community and, therefore, anti-secular. The provision does not curtail practice of right of worship of the Muslim community in the disputed area, there having been de facto no exercise of the practice or worship by them there at least since December 1949; and it maintains status quo by the freeze to the reduced right of worship by the Hindus as in existence on 7-1-1993. However, confining exercise of the right of worship of the Hindu community to its reduced form within the disputed area as on 7-1-1993, lesser than that exercised till the demolition on 6-12-1992, by the freeze enacted in Section 7(2) appears to be reasonable and just in view of the fact that the miscreants who demolished the mosque are suspected to be persons professing to practise the Hindu religion. The Hindu community must, therefore, bear the cross on its chest, for the misdeed of the miscreants reasonably suspected to belong to their religious fold.
5. Acquisition of the adjacent undisputed area belonging to Hindus has been attacked on the ground that it was unnecessary since ownership of the same is undisputed. Reason for acquisition of the larger area adjacent to the disputed area has been indicated. It is, therefore, not unrelated to the resolution of the dispute which is the reason for the entire acquisition. Even though, prima facie, the acquisition of the adjacent area in respect of which there is no dispute of title and which belongs to Hindus may appear to be a slant against the Hindus, yet on closer scrutiny it is not so since it is for the larger national purpose of maintaining and promoting communal harmony and in consonance with the creed of secularism. Once it is found that it is permissible to acquire an area in excess of the disputed area alone, adjacent to it, to effectuate the purpose of acquisition of the disputed area and to implement the outcome of the final adjudication between the parties to ensure that in the event of success of the Muslim community in the dispute their success remains meaningful, the extent of adjacent area considered necessary is in the domain of policy and not a matter for judicial scrutiny or a ground for testing the constitutional validity of the enactment, as earlier indicated. However, it is with the caveat of the Central Government's duty to restore it to its owner, as indicated earlier, if it is found later to be unnecessary; and reservation of liberty to the owner to challenge the needless acquisition when the total need has been determined.
6. Sub-section (3) of Section 4 provides for abatement of all pending suits and legal proceedings in respect of the right, title and interest relating to any property which has vested in the Central Government under Section 3. The rival claims to the disputed area which were to be adjudicated in the pending suits can no longer be determined therein as a result of the abatement of the suits. This also results in extinction of the several defences raised by the Muslim community including that of adverse possession of the disputed area for over 400 years since construction of the mosque there in 1528 AD by Mir Baqi. ……………… For this reason, it was urged, that the abatement of pending suits amounts to denial of the judicial remedy available to the Muslim community for resolution of the dispute and grant of the relief on that basis in accordance with the scheme of redress under the rule of law envisaged by the Constitution. The validity of sub-section (3) of Section 4 is assailed on this ground……. We accordingly declare sub-section (3) of Section 4 to be unconstitutional.
7. The disputed area being taken over by the Central Government only as a statutory receiver, there is no question of payment of compensation for the same as it is meant to be handed over to the successful party in the suits, in terms of the ultimate judicial verdict therein, for the faithful implementation of the judicial decision.
STATUS OF MOSQUE UNDER MOHAMMEDAN LAW:-
A larger question raised at the hearing was that there is no power in the State to acquire any mosque, irrespective of its significance to practice of the religion of Islam. The argument is that a mosque, even if it is of no particular significance to the practice of religion of Islam, cannot be acquired because of the special status of a mosque in Mahomedan Law. This argument was not confined to a mosque of particular significance without which right to practise the religion is not conceivable because it may form an essential and integral part of the practice of Islam. In the view that we have taken of limited vesting in the Central Government as a statutory receiver of the disputed area in which the mosque stood, for the purpose of handing it over to the party found entitled to it, and requiring it to maintain status quo therein till then, this question may not be of any practical significance since there is no absolute divesting of the true owner of that property. We may observe that the proposition advanced does appear to us to be too broad for acceptance inasmuch as it would restrict the sovereign power of acquisition even where such acquisition is essential for an undoubted national purpose, if the mosque happens to be located in the property acquired as an ordinary place of worship without any particular significance attached to it for the practice of Islam as a religion. It would also lead to the strange result that in secular India there would be discrimination against the religions, other than Islam. In view of the vehemence with which this argument was advanced by Dr Rajeev Dhavan and Shri Abdul Mannan to contend that the acquisition is invalid for this reason alone, it is necessary for us to decide this question. It has been contended that acquisition of a mosque violates the right given under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India.
