A court in Varanasi has ordered the Archaeological Survey of India to carry out a physical survey of the town's Gyanvapi Mosque, located next to the famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Reacting to the order, the UP Sunni Central Waqf Board said it will challenge the subordinate court's order in the Allahabad High Court.
The court ordered the survey while ruling on a 2019 plea asking for a ASI survey of the Mosque, filed by a Varanasi lawyer as part of a three-decade old petition, which contended that Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb had demolished an ancient temple of "Lord Vishweshwar" and "constructed a mosque with the help of the ruins of the said temple".
In its order, the court asked the Director General of the ASI to "constitute a five-member committee of eminent persons who are experts and well-versed in the science of archaeology, two out of which should preferably belong to the minority community".
The court also asked the ASI Chief to appoint an eminent person -- a scholar or an established academician -- as an observer for the committee.
In its order, the court said, "The prime purpose of the Archaeological Survey shall be to find out whether the religious structure standing at present at the 'disputed site' is a superimposition, alteration or addition or there is a structural overlapping of any kind, with or over, any other religious structure".
The committee, the court added, "shall also trace whether any temple belonging to the Hindu community ever existed before the mosque in question was built or superimposed or added upon it at the 'disputed' site'".
Hours after the ruling, UP Sunni Central Waqf Board in a statement said it will approach the Allahabad High Court. "Our understanding is clear that this case is barred by the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991. The Places of Worship Act was upheld by a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in the Ayodhya judgment," Sunni Central Waqf Board chairman Zufar Ahmad Farooqui said.
"The status of Gyanvapi Masjid is, as such, beyond question," he asserted.
"Even otherwise, we can say as per legal advice that the order of survey is questionable because technical evidence can only supplement certain foundational facts. No evidence has been produced before the court that suggests that there was a prior existing temple at the site of the mosque," he added.
The original petition in the case was filed in 1991 but a clutch of Varanasi residents contended the mosque was built over an ancient temple in 1664 by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.
R Shamshad, a member of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, said the lawsuit is non-maintainable and should be dismissed in view of a law made in 1991.
"A petition was filed seeking dismissal of this suit on which the district court has passed an order. Now the whole issue is pending in the Allahabad High Court on whether the suit can be heard or not. In this background, when the issue is pending in the Allahabad high court, I do not think there is any justification in such an order. Such an order should not have been passed at this stage," he added.