Supreme Court refuses to grant permission for Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations at Idgah Maidan in Bengaluru. Orders status quo

Apex Court directs parties to approach Karnataka High Court for resolution of the dispute

Apex Court directs parties to approach Karnataka High Court for resolution of the dispute
Apex Court directs parties to approach Karnataka High Court for resolution of the dispute

Ganpati festival will not be held at Bengaluru Idgah Maidan

The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to grant permission for Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations at Idgah Maidan in Bengaluru and ordered status quo on land by both parties. The order was passed by a bench of Justices Indira Banerjee, A S Oka, and M M Sundresh at 6.20 pm well past the normal working hours of the Court. The bench also returned the matter of land ownership back to the single-judge of the High Court to be decided on merits. “Status quo as of today to be maintained. Issues to be taken up by single-judge. SLP disposed of,” the order said.

The Court was hearing two appeals filed by the Central Muslim Association of Karnataka and the Karnataka State Board of Auqaf (appellants) challenging a Karnataka High Court verdict. The petitioners approached the top court against the permission granted by the State to conduct Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations in what they claimed to be Wakf property on Wednesday and Thursday. The petitioners were represented by senior lawyers Kapil Sibal and Dushyant Dave.

In the morning the petition was argued before a two-judge bench, which initially heard the matter, and referred the case to a 3-judge bench without ordering any status quo. This was due to a difference in opinion between the two judges on the bench – Justices Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia. This led to an urgent mention before Chief Justice of India (CJI) U U Lalit at 3.45 pm. The CJI then proceeded to constitute a 3-judge bench to hear the case on an immediate basis. The three-Judge bench started hearing at 4:30 pm.

The appeals filed before the apex court has challenged a division bench order of the Karnataka High Court allowing the State government to consider applications seeking the use of the Idgah Maidan in Bengaluru for religious and cultural activities. The order under challenge was passed on August 27 by a division bench of Acting Chief Justice Alok Aradhe and Justice Savanur Vishwajith Shetty in the State’s appeal against an interim order passed by a single-judge.

Justice Hemant Chandangoudar had allowed the use of the Idgah Maidan only for Independence Day and Republic Day celebrations, as a public playground, and used by the Muslim community to offer prayers on the days of Ramzan and Bakrid festivals as an interim measure. However, this order was modified by the division bench to the extent of asking the government to consider applications for all religious and cultural activities while the dispute over the land was pending.

Sibal argued that it is admitted position that no religious function has been performed by any other community in the Eidgah for the last 200 years. “In 1964 we had an injunction in our favor from Justice Hidayatullah. This is Wakf property under the Wakf Act. In 1970 also, an injunction was granted in our favour. Once it is Wakf, a character cannot be challenged. Now under new Act, they said the Wakf character is in dispute,” he said.

Sibal pointed out that a single judge of the High Court had ruled in their favour. “Thereafter the single-judge order was modified (by division bench). So a 200-year-old character of the land is sought to be changed. Suddenly they wake up in 2022 and on what ground,” Sibal said.

“Was any such festival held earlier,” Justice Oka asked. “Never,” replied Sibal. “So your objection to using the ground for any other purpose… is it in relation to only one festival. Is it only for the festival tomorrow that is Ganesh Chaturthi or others as well?” the bench queried. “No. (Objection is to) all religious festivals apart from Ramzan and Bakir eid,” Sibal said.

He underlined that a Supreme Court judgment had established that the land was an Eidgah and that the municipal corporation had no right over the same. “After this Mysore State Board had declared this to be Wakf land,” he contended.

Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi appearing for BBMP, however, rebutted the argument stating, “Corporation is not the owner, it is the State government.” “You cannot claim ownership till it is a Wakf property. The State of Karnataka is a party to the suit milords… Please see page 94. So the Wakf notification was never challenged at any stage. Where is the question of ownership over a Wakf land when there is a declaration that it is an auqaaf?” Sibal asked.

Senior Advocate Dushyant, also appearing for the appellants said that the urgency in the matter is because the State government has submitted that it will give permission for Ganesh Chaturthi for two days. “This is completely outside the jurisdiction of the state to touch this land even. What is troublesome is corporation was permanently injuncted to enter the Eidgah land and then in June 2020 corporation challenges its status. The single-judge order is eminently just. Articles 25 and 26 expressly protect the rights of minorities to protect their religious properties,” he contended.

There is a great salutary principle behind Articles 25 and 26 and the minorities should not be made to feel that their rights were trampled upon, he added.

“For 200 years this ground was not used for any other purpose,” Justice Oka remarked.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the State government, said that the entire premise of the appellant is based on an entry in the Wakf register. But to establish title, they have to go to the trial court, he said.

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