This requires reference to the status of a mosque under the Mahomedan Law.
1. Even prior to the Constitution, places of worship had enjoyed a special sanctity in India. In order to give special protection to places of worship and to prevent hurting the religious sentiments of followers of different religions in British India, Chapter XV of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 was enacted. This Chapter exclusively deals with the offences relating to religion in Sections 295, 295-A, 296, 297 and 298 of the Indian Penal Code.
2. In British India, the right to worship of Muslims in a mosque and Hindus in a temple had always been recognised as a civil right. Prior to 1950, the Indian courts in British India had maintained the balance between the different communities or sects in respect of their right of worship.
3. Even prior to the guarantee of freedom of religion in the Constitution of India, Chief Justice Turner in Muthialu Chetti v. Bapun Saib ILR (1880) 2 Mad 140, 217 had held that during the British administration all religions were to be treated equally with the State maintaining neutrality having regard to public welfare.
4. In Sundram Chetti v. Queen ILR (1883) 6 Mad 203: approving Muthialu Chetti v. Bapun Saib ILR (1880) 2 Mad 140, 217 , Chief Justice Turner said : "But with reference to these and to other privileges claimed on the ground of caste or creed, I may observe that they had their origin in times when a State religion influence the public and private law of the country, and are hardly compatible with the principles which regulate British administration, the equal rights of all citizens and the complete neutrality of the State in matters of religion. ... When anarchy or absolutism yield place to well-ordered liberty, change there must be, but change in a direction which should command the assent of the intelligence of the country."
5. In Mosque known as Masjid Shahid Ganj v. Shromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar AIR 1938 Lah 369 :, it was held there that where a mosque has been adversely possessed by non- Muslims, it lost its sacred character as mosque. Hence, the view that once a consecrated mosque, it remains always a place of worship as a mosque was not the Mahomedan Law of India as approved by Indian courts. It was further held by the majority that a mosque in India was an immovable property and the right of worship at a particular place is lost when the right to property on which it stands is lost by adverse possession. The conclusion reached in the minority judgment of Din Mohd., J. is not the Mahomedan Law of British India. The majority view expressed by the learned Chief Justice of Lahore High Court was approved by the Privy Council in Mosque known as Masjid Shahid Ganj v. Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar AIR 1940 PC 116,121 : in the appeal against the said decision of the Lahore High Court. The Privy Council held : "It is impossible to read into the modem Limitation Acts any exception for property made wakf for the purposes of a mosque whether the purpose be merely to provide money for the upkeep and conduct of a mosque or to provide a site and building for the purpose. While their Lordships have every sympathy with the religious sentiment which would ascribe sanctity and inviolability to a place of worship, they cannot under the Limitation Act accept the contentions that such a building cannot be possessed adversely to the wakf, or that it is not so possessed so long as it is referred to as 'mosque' or unless the building is razed to the ground or loses the appearance which reveals its original purpose."
6. The Supreme Court from the beginning has consistently upheld the sovereign power of the State to acquire property. B.K. Mukherjee, J. (as he then was) held in Chiranjit Lal Chowdhuri v. Union of India as under : AIR 1951 SC 41 "It is a right inherent in every sovereign to take and appropriate private property belonging to individual citizens for public use. This right, which is described as eminent domain in American law, is like the power of taxation, an offspring of political necessity, and it is supposed to be based upon an implied reservation by Government that private property acquired by its citizens under its protection may be taken or its use controlled for public benefit irrespective of the wishes of the owner."
