In its judgment of 2010, the Allahabad High Court had, on a finding that Hindus and Muslims were in joint possession, directed a three-way bifurcation of the disputed site, one third each being assigned to the Muslims, Hindus and Nirmohi Akhara.
Justice S U Khan had held that the title followed possession, and therefore, the disputed site should be equally distributed between the three parties. Justice Sudhir Agarwal held that in order to do complete justice and to avoid a multiplicity of litigation, it was open to the court to amend the relief — he, therefore, joined in directing a three-way bifurcation.
These are the reasons the Supreme Court gave to strike down the Allahabad High Court order. The judgment says:
* To begin with, the High Court was not seized of a suit for partition. Rather, it was hearing:
(i) a suit by a worshipper seeking the enforcement of the right to pray (Suit 1);
(ii) a suit by Nirmohi Akhara asserting shebait rights to the management and charge of the temple (Suit 3);
(iii) a declaratory suit on title by the Sunni Central Waqf Board and Muslims (Suit 4); and
(iv) a suit for a declaration on behalf of the Hindu deities in which an injunction has also been sought, restraining any obstruction with the construction of a temple (Suit 5).
The High Court was called upon to decide the question of the title, particularly in the declaratory suits – Suits 4 and 5.
In Srinivas Ram Kumar v Mahabir Prasad, the Supreme Court had held that it is not open to the court to grant relief to the plaintiff on a case for which there is no basis in the pleadings. It reiterated this principle in Sri Venkataramana Devaru v State of Mysore.
The High Court, the Supreme Court has said in its judgment, “adopted a path which was not open to it… (and) granted reliefs which were not the subject matter of the prayers in the suits”.
“The High Court has completely erred in granting relief which lay outside the ambit of the pleadings and the cases set up by the plaintiffs in Suits 3, 4 and 5,” the Supreme Court said.
* The Supreme Court also pointed to “another serious flaw” in the approach of the High Court in ordering a three-way bifurcation of the disputed site. Having come to the conclusion that Suit 3 (filed by Nirmohi Akhara) and Suit 4 (filed by Sunni Central Waqf Board) were barred by limitation, the High Court proceeded to grant relief in Suit 5 to the plaintiffs in Suits 3 and 4, the Supreme Court noted.
“This”, it said, “defies logic and is contrary to settled principles of law”.
Moreover, the court said, the claim by the Nirmohi Akhara was as a shebait who claimed a decree for management and charge — and “on its own case, Nirmohi Akhara could not have been granted an independent share of the land.”
Therefore, the Supreme Court said, the three-way bifurcation by the High Court was legally unsustainable.