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Not mere conjecture: How the ASI report shaped the Ayodhya Verdict

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New Delhi, Nov 09: The Supreme Court while delivering the Ayodhya Verdict relied heavily on the findings by the ASI.

The court said that the report of the ASI cannot be dismissed as conjecture or just guess work.

Not mere conjecture: How the ASI report shaped the Ayodhya Verdict

ASI report held that there was a structure underneath the Babri Masjid can't be dismissed as conjecture or just a guess work and junks theory of pre-existence of an Idgah at the disputed site.

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Babri mosque wasn't constructed on a vacant land. An underlying structure did exist. Underlying structure was not of Islamic religion as artefacts, architectural evidence had distinct non Islamic nature. ASI report can be lent credence to the underlying structure was dated 12th century. However it said ASI also said that the structure was not a specific temple, the court also said.

The court further held that the ASI report had held that there was structure underneath the Babri Masjid and this cannot be dismissed as conjecture or just guess work and junks the theory of an Idgah at the disputed site. The Babri Mosque was not constructed on vacant land. An underlying structure did exist, the court said.

Further, the court said that the credentials of the ASI are beyond doubt and their findings cannot be negated.

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During the hearing, the court had said that the ASI report of 2003 on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site was not an "ordinary opinion" as the archaeologists were acting on behalf of the Allahabad High Court to give their views on the excavated materials.

The High Court, through its court-commissioner, had asked Archeological Survey of India (ASI) in 2002 to excavate the site and give its findings on whether the "disputed building" was constructed on the site of an "alleged Hindu temple" after demolishing it.

The ASI, which had found artefacts, idols, pillars and other remains, stated in its report about the existence of a massive structure beneath the "alleged Babri Masjid".

On being told by a counsel for the Muslim parties that the ASI report was "merely an opinion" and not binding on the court, a 5-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said the inferences from the report were drawn by "cultivated and studied minds" (archeological experts).

"You (lawyer) cannot equate the (court) Commissioner's report to any other ordinary opinion. They (ASI experts) conducted it (excavation) after the Commissioner asked them," said the bench, which also comprised Justices S A Bobde, DY Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer.

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The bench said the experts excavated and analysed the materials at the direction of the Commissioner who was delegated the powers by the high court.

The top court said it was conscious of the fact that both sides have their arguments based on inferences and there were no eyewitnesses to these events.

Senior advocate Meenakshi Arora, appearing for the Sunni Wakf Board and others, said the ASI report was a "weak evidence" and merely "an opinion" which needed to be supported by substantial proof to establish that a Ram temple already existed at the disputed site.

"The report cannot be held to be a substantive evidence and the ASI report is a weak evidence and needs corroboration with the substantive evidence," she said, adding that it was not binding on the court as it was only "advisory" in nature.

"This (ASI report) is just an opinion and no definitive conclusion can be drawn from it," she said.

Arora said archeologists were asked to give their report as to whether Ram temple existed at the site or not. "At the highest the structure was akin to a north Indian temple," she said referring to the report's conclusions.

She also stated that at some place in the ASI report it has been said the Ram Chabutra in the outer courtyard was probably a water tank.

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"There are a lot of assumptions and presumptions in this report and the court is not bound to accept it which is advisory in nature and amounted to just an opinion," she said.

Referring to the provisions of the Evidence Act, she said that there was a distinction between the opinion and experts' evidence and submitted that the ASI may be the "expert of the field", but its report was just an "opinion" and needed corroboration.

Arora said the views of archeological experts were akin to opinions of hand-writing experts which may vary from person to person and such reports cannot be taken as sole evidence.

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