The Supreme Court Friday decided to hear a fresh plea challenging the constitutional validity of a 1993 central law by which the government acquired 67.703 acres of land, including the disputed premises of Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid, in Ayodhya.A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi tagged the matter with the main petition on title dispute pending before a constitution bench. "List the matter before the bench already seized with the issue," the bench of Chief Justice Gogoi and Justice Sanjiv Khanna said. The plea, challenging legislative competence of Parliament to acquire religious land, was filed a week after the Centre had moved the apex court seeking modification in its 2003 order and allow it to return to original owners the 67 acres "non-disputed" land around the disputed structure in Ayodhya. The petition, filed by seven individuals, including two Lucknow-based lawyers claiming to be devotees of Ram Lalla, has contended that Parliament had no legislative competence to acquire land belonging to the state. Moreover, it said, the state legislature has the exclusive power to make provisions relating to the management of affairs of religious institutions inside its territory. The petitioners, including lawyers Shishir Chaturvedi and Sanjay Mishra, has submitted that the Acquisition of Certain Areas of Ayodhya Act, 1993 infringes upon the right to religion of Hindus guaranteed and protected under Article 25 (freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion) of the Constitution. The plea has sought the court's direction restraining the Centre and the Uttar Pradesh government from interfering in "Puja, Darshan and performance of rituals at the places of worship situated within the land admeasuring 67.703 acres acquired under the Act particularly at the land belonging to Shri Ram Janam Bhoomi Nyas, Manas Bhavan, Sankat Mochan Mandir, Ram Janmasthan Temple, Janki Mahal and Katha Mandap". It also said that the law, by which the entire disputed and adjoining undisputed land was acquired, violated the freedom of the Hindus to practise their fundamental religious rights under Article 25 of the Constitution. The central government had on January 29 moved the apex court seeking its nod to return the 67-acre undisputed acquired land around the disputed site to original owners. The 0.313 acre plot, on which the disputed structure stood before it was demolished by 'kar sevaks' on December 6, 1992, was within the 2.77-acre disputed premises, the plea filed by the BJP-led NDA government had said. The government had then acquired 67.703 acres, including the 2.77-acre plot, through a legislation in 1993.
The Ram Janambhoomi Nyas (RJN) is the owner of as much as 42 acres of the acquired non-disputed land.The Centre's plea has said that the RJN (a trust to promote construction of Ram Temple) had also sought return of excess land acquired to original owners. The Centre has claimed that only 0.313 acre of land was disputed on which the structure stood before it was demolished by 'kar sevaks' on December 6, 1992.