Even as the dispute over the temple adjacent to the historic Charminar in Hyderabad was threatened to blow up in a major communal conflagration, the Andhra Pradesh high court on Monday ordered that status quo as on October 31 should be maintained and no alternations or expansion of the temple should take place.
A division bench comprising of acting Chief Justice Pinak Chandra Ghose and Justice Vilas V Afzalpurkar passed the order on a batch of public interest litigation petitions filed by different individuals and organisations.
Issuing notices to the State government, the Archeological Survey of India, the Hyderabad police as well as the Bhagyalakshmi temple committee, the court said that it will hear the case in detail after four weeks.
Describing the matter as very sensitive, the judges said that status quo of October 31 should be maintained. The court rejected the petition by the temple committee and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad seeking the maintenance of status of October 24.
The petitioner had sought permission to put up a shed at the venue in view of the coming Diwali festival saying that they had put up a shed on October 24 for Dussehra. But the court did not agree.
The batch of Public Interest Litigations was filed by area corporator Mohammed Ghouse and Mohsin Balala of Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and others. The petitioners alleged that the construction activity close to Charminar was in violation of the law and the guidelines of the Supreme Court, had sought the intervention of the court to protect the monument.
They also alleged that the local police as extending active support to the temple committee for taking up the extension work and the ASI was silent a spectator.
They had knocked on the door of the court in the backdrop of communal disturbances around Charminar over the last week after the temple committee's attempt to further expand the temple structure.
The construction work including digging of pits near Charminar on the intervening nights of October 31 and November 1 had triggered off a major trouble and group of people from two communities were involved in an eyeball to eyeball confrontation.
While leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal had sided with the temple committee demanding permission for taking up the 'renovation work', the MIM had taken up the cause of the protection of Charminar.
The situation was defused only after the Hyderabad city police commissionerate gave a written guarantee to the MIM leaders that no construction activity would be allowed near the Charminar.
The situation took a turn for worse on Sunday when the VHP tried to organise a procession from Kothi to Charminar, but police Commissioner Anurag Sharma persuaded them to cancel it.
But drama continued throughout on Sunday night as groups of people from both the communities gathered around the Charminar. Anticipating trouble, the police made strict security arrangements and kept the rival groups away from each other.
Miscreants indulged in stone pelting at some places and damaged private and public property including an ATM of the State Bank.
The dispute over the temple adjacent to the southeastern minaret of Charminar is more than four decades old. ASI records show that there was no temple at the place until 1968 when some people started putting color on a stone erected by the authorities to guard the monument against passing vehicles.
After an accident, in which a bus hit the stone, it was replaced by an idol and people started worshipping it. Gradually, it gave way to a small temple and a structure came up.
Today, it is called the Bhagyalakshmi temple run by the family of one Ram Das who had claimed ownership of the temple. Thetemple is not only visited by the tourists coming to see the Charminar, but also attracts a large number of people on the occasion of important festivals.
Though it became a point of communal trouble several times, the police and the ASI authorities never took any action against the temple or its gradual expansion, though it was a clear violation of an act, governing the protection of historical monuments.
At the same time, local Muslims also took control of the inside portion of the same minaret and put up a green flag, turning it in to a Muslim shrine.