The Supreme Court today stayed the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) survey of the Gnanavapi Masjid in Varanasi for two days.
The mosque’s management committee approached the court fearing that the survey could lead to excavations in the historic mosque complex, which is located right next to Varanasi’s iconic Kashi Vishwanath temple.
The Centre, however, assured the court that the survey would not alter the structure in any way and stressed that “not a single brick has been removed nor is it planned”.
Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta told the court that the survey plan included only measurements, photography and radar studies.
“It appears that the ASI is not contemplating any excavation in pursuance of the order. We record the statement that at this stage no excavation is contemplated for a week till Monday next week,” Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud said, taking the Centre’s submissions on record.
The mosque hit the headlines in 2021 after a group of Hindu women approached an Uttar Pradesh court seeking permission to worship deities at the Gnanavapi complex.
A lower court then ordered a video survey of the complex during which an object was discovered that a section of people claimed was a Shivlinga. The mosque management committee, however, said it was part of a wazukhana (pool) fountain for washing hands and feet before prayers.
Keeping in mind the sensitivity of the issue, the Supreme Court closed the pool (wajukhana).
Earlier this year, the Allahabad High Court dismissed the mosque committee’s petition challenging the maintenance of its request to worship Hindu deities found inside the premises.
The order paved the way for a Varanasi court ruling, allowing a survey by the ASI inside the mosque complex, excluding the pool area.
Then the mosque committee approached the Supreme Court expressing concern about the excavation work.
The court has now allowed the petitioners to approach the Allahabad High Court to challenge the ASI survey order and asked the High Court registrar to ensure that the matter is placed before a bench before the status quo order is finalised.