7. It appears from various decisions rendered by this Court, referred later, that subject to the protection under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution, places of religious worship like mosques, churches, temples etc. can be acquired under the State's sovereign power of acquisition. Such acquisition per se does not violate either Article 25 or Article 26 of the Constitution. The decisions relating to taking over of the management have no bearing on the sovereign power of the State to acquire property.
8. Khajamian Wakf Estates v. State of Madras (1970) 3 SCC 894 has held : "It was next urged that by acquiring the properties belonging to religious denominations the legislature violated Article 26(c) and (d) which provide that religious denominations shall have the right to own and acquire movable and immovable property and administer such property in accordance with law. These provisions do not take away the right of the State to acquire property belonging to religious denominations. Those denominations can own or acquire properties and administer them in accordance with law. That does not mean that the property owned by them cannot be acquired. As a result of acquisition they cease to own that property. Thereafter their right to administer that property ceases because it is no longer their property. Article 26 does not interfere with the right of the State to acquire property."
9. Acharya Maharajshri Narendra Prasadji Anandprasadji Maharaj v. State of Gujarat 1975 1 SCC 11 held that: "One thing is, however, clear that Article 26 guarantees inter alia the right to own and acquire movable and immovable property for managing religious affairs. This right, however, cannot take away the right of the State to compulsorily acquire property. ... If, on the other hand, acquisition of property of a religious denomination by the State can be proved to be such as to destroy or completely negative its right to own and acquire movable and immovable property for even the survival of a religious institution the question may have to be examined in a different light. "
10. It may be noticed that Article 25 does not contain any reference to property unlike Article 26 of the Constitution. The right to practise, profess and propagate religion guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution does not necessarily include the right to acquire or own or possess property. Similarly this right does not extend to the right of worship at any and every place of worship so that any hindrance to worship at a particular place per se may infringe the religious freedom guaranteed under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution…………. While offer of prayer or worship is a religious practice, its offering at every location where such prayers can be offered would not be an essential or integral part of such religious practice unless the place has a particular significance for that religion so as to form an essential or integral part thereof. Places of worship of any religion having particular significance for that religion, to make it an essential or integral part of the religion, stand on a different footing and have to be treated differently and more reverentially.
11. A five-Judge Full Bench of the Allahabad High Court, in Raja Suryapalsingh v. U. P Govt. AIR 1951 All 674,690:, held: "Arguments have been advanced by learned counsel on behalf of certain waqfs and Hindu religious institutions based on Articles 25(1) & 26, clause (c) of the Constitution. ... It is said that a mutawalli's right to profess his religion is infringed if the waqf property is compulsorily acquired, but the acquisition of that property under Article 31 (to which the right conferred by Article 25 is expressly subject) has nothing to do with such rights and in no way interferes with this exercise."
12. It has been contended that a mosque enjoys a particular position in Muslim Law and once a mosque is established and prayers are offered in such a mosque, the same remains for all time to come a property of Allah and the same never reverts back to the donor or founder of the mosque and any person professing Islamic faith can offer prayer in such a mosque and even if the structure is demolished, the place remains the same where the namaz can be offered. As indicated hereinbefore, in British India, no such protection was given to a mosque and the mosque was subjected to the provisions of statute of limitation thereby extinguishing the right of Muslims to offer prayers in a particular mosque lost by adverse possession over that property.
13. Section 3(26) of the General Clauses Act comprehends the categories of properties known to Indian Law. Article 367 of the Constitution adopts this secular concept of property for purposes of our Constitution. A temple, church or mosque etc. are essentially immovable properties and subject to protection under Articles 25 and 26. Every immovable property is liable to be acquired. Viewed in the proper perspective, a mosque does not enjoy any additional protection which is not available to religious places of worship of other religions.
