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Retired Judge Appointed Lokpal of UP University a Month After Permitting Puja in Gyanvapi Mosque Basement

Ajaya Krishna Vishvesha has been appointed ombudsman of the Dr Shakuntala Misra National Rehabilitation University in Lucknow.
Former judge Ajaya Krishna Vishvesha.

New Delhi: Less than a month after he handed over the basement of the Gyanvapi Masjid in Varanasi to Hindus for worship on the last day of his working career, retired judge Ajaya Krishna Vishvesha has been appointed the ombudsman of a public university in Lucknow.

Vishvesha retired from service as Varanasi district judge on January 31.

On February 27, the Dr Shakuntala Misra National Rehabilitation University – a government-run university with Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath as chairperson – appointed Vishvesha as its lokpal (ombudsman) for a tenure of three years, university officials told The Wire.

The university lokpal is tasked with settling the grievances of students.

Brijendra Singh, the university’s assistant registrar, confirmed that Vishvesha had been appointed as lokpal for three years.

The lokpal’s task is “resolving conflict among students for their betterment,” Singh said.

University spokesperson Yashwant Viroday said Vishvesha was appointed in accordance with the recent guidelines issued by the University Grants Commission (UGC), which mandated that each university shall appoint an ombudsperson for the redressal of student grievances.

When asked on what basis Vishvesha was picked, Viroday said the UGC guidelines mandated that the lokpal should be a retired vice-chancellor, retired professor or a retired district judge.

The “first priority should be given to a judicial person,” Viroday said citing UGC guidelines.

The day-to-day cases of grievances and disputes are usually settled at the proctor level, but some cases need a “specialist”, Viroday further said.

Vishvesha will be the university’s first ombudsman. He will not, however, be the first judge linked to the contentious temple-mosque disputes in Uttar Pradesh to take up a post-retirement public-funded post.

In April 2021, less than seven months after he acquitted all 32 accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case, retired district judge Surendra Kumar Yadav was appointed as a deputy Lok Ayukta in Uttar Pradesh by the Yogi Adityanath government.

Yadav also worked on a case relating to the Babri Masjid demolition on his last working day before retirement.

As judge of a special CBI court, Yadav had on September 30, 2020, acquitted senior BJP leaders L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti, Kalyan Singh and others in the Babri Masjid demolition case, almost 28 years after the December 6, 1992 criminal act, for lack of credible evidence.

Vishvesha, as district judge, had on January 31 allowed Hindus to worship inside a sealed basement of the Mughal-era Gyanvapi Masjid.

The caretakers of the Gyanvapi Masjid termed the order illegal and inappropriate. They challenged it, as well as its swift implementation within a matter of hours by the Varanasi administration, in the Allahabad high court.

The high court, however, did not stop the Hindu prayers in the basement of the mosque and on February 26 ruled in favour of the continuation of puja at the site.

The court overruled the objections and arguments of the mosque’s management committee.

Justice Rohit Ranjan Agarwal dismissed a plea filed by the caretakers of the mosque challenging the controversial district court order handing over a southern cellar of the mosque to Hindus in the midst of pending suits in the Gyanvapi Masjid-Kashi Vishwanath Temple matter, in which Hindu plaintiffs are seeking religious rights within the mosque as well as its ultimate possession from Muslims.

While arguing the case in the high court, the caretakers of the mosque raised questions of propriety and legality over Vishvesha delivering such an order on the final day of his service.

The Committee of Management Anjuman Intezamia argued that the January 17 order by Vishvesha, in which he appointed the district magistrate as the receiver of the basement, was modified on January 31, his last working day, to give Hindus access to the basement for prayers.

Such a modification could not have been made by him on his last working day, the masjid committee said.

Justice Agarwal, however, ruled that there was no illegality in Vishvesha’s order and noted that “an attempt has been made to malign the image and impute motive to the order passed by the” court below on January 31 “on the ground that the officer concerned had passed the order on last day of working.”

Vishvesha had merely corrected an omission or accidental slip by issuing a fresh order on January 31 after having disposed the application on January 17 without addressing the full relief sought by the plaintiff Shailendra Kumar Pathak, a Hindu priest.

Pathak had filed the application seeking rights to worship the Maa Shringar Gauri as well as other visible and invisible deities he claimed were in the cellar of the mosque.

Talking to a new channel days after he retired, Vishvesha said he had issued the order in accordance with the law and after following established legal principles and rules.

When the reporter of Times Now Navbharat asked Vishvesha that the mosque side did not see it as a mere coincidence that he gave such an order on his last working day, Vishvesha said a judge like himself only worked as per the established judicial process.

“The order was within the four corners of law and the procedure of the court,” said Vishvesha, who had also ordered the Archaeological Survey of India to conduct a survey of the Gyanvapi premises.

Born in Haridwar, Vishvesha had taken over as Varanasi district judge in August 2021.

The Dr Shakuntala Misra National Rehabilitation University, located on the outskirts of Lucknow, was established by the Divyangjan Sashaktikaran Vibhag of the state government through an ordinance dated August 29, 2008. The Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati was in power then.

The ordinance was later replaced by an act.

The university describes itself as “the first university of its kind, which also provides accessible and quality higher education to challenged students, in a completely barrier-free environment.”

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