The Supreme Court on Friday deferred a scientific survey, including carbon dating, to determine the age of a Shivling, claimed to have been found at Varanasi's Gyanvapi mosque, saying the implications of the Allahabad high court order for it merit closer scrutiny.
The high court on May 12 had ordered determination of the age of the structure, claimed to be a Shivling, using modern technology. However, the mosque's authorities have said the structure is part of a fountain in the wazukhana, where ablutions are performed before namaaz.
A bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud issued notices to the Centre, the Uttar Pradesh government and the Hindu petitioners on the plea of the Anjuman Islamia Masjid committee against the high court order for the "scientific survey", including carbon dating, of the structure.
"Since the implications of the impugned order merit closer scrutiny, the implementation of the directions concerned in the order shall stand deferred till the next date," the bench also comprising justices P S Narasimha and K V Vishwanathan said.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Uttar Pradesh government, expressed concerns regarding damage to the structure during the process and said the government will examine in consultation with the Archaeological Survey of India if there is an alternative method to ascertain the age of the Shivling found at Gyanvapi.
Senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, appearing for the Anjuman Islamia Masjid committee, told the bench that the survey work will commence on May 22.
The Centre and the Uttar Pradesh government both agreed to the plea for adjourning the proposed scientific survey of the structure for the time being.
The high court had set aside an October 14 order of the Varanasi district court that rejected a plea for scientific investigation, including carbon dating, of the structure found in May last year during a court-mandated survey of the Gyanvapi mosque located next to the Kashi Vishwanath temple.
Following the high court order, a local court at Varanasi on May 16 agreed to hear a plea for a survey by the ASI of the entire Gyanvapi mosque premises.
Prior to this, the high court, on May 12, had directed the Varanasi district judge to proceed, in accordance with the law, on the application by Hindu worshippers for conducting a scientific probe of the structure found last year.
The high court order had said no harm should be done to the structure, which the Hindu petitioners claim is a Shivling. However, the mosque's authorities said it is part of a fountain in the wazukhana.
It had passed the order on a revision petition filed by Laxmi Devi and three others challenging the Varanasi court order.
The high court had obtained a report from various institutions, including the IITs in Kanpur and Roorkee, and the Birbal Sahni Institute in Lucknow, before ordering for determination of the age of the structure.
The report said direct dating of the structure is not possible and the age can be ascertained with proxy dating of materials, which can "correlate with the establishment of the 'lingam' if there is any".
"This needs a thorough study of the materials surrounding the Lingam," it said.
The report also suggested that the dating of some organic materials below the surface can ascertain the age but it needs to be established that they are related to the structure.
The court considered suggestions of Prof Javed N Malik of the Department of Earth Sciences at IIT-Kanpur.
The ASI, in its 52-page report, had given the opinion that the age of the structure can be determined through scientific method without causing any harm to it.
Its opinion was based on studies conducted by IIT-Kanpur, IIT-Roorkee, Birbal Sahni Institute and another educational institute.
On November 4 last year, the high court had sought the response of the ASI in the matter and directed the ASI director general to submit his opinion on whether investigation of the said structure, if examined through carbon dating, GPR, excavation and other methods adopted to determine its age, nature and other relevant information, is likely to damage it or a safe evaluation about its age can be done.
A suit was filed in the Varanasi district court seeking the right to regular worship of Maa Shringar Gauri and other deities whose idols the petitioners submitted are located in the mosque's complex.