A court in Varanasi has ordered the Archaeological Survey of India to carry out a physical survey of the town's Gyanvapi Mosque, next to the famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple.
The court ordered the survey while ruling on a three-decade-old petition, which contended that Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb had demolished an ancient temple of "Lord Vishweshwar" and "constructed a mosque with the help of the ruins of the said temple".
In its order, the court asked the Director-General of the ASI to "constitute a five-member committee of eminent persons who are experts and well-versed in the science of archaeology, two out of which should preferably belong to the minority community".
The court also asked the ASI Chief to appoint an eminent person — a scholar, or an established academician — as an observer for the committee.
In its order, the court said, "The prime purpose of the Archaeological Survey shall be to find out whether the religious structure standing at present at the 'disputed site' is a superimposition, alteration or addition or there is a structural overlapping of any kind, with or over, any other religious structure".
The committee, the court added, "shall also trace whether any temple belonging to the Hindu community ever existed before the mosque in question was built or superimposed or added upon it at the 'disputed' site'".
They filed the original petition in the case in 1991, but a clutch of Varanasi residents contended the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb built the mosque over an ancient temple in 1664.
R Shamshad, a member of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, said the lawsuit is non-maintainable and should be dismissed in view of a law made in 1991.
"A petition was filed seeking dismissal of this suit on which the district court has passed an order. Now the entire issue is pending in the Allahabad High Court on whether the suit can be heard or not. In this background, when the issue is pending in the Allahabad high court, I do not think there is any justification in such an order. Such an order should not have been passed at this stage," he added.