Bombay HC: 2 weeks stay on order restraining offering of Namaz at an 800-year-old Jumma Masjid

Scheduling the hearing to be held after two weeks, the Bench also directed the Jalgaon district collector to hand over the mosque keys to Jumma Masjid Trust Committee

On July 18, the Bombay High Court stayed an order of the District Magistrate’s (DM) which had restrained people from offering prayers at an 800-year-old Jumma Masjid in Erandol Taluka, Jalgaon. The order has been stayed for two weeks. Furthermore, the Court allowed for the continuance of offering of religious prayers until the next hearing, scheduled after two weeks. It is essential to highlight here that the 800-year-old Jumma Masjid is a registered property under the Waqf board.

Justice RM Joshi of the Aurangabad bench granted the stay on the impugned order by observing that, prima facie, the DM passed the order without being satisfied that there is likelihood of breach of peace, making the order not sustainable in law. In view of this, the HC Bench directed that the mosque keys be handed over to the Jumma Masjid Trust Committee by Jalgaon District Collector Aman Mittal.

Prima facie perusal of the order impugned shows that there is no finding recorded about the Authority being satisfied that there is likelihood of breach of peace on account of alleged dispute…Section 144 of Cr.P.C no doubt provides the powers to the District Magistrate even to take suo moto action, however, existence of likelihood of causing of disturbance of public peace or tranquility is sine qua non to assume such power. In prima facie opinion of this Court for want of such findings being recorded makes impugned order vulnerable and not sustainable in law”, the court stated in its order, as provided by LiveLaw.

Pandavwada Sangharsh Samiti (PSS), an unregistered Hindu organisation that first brought up the issue and filed the complaint with the DM on May 2023, asserted that the mosque in question resembles a temple and accused the local Muslim community of encroaching upon the said structure. The Jumma Masjid Trust Committee, which is in charge of maintaining the mosque, asserted that it has papers demonstrating that the structure has existed since at least 1861.

The authorities opposing the plea further argued that the Collector’s order was only interim and not final, and that a thorough hearing had been scheduled before the final decision was issued. The court overruled the authorities’ argument that the petition could not be maintained on the ground of existence of alternate remedy.  

Perusal of the relevant provisions do not show that any appeal is provided against interim order passed by District Magistrate under Section 144(1) of Cr.P.C. The remedy of filing an application before the same authority or before the State Government for alteration of the order cannot be equated with an Appeal. Hence, prima facie this Court finds that for want of efficacious remedy Petition is tenable and hence, there is no substance in the objection raised regarding maintainability of the Petition”, the court held, as reported by the LiveLaw.

Making the aforementioned observation, the court issued notice to the respondents and posted the matter for further hearing on August 1, 2023.

Brief background of the issue:

The dispute over the structure’s ownership and purpose has been ongoing since the 1980s, with Hindutva groups claiming association with the Pandavas, who were believed to have spent years in exile in the area. The current situation arose from a complaint submitted by Prasad Madhusudan Dandawate of the PSS to the District Magistrate on May 18. It is essential to note that Dandawate is also a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal. As provided by the report of the Wire, the complainant had claimed that the mosque was “illegally” built over a Hindu place of worship and that it should be taken over by state authorities.

As claimed by the Trust in the current case, notice was issued to it based on the complaint and a hearing was scheduled for June 27. However, the hearing did not occur as the DM was preoccupied. 

On July 11, the DM issued an interim restraining order under Sections 144 and 145 of the CrPC and directed the tahsildar to take charge of the mosque. Thus, the petitioner Trust approached the High Court against this order.

On July 13, a division bench of Justices RG Avachat and SA Deshmukh had observed that a single-judge bench would handle the matter since the order was passed by the quasi-judicial authority of the District Magistrate under the CrPC.


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