14. The correct position may be summarised thus. 1) Under the Mahomedan Law applicable in India, title to a mosque can be lost by adverse possession 2) If that is the position in law, there can be no reason to hold that a mosque has a unique or special status, higher than that of the places of worship of other religions in secular India to make it immune from acquisition by exercise of the sovereign or prerogative power of the State. 3) A mosque is not an essential part of the practice of the religion of Islam and namaz (prayer) by Muslims can be offered anywhere, even in open. 4) Accordingly, its acquisition is not prohibited by the provisions in the Constitution of India. 5) Irrespective of the status of a mosque in an Islamic country for the purpose of immunity from acquisition by the State in exercise of the sovereign power, its status and immunity from acquisition in the secular ethos of India under the Constitution is the same and equal to that of the places of worship of the other religions, namely, church, temple etc. 6) The right to worship is not at any and every place, so long as it can be practised effectively, unless the right to worship at a particular place is itself an integral part of that right.
DIRECTIONS:- The Central Government would be bound to take all necessary steps to implement the decision in the suits and other legal proceedings and to hand over the disputed area to the party found entitled to the same on the final adjudication made in the suits. The parties to the suits would be entitled to amend their pleadings suitably in the light of our decision.
SOME GREAT GENERAL HEARTY REMARKS OF COURT;- We must place on record our appreciation and gratitude to the learned members of the Bar who assisted us at the hearing of this matter of extraordinary and unusual importance to the national ethos. The learned Attorney General, the learned Solicitor General, the learned Advocate General of Madhya Pradesh, the learned Advocate General of Rajasthan, Shri F.S. Nariman, Shri Soli J. Sorabjee, Late Shri R.K. Garg, Dr Rajeev Dhavan, Shri Anil B. Divan, Shri Satish Chandra, Shri PR Rao, Shri Abdul Mannan, Shri O.P. Sharma, Shri S.N. Mehta, Shri RN. Duda, Shri V.M. Tarkunde, Shri Ashok H. Desai, Shri Shakil Ahmed Syed, Ms N. Bhagwat and the other learned counsel who assisted them rendered their valuable assistance with great zeal after considerable industry in the highest traditions of the Bar. ………………. It was particularly heartening to find that the cause of the Muslim community was forcefully advocated essentially by the members of the Bar belonging to other communities. Their commitment to the cause is evident from the fact that Shri Abdul Mannan who appeared for the Sunni Central Wakf Board endorsed the arguments on behalf of the Muslim community. The reciprocal gesture of Shri Mannan was equally heartening and indicative of mutual trust. The congenial atmosphere in which the entire hearing took place was a true manifestation of secularism in practice. Unless a solution is found which leaves everyone happy, that cannot be the beginning for continued harmony between "we the people of India".
In 1893 World's Parliament of Religions was held in Chicago, the Chairman of Parliament John Henry Barrows indicated its object and observed : "It was felt to be wise and advantageous that the religions of the world, which are competing at so many points in all the continents, should be brought together not for contention but for loving conference, in one room." In Parliament, Swami Vivekananda spoke of "Hinduism as the religion that has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance" and described the diversity of religions as "the same light coming through different colours". The assembly recited the Lord's Prayer as a universal prayer and Rabbi Emil Hirsch proclaimed : "The day of national religions is past. The God of the universe speaks of all mankind." At the closing session, Chicago lawyer Charles Bonney, one of Parliament's Chief visionaries, declared : "Henceforth the religions of the world will make war, not on each other, but on the giant evils that afflict mankind." Have we, during the last century, moved towards the professed goal? "As 1993 began, communal violence returned to India, sparked by the controversy over a 16th century mosque said to stand on the ruins of an ancient Hindu temple honouring Lord Rama." It may be said that "fundamentalism and pluralism pose the two challenges that people of all religious traditions face;" and " to the fundamentalists, the borders of religious certainty are tightly guarded; to the pluralist, the borders are good fences where one meets the neighbour. To many fundamentalists, secularism, seen as the denial of religious claims, is the enemy; to pluralists, secularism, seen as the separation of Government from the domination of a single religion, is the essential concomitant of religious diversity and the protection of religious freedom."
