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HC orders 'scientific survey' of disputed monument Bhojshala in Dhar within 6 weeks

Indore, Mar 11 (PTI) The Madhya Pradesh High Court here on Monday directed the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to carry out within six weeks a scientific survey of the Bhojshala complex in Dhar district, a medieval-era structure which both Hindus and Muslims claim as their own.

Indore, Mar 11 (PTI) The Madhya Pradesh High Court here on Monday directed the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to carry out within six weeks a 'scientific survey' of the Bhojshala complex in Dhar district, a medieval-era structure which both Hindus and Muslims claim as their own.

Hindus consider Bhojshala, an ASI-protected 11th century monument, to be a temple dedicated to Vagdevi (Goddess Saraswati), while the Muslim community call it Kamal Maula Mosque. As per an arrangement made by the ASI on April 7, 2003, Hindus perform puja in the Bhojshala premises on Tuesdays, while Muslims offer namaz in the complex on Fridays.

'..this court has drawn only one conclusion that Constitutional as well as statutory obligations of the ASI to have a scientific survey, study convened at the earliest of Bhojshala Temple and Kamal Maula Mosque,' observed a division bench of the HC at Indore comprising Justices SA Dharmadhikari and Devnarayan Mishra.

Aggrieved by the direction, Dhar city's head cleric Waqar Sadiq said they (Kamal Maula Mosque management committee) will challenge the ruling in the Supreme Court.

The bench sought a comprehensive report of the survey to be prepared by a five-member expert committee of the ASI, a central body, within six weeks.

'A proper documented comprehensively drafted report prepared by an Expert Committee of not less than five (5) senior-most officers of ASI headed by the Director General/Additional Director General of the ASI himself be submitted before this Court within a period of six weeks from the date of receipt of certified copy of this order,' the court said in its 30-page order.

The HC direction came while hearing an application filed by an outfit called Hindu Front for Justice (HFJ).

According to the plea, survey by the ASI is a statutory duty, which should have done long back at the inspection stage when the 'mystery and confusion' about the true character of Bhojshala Saraswati Temple (Bhojshala Temple)-cum-Maulana Kamal Maula Mosque arose, leading to disputes about its true status.

The plea was moved by HFJ president Ranjana Agnihotri and others against the Union of India and others. The bench later posted the matter for next hearing on April 29.

Allowing the plea, the bench gave a number of directions to the ASI, asking it to use the latest methods and techniques for the survey, and laid down procedures for the entire exercise.

'Complete scientific investigation, survey and excavation, through adoption of latest methods, techniques and modes of GPR-GPS survey of the site in question constituting the disputed Bhojshala Temple-cum-Kamal Maula Mosque complex, as also the entire 50 m of peripheral ring area surrounding/constituting the circular periphery from the boundary of the complex be conducted,' the Judges said.

'A detailed scientific investigation be conducted by adopting carbon dating method for ascertaining the age, life of various structures both above and beneath the ground; permanent, movable and immovable structures both beneath as well as above the ground, constituting the walls, pillars, floors, surfaces, upper top, sanctum sanctorum of the entire complex,' noted the bench.

The HC suggested giving a representation to the contesting sides in the expert panel tasked with carrying out the scientific investigation, survey and excavation of the site.

'Efforts should be made to have a representation of Officers of both the contesting communities (if available of the said position & rank) in the said Expert Committee; to photograph and videograph the entire survey proceedings in the presence of two (2) nominated representatives each of both the petitioners as well as respondent No. 8 in the present petition,' maintained the bench.

The HC asked the ASI to prepare an inventory of each and every artifact, idol, deity or any structure found in the premises after unlocking/opening the locked/sealed rooms, halls of the complex and submit the same before it along with their respective photographs.

The HC allowed the ASI to conduct any other study it deems necessary to ascertain the true character of the complex.

'Any other study, investigation or inquiry, which the said five (5)-member committee of the ASI feels necessary to be undertaken, without destroying, defacing, destructing the original nature of the whole complex be undertaken, towards ascertaining the true nature and character of the Bhojshala Temple-cum-Kamal Maula Mosque for arriving at the truth,' it said.

The HC insisted that submissions relating to the right to worship and perform rituals in the disputed premises shall be considered only after the panel submits its report.

'All other issues and submissions relating to the relief as claimed by the petitioners or the right to worship and perform rituals in the disputed premises shall be considered and determined only after receipt of the aforementioned report from the Expert Committee,' the bench noted.

With these observations, the HC disposed of the interlocutory application seeking a direction to the ASI to conduct a scientific survey of the site, petitioners counsel Vinay Joshi told PTI.

He said they had filed the application in January during hearing of a writ petition moved in 2022.

Interlocutory application means a plea in any suit, appeal or proceeding already instituted in a court.

Joshi said his clients had moved the petition seeking that Bhojshala be declared a temple and an idol of Goddess Vagdevi kept in a London museum be brought back and installed in the complex.

It is believed Raja Bhoj, a Hindu king, had installed the statue of Vagdevi in Bhojshala in 1034 AD. Hindu groups say the British took this statue to London in 1875.

Dhar city's Shahar Qazi (local head cleric) Sadiq said the HC decision was not acceptable to the Muslim community.

'With due respect, we wish to say that the HC order was not acceptable to the Muslim community. Our committee will soon file an appeal against it in the SC,' he told reporters. PTI LAL MAS COR RSY

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