Justices question what had prompted lower court to divide Babri Masjid Mosque site between Hindus and Muslims when none of the claimants had asked for a split.
Partition of disputed Indian holy site in Ayodhya suspended by supreme court
NEW DELHI // India's Supreme Court yesterday suspended what it suggested was a flawed ruling that partitioned a disputed holy site with a history of triggering violent Hindu-Muslim clashes.
The two-justice bench stayed the order of the Allahabad High Court in September that had carved the site in the town of Ayodhya into three sections, one for Hindus, one for Muslims and one for a local Hindu trust.
Both justices questioned what had prompted the lower court to split the site when none of the numerous claimants had requested such a partition.
"The High Court has carved out a new relief which was never asked for. This is something that has to be corrected," said Justice R M Lodha, while Justice Aftab Alam described the ruling as "quite strange".
The comments came on the first day of a Supreme Court hearing of suits from multiple petitioners challenging the Allahabad court order.
In staying the September ruling, the court said the "status quo" should be maintained at the Ayodhya site, thus preventing any groups from building on their allotted portions.
The Allahabad ruling was seen by many experts as a flawed legal compromise to the seemingly intractable Ayodhya dispute and an effort to turn the page on its bloody history.
In 1992, a 16th-century mosque was razed by Hindu zealots, sparking riots that killed more than 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, in some of the worst sectarian violence since the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947.
Hindus say the mosque was built by the Moghul emperor Babur on the site of a temple marking the supposed birthplace of the Hindu warrior god Ram.
The drive to build a temple to Ram on the ruins of the razed mosque remains an important political plank of the main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which came to national prominence over the Ayodhya issue.
India has avoided any major outbreak of Hindu-Muslim violence since riots in Gujarat in 2002, and there are concerns that a protracted legal fight over Ayodhya could refuel sectarian tensions.
Hindus represent 80 per cent of India's 1.2 billion people while Muslims make up 13 per cent.
Most of the petitioners at yesterday's Supreme Court hearing were requesting that the site be handed over to one community or the other in its entirety.
Zafaryab Jilani, a lawyer for one of the Muslim groups involved, said he was "satisfied" with the stay order.
"Everybody had claimed for exclusive rights, so the Supreme Court is completely justified in staying the high court judgement," Mr Jilani said.
No date was set for the next hearing. Next week, the Supreme Court closes for the summer.