We conclude with the fervent hope that communal harmony, peace and tranquillity would soon descend in the land of Mahatma Gandhi, Father of the Nation, whose favourite bhajan (hymn) was- "Ishwar and Allah are both your names. Oh God! Grant this wisdom to all." ….. We do hope that the people of India would remember the gospel he preached and practised, and live up to his ideals. "Better late than never."
WHITE PAPER OBSERVES:- The disputed structure was used by the Muslims for offering prayers until the night of 22-12-1949/23-12-1949, when "Hindu idols were placed under the central dome of the main portion of the disputed structure. Worship of these idols was started on a big scale from the next morning. As this was likely to disturb the public peace the civil administration attached the premises under the provisions of Section 145 of the Criminal Procedure Code. This was the starting point of a whole chain of events which ultimately led to the demolition of the structure………. The controversy entered a new phase with the placing of idols in the disputed structure in December 1949. The premises were attached under Section 145 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Civil suits were filed shortly thereafter. The interim orders in these civil suits restrained the parties from removing the idols or interfering with their worship. In effect, therefore, from December 1949 till December 1992 the structure had not been used as a mosque… The demolition ... was a most reprehensible act. The perpetrators of this deed struck not only against a place of worship but also at the principles of secularism, democracy and the rule of law...... At 6.45 p.m. on that day the idols were replaced where the disputed structure had stood and by 7.30 p.m. work had started on the construction of a temporary structure for them….. At about 9.10 p.m. the President of India issued a proclamation under the provisions of Article 356 assuming to himself all the functions of the Government of Uttar Pradesh and dissolving its Vidhan Sabha……. A structure called the Ram Chabutra stood on the disputed site, within the courtyard of the disputed structure. This structure was also demolished on 6-12-1992 . As a result, worship by the Hindus thereat,which, it appears, had been going on for a considerable period of time without objection by the Muslims, came to an end. ……. After the imposition of President's rule, the Central Government took, inter alia, the following decisions: "The Government will see to it that the demolished structure is rebuilt; and appropriate steps will be taken regarding new Ram temple."…….. On 27-12-1992, the aforesaid decisions taken on 7-12- 1992, "to rebuild the demolished structure and to take appropriate steps regarding new Ram temple" were elaborated as follows: "The Government has decided to acquire all areas in dispute in the suits pending in the Allahabad High Court. It has also been decided to acquire suitable adjacent area. The acquired area excluding the area on which the disputed structure stood would be made available to two trusts which would be set up for construction of a Ram temple and a mosque respectively and for planned development of the area. The Government of India has also decided to request the President to seek the opinion of the Supreme Court on the question whether there was a Hindu temple existing on the site where the disputed structure stood. The Government has also decided to abide by the opinion of the Supreme Court and to take appropriate steps to enforce the Court's opinion. Notwithstanding the acquisition of the disputed area, the Government would ensure that the position existing prior to the promulgation of the Ordinance is maintained until such time as the Supreme Court gives its opinion in the matter. Thereafter the rights of the parties shall be determined in the light of the Court's opinion."
TERMS OF REFERENCE
1. "Whereas a dispute has arisen whether a Hindu temple or any Hindu religious structure existed prior to the construction of the structure (including the premises of the inner and outer courtyards of such structure), commonly known as the Ram Janma Bhumi-Babri Masjid, in the area in which the structure stood in Village Kot Ramchandra in Ayodhya, in Pargana Haveli Avadh, in Tehsil Faizabad Sadar, in the district of Faizabad of the State of Uttar Pradesh.
2. And whereas the said area is located in Revenue Plot Nos. 159 and 160 in the said Village Kot Ramchandra;
3. And whereas the said dispute has affected the maintenance of public order and harmony between different communities in the country;
4. And whereas the aforesaid area vests in the Central Government by virtue of the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Ordinance, 1993;
5. And whereas notwithstanding the vesting of the aforesaid area in the Central Government under the said Ordinance the Central Government proposes to settle the said dispute after obtaining the opinion of the Supreme Court of India and in terms of the said opinion;
6. And whereas in view of what has been hereinbefore stated it appears to me that the question hereinafter set out has arisen and is of such a nature and of such public importance that it is expedient to obtain the opinion of the Supreme Court of India thereon;
7. Now, therefore, in exercise of the powers conferred upon me by clause (1) of Article 143 of the Constitution of India, 1, Shanker Dayal Sharma, President of India, hereby refer the following question to the Supreme Court of India for consideration and opinion thereon, namely,
8. Whether a Hindu temple or any Hindu religious structure existed prior to the construction of the Ram Janma Bhumi-Babri Masjid (including the premises of the inner and outer courtyards of such structure) in the area on which the structure stood?"
