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In a move that would help BJP enthuse its core Hindutva voters for the upcoming 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Narendra Modi government today (Tuesday, Jan 29) moved the Supreme Court to allow it to return 67-acre acquired land around the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site to the original owners, Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas.

The Centre said it had acquired 67 acres of land around the 2.77 acre disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site.

Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas is a trust founded by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to promote and oversee the construction of the Ram temple.

The Centre said that the excess land will be used to provide ingress and exit paths to the disputed site. It said that it doesn’t want that whosoever wins the title suit is impeded of entry and exit (to the disputed site) because of lack of release of the said land.

The move comes while BJP’s Sangh parivar affiliates mount pressure Supreme Court and the government to decide in favour of building Ram temple at Ayodhya. In what would perhaps be a brazen case of contempt of court, RSS leader Indresh Kumar went to the extent of accusing ‘two-three judges’ of stalling a decision on Ayodhya case and calling for a ‘halla bol’ at their houses.

Surprisingly, there was not a squeak from any section about this, and the Supreme Court chose to ignore it. Rather, the Union Law Minister joined the clamour in telling the Supreme Court to decide expeditiously in favour of Ram temple.

The Supreme Court is still to decide when it would start hearing the Ayodhya title dispute case – the petitions challenging the Allahabad high court verdict of 2010 that had ordered a three-way division of the disputed 2.77 acre area at Ayodhya among the parties: the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and the Lord Ram Lalla.

The Supreme Court’s proposed sitting today to decide on it was put off earlier on Sunday due to unavailability of one of the judges on the bench designated to hear the case: Justice SA Bobde, was not available for medical reasons.

Now the Modi government has asked the Supreme Court to dilute its earlier order which had said that the Centre must maintain status quo on the 67.7 acres of land it had acquired at the site back in 1993.

The Centre wants the court to allow transfer of a major chunk of the land – except the 0.313 acres on which the Babri Masjid stood – to the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, one of the parties in the title suit which is leading the campaign for construction of the Ram Mandir.

The Modi government has said that the original landowners, which included 42 acre of acquired land of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, were “entitled” to get their land back and the Centre is “duty bound” to return to Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas and other owners the land adjacent to the disputed site in Ayodhya.

“It is respectfully submitted that the acquisition took place in the year 1993 and 25 years have passed, the original landowners whose land, which were not in dispute but were still acquired, are entitled to get it back and the Central government is duty bound to restore/revert/hand over the same land,” reads the Centre’s application that was filed with the apex court registry, on Monday (January 28).

The prayer in the application reads: “Permit the Central government to restore/revert/hand over back superfluous/excess vacant land (other than the disputed land measuring 0.313 acres) to the owners/occupiers from whom the respective lands were acquired under the Act of 1993”. It may be recalled that the 67.7 acres of land at the Babri Masjid site and its vicinity was acquired by the Centre in 1993 through the controversial Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act.

“The Hon’ble Court be pleased to modify the order dated 31.3.2003 passed in the captioned matter so as to enable the central government to determine the exact extent of land required from out of the superfluous/excess land to ensure that successful party in the dispute pending regarding the ‘disputed land’ can have proper access to and enjoyment of rights in the disputed land. This applicant undertakes that each and every concern expressed by this Hon’ble Court in Ismail Faruqui (supra) and other judgments referred to above will be scrupulously taken care of,” the application states further.

The application by the Centre comes at a time when the ruling BJP’s parent organization – the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its ideological allies like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal have been demanding that the Modi government by pass the legal proceedings in the pending Ayodhya title suit and bring in an ordinance to enable construction of the Ram Mandir at the disputed site.

Though Prime Minister Modi had, in a recent interview, claimed that his government would wait for a resolution of the dispute by the Supreme Court before taking any steps that allow construction of the Ram Mandir, his colleagues in the government do not seem to share the same view.

The application comes days after Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad nearly commanded the Supreme Court to rule favourably for construction of the Ram Mandir. Stating that the court must begin proceedings in the title suit without delay, Prasad had said: “The Ayodhya case has been pending for the last 70 years. The Allahabad High Court order was in favour of the temple (in 2010), but then it is on hold in the Supreme Court now. This matter should be cleared soon.”

The law minister’s comment came close on the heels of the hearing in the case by a Constitution Bench being delayed once again due to the “non availability” of Justice SA Bobde, one of the judges on the five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi which was to begin proceedings in the case on January 29.

If the Supreme Court grants the Centre’s request and the Modi government hands over at least 42 acres of the 67.7 acres of acquired land to its original owners – the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, the preliminary groundwork for construction of the Ram Mandir may commence before the Lok Sabha polls begin in April-May.

At a time when it has failed to fulfil its promises on development front, this would be another ‘major’ instance after the Sardar Patel statue where the Modi government has been successful.

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