After hearing intense arguments, the Supreme Court on Tuesday told the Karnataka government to maintain the status quo at the Idgah Maidan in Bengaluru’s Chamarajpet, adding that Ganesh Chaturthi puja can be held somewhere else, instead.
A bench of Justices Indira Banerjee, Abhay S. Oka, and M.M. Sundresh said: “The writ petition is pending before the single bench of (Karnataka) High Court and has been fixed for hearing on September 23, 2022. All questions/issues may be agitated in the High Court. In the meanwhile, status quo, as of date, with regard to the land in question shall be maintained by both the parties. The special leave petitions are, accordingly, disposed of.”
The top court heard the matter for nearly two hours after routine working hours, as Chief Justice U.U. Lalit referred the case to a three-judge bench headed by Justice Banerjee.
The bench orally told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Karnataka government, “You have the puja somewhere else. And go back to the high court.”
The Karnataka Waqf Board argued before the top court that such religious festivals have not been held at the place “for 200 years”. The petitions were filed by The Central Muslim Association of Karnataka and the Karnataka State Board of Auqaf against the Karnataka government and others.
At the root of the matter was a major question: who owns the ground, the state government or the Waqf Board? Mehta said the revenue officer said that this land continued to be of the ownership of the state government. Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Dushyant Dave, representing the petitioners, opposed this submission.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, representing the state government along with Mehta, said it is an open 2 acre land and not a mosque, and if for two days Ganesh Chaturthi festival is celebrated, what would be the prejudice? Sibal said it is an idgah, not a mosque.
Dave said he wondered if any temple in the country ever allowed prayers from the minority religion on its premises. He added that under Section 3 of Places Of Worship Act, there is an absolute bar against conversion of use of religious land for any other religion and it was upheld by a 5-judge bench.
The petitioners further argued that no religious event from any other community has been held on the property in question, and it has been declared as waqf property as per the law. “Suddenly in 2022, they say that it’s disputed land, and they want to hold Ganesh Chaturthi festival,” said counsel.
The state government counsel submitted that no permanent structure will be built on the land and a government managed temple will hold the festival for two days, and the government will also take care of the law and order situation.
Dave said: “The then CM of UP also gave an assurance, in the Babri Masjid case. You know what happened there.”
Rohatgi said the land was used as a playground for children, and added in Delhi, Dussehra effigies are burned everywhere, will people say don’t do this Hindu festival? He vehemently submitted that the need is to be a little broadminded and what will happen if Ganesh Chaturthi is allowed for two days?
Sibal cited an FIR was registered earlier this month on a complaint that said there is a dispute between Muslim and Hindu community, and the land in question belongs to the Revenue Department. “Your lordships should stop this,” said Sibal.
During the hearing, the bench noted that for 200 years, no other religious activity was performed on the land in question, so why not the status quo? “For 200 years, whatever was not held, let it be,” said the bench.
The top court was informed that “the Karnataka government has allowed Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations at Idgah maidan in Bengaluru for tomorrow and day after”.
The petitioners had moved the Supreme Court challenging the Karnataka High Court order, which allowed Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations at Idgah Maidan in Bengaluru’s Chamarajpet.
The matter was referred to a 3-Judge following “difference of opinion” between the two-judge comprising justices Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia.
Last week, the high court had granted permission to hold Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations at Idgah Maidan in Bengaluru’s Chamarajpet. The high court had said the government can take a call to permit the festival on the ground.
The court passed the order after the state government filed an appeal challenging the August 25 interim order to maintain status quo. The high court modified the interim order and allowed the state government to consider and pass appropriate orders on applications seeking use of the land in question for holding religious and cultural activities for a limited period from August 31 onwards.