To avoid ambiguity, the learned Solicitor General was asked to take instructions and put in writing the Central Government's position in this behalf: If the answer to the question posed by the Reference was that no Hindu temple or religious structure had stood on the disputed site prior to the construction of the disputed structure, would the disputed structure be rebuilt? On 14-9- 1994, the -learned Solicitor General made the following statement in response: "Government stands by the policy of secularism and of even-handed treatment of all religious communities. The Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act, 1993, as well as the Presidential Reference, have the objective of maintaining public order and promoting communal harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst the people of India. Government is committed to the construction of a Ram temple and a mosque, but their actual location will be determined only after the Supreme Court renders its opinion in the Presidential Reference. Government will treat the finding of the Supreme Court on the question of fact referred under Article 143 of the Constitution as a verdict which is final and binding. In the light of the Supreme Court's opinion and consistent with it,Government will make efforts to resolve the cotroversy the controversy by a process of negotiations. Government is confident that the opinion of the Supreme Court will have a salutary effect on the attitudes of the communities and they will no longer take conflicting positions on the factual issue settled by the Supreme Court. If efforts at a negotiated settlement as aforesaid do not succeed, Government is committed to enforce a solution in the light of the Supreme Court's opinion and consistent with it, Government's action in this regard will be even-handed in respect of both the communities.
If the question refer-red is answered in the affirmative, namely, that a Hindu temple/structure did exist prior to the construction of the demolished structure, Government action will be in support of the wishes of the Hindu community. If, on the other hand, the question is answered in the negative, namely, that no such Hindu temple/structure existed at the relevant time, then Government action will be in support of the wishes of the Muslim community.
The learned Solicitor General was asked to clarify whether the Central Government proposed to act in support of either community's wishes as presently known or as ascertained after the answer to the Reference was given and negotiations had failed. The learned Solicitor General was unable to get instructions in this behalf from the Central Government. It is fair to say that he had not much time to do so as the arguments were closed on the day after the clarification was sought.
The Statement of Objects and Reasons state that the acquisition of the whole bundle of property and rights is necessary for setting up a planned complex housing "a Ram temple, a mosque, amenities for pilgrims, a library, museum and other suitable facilities". More importantly, the provisions of Section 4 of the Act, inasmuch as they deprive the Sunni Wakf Board and the Muslim community of the right to plead and establish adverse possession as aforesaid and restrict theredress of their grievance in respect of the disputed site to the answer to the limited question posed by the Reference and to negotiations subsequent thereto, and the provisions of Section 3 of the Act, which vest the whole bundle of property and rights in the Central Government to achieve this purpose, offend the principle of secularism, which is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution, being slanted in favour of one religious community as against another. ………….. The core provisions of the Act are Sections 3, 4 and 8. The other provisions of the Act are only ancillary and incidental to Sections 3, 4 and 8. Since the core provisions of Sections 3, 4 and 8 are unconstitutional, the Act itself cannot stand.
