In a significant move ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, the Centre Tuesday moved the Supreme Court seeking modification of its 2003 order to allow it to return to original owners the 67.390 acres of "non-disputed" acquired land around the disputed Ram Janambhoomi Babri Masjid structure in Ayodhya.
The 0.313-acre plot, on which disputed structure stood before it was demolished by the 'kar sevaks' on December 6, 1992, was within the 2.77-acre plot.
The government had acquired 67.703 acres, including the 2.77 acres, through legislation in 1993. The Ram Janambhoomi Nyas (RJN) is the owner of as much as 42 acres of the acquired non-disputed land.
The application filed by the BJP-led NDA government on Tuesday claimed that only 0.313 acres of land on which the disputed structure stood before the demolition was disputed portion of the land.
"The applicant (Centre) is filing this application seeking permission of this court to permit the applicant to fulfil the duty to revert/restore/hand over the excess/superfluous land acquired under the Acquisition of Certain Areas of Ayodhya Act, 1993," the plea said.
It sought modification of the apex court order of March 31, 2003, by which the Central government was directed to maintain the "status quo" with regard to entire land including the non-disputed acquired plots.
The Modi government, in its 33-page application, said that modification would enable it to determine "the exact extent of land required from out of the superfluous/ excess land to ensure that the successful party in the dispute pending regarding the 'disputed land' can have proper access to and enjoyment of rights in the disputed land."
The Centre also referred to the Supreme Court's verdict in the 1994 Ismail Faruqui case, saying the top court had observed that if the Centre wanted to return the acquired land to its original owners then it may do so.
"The Constitution Bench of this Court has held that the superfluous area which is other than the disputed area of 0.313 acres shall be reverted/ restored to its original owners," the plea said.
The plea has said the Ram Janambhoomi Nyas (a trust to promote construction of Ram Temple) had sought the return of excess land acquired in 1991 to original owners.
"One party namely Ram Janmbhoomi Nyas whose land measuring approximately 42 acres [which is a part of the superfluous/excess land] was acquired, has moved an application relying on the constitution bench judgment of this court," the plea said.
The Centre in its fresh plea has sought modification of the apex court order of 2003 in which it had directed to maintain status quo with regard to the acquired land.
"The Applicant is seeking permission of this court to discharge its duty as earmarked in the judgment of the constitution bench by suitably modifying /vacating the order dated 31.3.2003," the plea said.
The central government in 1991 had acquired 67 acres of land including the disputed site.
The Centre has said in its plea that it has no objection in returning the land to its actual owners.
"The Central Government has no objection in principle if the superfluous land is restored to RJB Nyas as well as other owners after determining the extent of land required for proper access to and enjoyment of rights in the disputed area by preparing a plan map.
Fourteen appeals have been filed in the apex court against the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgement, delivered in four civil suits, that the 2.77 acres of land be partitioned equally among three parties -- the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla.
Union Minister for Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad had on Monday disapprove of the slow pace of hearing on the Ayodhya title suit in the Supreme Court, and appealed to it for an "expeditious decision" as had been done in the matters related to adultery and Sabarimala temple.
Prasad qualified his views with the remark that he spoke as a citizen and not as the law minister.
His remarks came a day after the Supreme Court Sunday cancelled the January 29 hearing in the politically sensitive Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid land title dispute case as one member of the five-judge Constitution bench would not be available.
The Supreme Court had on Sunday cancelled the hearing scheduled for Tuesday in the title dispute case due to non-availability of Justice S A Bobde, one of the five judges of the Constitution bench.