New Delhi, Nov 9 : "The Babri mosque was not constructed on vacant land," the Supreme Court said on Saturday while accepting the conclusions of Allahabad High Court Justice Sudhir Agarwal.
But the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) report establishing the presence of a Hindu temple beneath the Babri Masjid cannot supercede the standards, which govern a civil trial, the top court said.
"Title to the land must be decided on settled legal principles and by applying evidentiary standards which govern a civil trial," said the court.
In what will go down in history as one of its most landmark verdicts, the Supreme Court on Saturday granted the ownership of the 2.77 acres of disputed land in Ayodhya to the Hindus, paving the way for the construction of a Ram Temple, and ruled that the Muslims will get 5 acres of land at an alternative site.
The five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Rajan Gogoi said, "The underlying structure was not of Islamic origin, and the foundation of the disputed structure rests on the walls of the underlying structure."
The Muslim side had argued that the underlying structure could have been of Islamic origin.
However, the apex court rubbished this claim, stating that the artefacts, including architectural fragments which have been recovered during excavation, have a distinct non-Islamic origin.
"Though individually, some of the artefacts could also have been utilised in a structure of Buddhist or Jain origin, there is no evidence of the underlying structure being of an Islamic religious nature," the top court said.
The ASI had concluded that the nature of the underlying structure and the recoveries which have been made would on stylistic ground suggest the existence of a temple structure dating back to 12th century A.D.
The court observed that the ASI on a balance of probabilities would have come to this conclusion which is supported by evidence.
"The conclusion cannot be rejected as unsupported by evidence or lying beyond the test of a preponderance of probabilities, which must govern a civil trial," the court observed.
The apex court concluded that there was no specific finding that the underlying structure was a temple dedicated to Lord Ram.
"Significantly, the ASI has not specifically opined on whether a temple was demolished for the construction of the disputed structure though it has emerged from the report that the disputed structure was constructed on the site of and utilised the foundation and material of the underlying structure," observed the court.
The top court insisted that it was crucial for it to sift between "what the report finds and what it leaves unanswered."
The ASI report does find the existence of a pre-existing structure.
The report deduces 17 rows of pillar bases (a total of 85 of which 50 were exposed in sections, in parts or whole).
"The report rejects the possibility (urged by the Sunni Central Waqf Board) of the underlying structure being of Islamic origin.
But the ASI report has left unanswered a critical part of the remit which was made to it, namely, determination of whether a Hindu temple had been demolished to pave way for the construction of the mosque," observed the court while citing that the Ayodhya title dispute has to be decided through standards which govern a civil trial, and not on the archaeological findings which have been arrived at by the ASI.(Sumit Saxena can be contacted at (email@example.com)