A Supreme Court bench of justices Banumathi and Bopanna referred the petition seeking reconstruction of Guru Ravidas Temple in Delhi to the Chief Justice of India on Monday. The bench said that only the CJI can pass an appropriate order regarding placing the case before the bench which had ordered the demolition of the temple in the first place.
On August 9, a Supreme Court bench of Justice Arun Mishra and Justice A R Shah had ordered the demolition of the Ravidas temple located at the Jahapanh forest area in Delhi’s Tughlakabad. As per the SC order, the Delhi Development Authority demolished the temple on August 10, which had led to massive protests by Dalits, who demanded it to be reconstructed.
Sant Ravidas was a 16th century spiritual leader who is worshiped by Dalits. According to Dalits, the temple in Tughlakabad was built around 1509 by Sant Ravidas during the rule of Sikander Lodhi. Therefore, the temple has special religious and spiritual importance for the community.
The temple was demolished following a 33-year long court battle between the temple committee and DDA. The committee claims it has ownership of the land while the DDA claimed that it was government land encroached by the temple. In 2018, the Delhi High Court had ordered demolition of the temple, and the Supreme Court upheld the same on April 8, asking the premises to be vacated within 2 months. On August 2, the temple committee informed the court that it has vacated the premises. But on August 9, the DDA alleged that the temple has not been vacated yet and the committee had misled the court, and was also creating hurdles on the ground.
On the same day, the Supreme Court ordered the premises to be vacated within a day, and also to ordered the temple to be razed within a day by taking the help of police. This order was complied with by authorities on the next day.
After the demolition, a writ petition seeking to re-construct the temple was filed by Congress leaders Ashok Tanwa and Pradeep Jain Aditya. They have argued that the temple was a site of historic and cultural significance for the followers of Guru Ravidas, and that its demolition has resulted in the infringement of fundamental right to worship guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution.
The land at the site is of utmost historical and religious importance to all followers of Saint Guru Ravidas as the Guru himself had lived at the site, stated the petition. Therefore, the temple deserved special protection as a site of historical and religious significance. Land laws and DDA zoning regulations which came subsequently cannot apply to the temple, which had been in existence for about 600 years, the petitioners argued.
The petition also cited the Allahabad High Court judgement on Ayodhya case to claim that like the Ram Janambhoomi site, the Ravidas temple site was a juristic person and that the divinity of land is inalienable and cannot be taken away. The petitioners claim that as the followers of Guru Ravidas are from oppressed class in society, the temple required special protection.
According to the Guru Ravidas Jainti Samaroh Samiti, the committee that managed the temple, the plot was occupied by one of their ancestors nearly 160 years ago. The Samiti was formed in 1959, and it built the Guru Ravidas Temple, an ashram, samadhis of saints, a dharmashala at the site. The committee told the court that the temple was inaugurated on March 1, 1959 by then union minister Jagjiwan Ram, a prominent Dalit leader of that time.
DDA claims that the land was acquired in 1963 under the Land Acquisition Act and due compensation was paid for the same. Despite that the committee continued to encroach upon the land, they alleged. DDA says that structured built on the land were completely unauthorised. It says that constructions were done on protected forest land which and these were illegal.
The Delhi High Court had found that temple committee could not submit any document to show that it ever owned the land, and as the land was acquired by the government and transferred to DDA, the land is owned by DDA now.