Reference was made in the course of the proceedings to the provisions of the Places of Worship Special Provisions Act, 1991. It is a statute to prohibit the conversion of any place of worship and to provide for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on 15-8-1947. It enjoins that no person shall convert any place of worship of any religious denomination or any section thereof into a place of worship of a different section of the same religious denomination or of a different religious denomination or any section thereof. It declares that the religious character of a place of worship existing on 15-8-1947, shall continue to be the same as it existed on that date. It is specified that nothing contained in the statute shall apply to the place of worship which was the disputed structure at Ayodhya and to any suit, appeal or other proceedings relating to it. Based upon The Places of Worship Act, it was submitted that what had happened at Ayodhya on 6-12-1992, could never happen again. The submission overlooks the fact that the Indian Penal Code contains provisions in respect of offences relating to religion. Section 295 thereof states that whoever destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship or any object held sacred by any class of persons with the object of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as an insult to their religion shall be punished. Section 295 provides for punishment of a person who with the deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representation or otherwise insults or attempts to insult the religion or religious beliefs of that class. Those who razed the disputed structure to the ground on 6-12-1992, were not deterred by these provisions. Others similarly minded are as little likely to be deterred by the provisions of the Places of Worship Act.
If the title to the place of worship is in dispute in a court of law and public order is jeopardised, two courses are open to the Central Government. It may apply to the court concerned to be appointed Receiver of the place of worship, to hold it secure pending the final adjudication of its title, or it may enact legislation that makes it statutory Receiver of the place of worship pending the adjudication of its title by the court concerned. In either event, the Central Government would bind itself to hand over the place of worship to the party in whose favour its title is found.
In our view, the Reference must not be answered, for the following reasons. 1. The Act and the Reference, as stated hereinabove, favour one religious community and disfavour another; the purpose of the Reference is, therefore, opposed to secularism and is unconstitutional. Besides, the Reference does not serve a constitutional purpose. 2. Secondly, the fifth recital to the Reference states that "the Central Government proposes to settle the said dispute after obtaining the opinion of the Supreme Court of India and in terms of the said opinion". It is clear that the Central Government does not propose to settle the dispute in terms of the Court's opinion. It proposes to use the Court's opinion as a springboard for negotiations. Resolution of the dispute as a result of such negotiations cannot be said to be a resolution of the dispute "in terms of the said opinion". Asked to obtain instructions and tell the Court that the mosque would be rebuilt if the question posed by the Reference was answered in the negative, the learned Solicitor General made the statement quoted above. It leaves us in no doubt that even in the circumstance that this Court opines that no Hindu temple or Hindu religious structure existed on the disputed site before the disputed structure was built thereon, there is no certainty that the mosque will be rebuilt. 3. Thirdly, there is the aspect of evidence in relation to the question referred. It is not our suggestion that a court of law is not competent to decide such a question. It can be done if expert evidence of archaeologists and historians is led, and is tested in cross-examination. The principal protagonists of the two stands are not appearing in the Reference; they will neither lead evidence nor cross- examine. The learned Solicitor General stated that the Central Government would lead no evidence, but it would place before the Court the material that it had collected from the two sides during the course of earlier negotiations. The Court being ill-equipped to examine and evaluate such material, it would have to appoint experts in the field to do so, and their evaluation would go unchallenged. Apart from the inherent inadvisability of rendering a judicial opinion on such evaluation, the opinion would be liable to the criticism of one or both sides that it was rendered without hearing them or their evidence. This would ordinarily be of no significance for they had chosen to stay away, but this opinion is intended to create a public climate for negotiations and the criticism would find the public ear, to say nothing of the fact that it would impair this Court's credibility. 4. Ayodhya is a storm that will pass. The dignity and honour of the Supreme Court cannot be compromised because of it. 5. No observation that we have made is a reflection on the referring authority. We have the highest respect for the office of the President of India and for its present incumbent; his secular credentials are well known. 6. Having regard to the construction that we have placed upon the Act and the Reference, it is neither necessary nor appropriate to discuss the other challenges to their validity and maintainability, respectively. It may, however, be said that we found the argument that the Act was public order legislation and, therefore, beyond the competence of Parliament very plausible. 7. To quote Gandhiji again: "India cannot cease to be one nation because people belonging to different religions live in it. ... In no part of the world are one nationality and one religion synonymous terms, nor has it ever been so in India." 8. The Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act, 1993, is struck down as being unconstitutional. The writ petitions impugning the validity of the Act are allowed.