The Supreme Court on Saturday termed as "legally unsustainable" the 2010 judgment of the Allahabad high court, which had partitioned the 2.77-acre disputed land in Ayodhya equally among the Sunni Waqf Board, Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla.
The apex court, which delivered a historic verdict and put the curtains down on the vexatious legal battle that had torn the social fabric of the nation, said that dividing the land would not subserve the interest of either of the parties or secure a lasting sense of peace and tranquillity.
A five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said that in its September 30, 2010, verdict, the high court had "adopted a path which was not open to it" and granted reliefs which were not the subject matter of the prayers in the suits before it.
"We have already concluded that the three-way bifurcation by the high court was legally unsustainable. Even as a matter of maintaining public peace and tranquillity, the solution which commended itself to the high court is not feasible," said the bench, comprising Justices S A Bobde, D Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer.
"The disputed site admeasures all of 1,500 square yards. Dividing the land will not subserve the interest of either of the parties or secure a lasting sense of peace and tranquillity," it said.
The bench said the high court had "completely erred" in granting relief which lay outside the ambit of the pleadings and the cases set up by the plaintiffs in three suits.
It said there was "another serious flaw" in the entire approach of the high court in granting relief of a three-way bifurcation of the disputed site.
"Having come to the conclusion that suit 3 (filed by Nirmohi Akhara) and suit 4 (filed by Sunni Central Waqf Board) were barred by limitation, the high court proceeded to grant relief in suit 5 to the plaintiffs in suits 3 and 4," it said.
"This defies logic and is contrary to settled principles of law. Moreover, the claim by the Nirmohi Akhara was as a 'shebait', who claimed a decree for management and charge. On its own case, Nirmohi Akhara could not have been granted an independent share of the land," the bench said.
The apex court noted the high court had held that the suits filed by the Sunni Central Waqf Board and Nirmohi Akhara were barred by limitation.
"Despite having held that those two suits were barred by time, the high court held in a split 2:1 verdict that the Hindu and Muslim parties were joint holders of the disputed premises," it said.
The top court, in its 1,045-page verdict, held that suit instituted by Nirmohi Akhara is barred by limitation and dismissed it.
It, however, said that the suit instituted by the Sunni Central Waqf Board is within limitation.
"The judgment of the high court holding suit 4 (instituted by Sunni Central Waqf Board and others) to be barred by limitation is reversed," it said, adding that suit number 5 by Ram Lalla Virajman is within limitation.
Regarding the high court verdict, the bench said it proceeded to "assume the jurisdiction of a civil court in a suit for partition, which the suits before it were not."
"There was no basis in the pleadings before the high court and certainly no warrant in the reliefs which were claimed to direct a division of the land in the manner that a court would do in a suit for partition," it said.
The top court noted that dispute in these appeals arises out of four regular suits which were instituted between 1950 and 1989 and before the high court, voluminous evidence both oral and documentary was led, resulting in three verdicts running into 4,304 pages.
It said that both oral and documentary evidence were recorded before the high court and one of the judges of the bench, Justice Sudhir Agarwal, noted that they had before it 533 exhibits and depositions of witnesses traversing 13,990 pages.
"Besides this, counsel relied on over a thousand reference books in Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, Persian, Turkish, French and English, ranging from subjects as diverse as history, culture, archaeology and religion," the bench noted.
"The high court ensured that the innumerable archaeological artefacts were kept in the record room. It received dozens of CDs and other records which the three judges of the high court have marshalled," it said.