In a significant move ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, the Centre on Tuesday moved the Supreme Court seeking modification of its 2003 order to allow it to return to original owners the 67.390 acre of "non-disputed" acquired land around the disputed Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid structure in Ayodhya.
The 0.313 acre plot, on which the disputed structure stood before it was demolished by the 'kar sevaks' on December 6, 1992, was within the 2.77 acre disputed premises, the plea filed by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government said.
The government had acquired 67.703 acre, including the 2.77 acre, through a legislation in 1993.
The Ram Janambhoomi Nyas is the owner of as much as 42 acre of the acquired non-disputed land.
Referring to the earlier order of March 31, 2003, the ministry of home affairs said that instead of "confining the order of status quo to the disputed land" the Supreme Court had extended the restraining order to adjacent acquired land as well.
The Centre also referred to the Supreme Court's verdict in the 1994 Ismail Faruqui case, saying the top court had observed that if the Centre wanted to return the acquired land to its original owners then it may do so.
"The Constitution Bench of this Court has held that the superfluous area which is other than the disputed area of 0.313 acres shall be reverted/ restored to its original owners," the plea said.
It said that the 1994 verdict had also held the factual determination as to the extent of the adjacent area considered necessary is in "the domain of policy and is not a matter for judicial scrutiny or a ground for testing the Constitutional validity of the enactment".
The plea said the 2003 order asking the Centre to maintain the status quo (existing state of affairs) with regard to non-disputed acquired land was to be maintained till the Allahabad high court decided the title dispute only.
"It must be noted that this court in clear categorical terms held that the status quo has to be maintained only until the suits pending before the Allahabad high court are disposed of", it said.
Referring to the 2003 order which had restrained the Centre to deal in any manner with the acquired land, the plea said that the direction should have confined itself to the disputed land only.
Buttressing its plea for returning land to real owners, the Centre referred to the Faruqui verdict and said, "the interest claimed by Muslims was only over the disputed site of 0.313 acres where the disputed structure stood before its demolition".
"The remaining entire property acquired under the Act of 1993 is such over which no title is claimed by Muslims. A large part of the remaining superfluous land comprises of properties of which the title is not even in dispute," it said.
The acquisition of superfluous area, other than the disputed land admeasuring 0.313 acres out of the total area acquired admeasuring 67.703 acre, was only to ensure that the parties which succeed in the proceedings are not denied 'proper access to and enjoyment of rights in the disputed land', it said.
The plea said the apex court had observed in the 1994 verdict that it was the duty of the Centre to restore superfluous land to the owners if it is determined that either whole or any part was not necessary to achieve the purpose of acquisition.
The plea said the Ram Janambhoomi Nyas (a trust to promote construction of Ram Temple) had sought return of excess land acquired in 1991 to original owners.
"One party namely RJN whose land measuring approximately 42 acres [which is a part of the superfluous/excess land] was acquired, has moved an application relying on the constitution bench judgment of this court," the plea said.
The Centre in 1991 had acquired 67 acre land including the disputed site.
The Centre has said in its plea that it has no objection in returning the land to its actual owners.
"The Central Government has no objection in principle if the superfluous land is restored to RJB Nyas as well as other owners after determining the extent of land required for proper access to and enjoyment of rights in the disputed area by preparing a plan map.
"The applicant (Centre) is filing this application seeking permission of this court to permit the applicant to fulfil the duty to revert/restore/hand over the excess/superfluous land acquired under the Acquisition of Certain Areas of Ayodhya Act, 1993," it said.
It sought modification of the apex court order of March 31, 2003 by which the Central government was directed to maintain the "status quo" with regard to entire land including the non-disputed acquired plots.
The Modi government, in its 33-page application, said that modification would enable it to determine "the exact extent of land required from out of the superfluous/ excess land to ensure that the successful party in the dispute pending regarding the 'disputed land' can have proper access to and enjoyment of rights in the disputed land."
Fourteen appeals have been filed in the apex court against the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgement, delivered in four civil suits, that the 2.77-acre land be partitioned equally among three parties -- the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla.
The Supreme Court had on Sunday cancelled the hearing scheduled for Tuesday in the title dispute case due to non-availability of Justice S A Bobde, one of the five judges of the Constitution bench.