From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Places of Worship Act
Mains level : Issues with the Act
The Supreme Court has set the ball rolling on a series of petitions challenging the validity of the Places of Worship Act of 1991, a parliamentary law that protects the identity and character of religious places as on August 15, 1947.
What are the petitions about?
- A slew of petitions has been filed against the Act.
- The Act has fixed a retrospective cut-off date illegally barring Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs from approaching courts to re-claim their places of worship which were invaded and encroached.
- The main objective of these petitions is to set right a historical wrong committed by barbaric invaders.
Places of Worship Act, 1991
- It was passed in 1991 by the P V Narasimha Rao-led government.
- The law seeks to maintain the “religious character” of places of worship as it was in 1947 — except in the case of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, which was already in court.
- The law was brought in at the peak of the Ram Mandir movement, exactly a year before the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
- Introducing the law, then Home Minister S B Chavan said in Parliament that it was adopted to curb communal tension.
What are its provisions?
What are its provisions?
- Anti-conversion: Section 3 of the Act bars the conversion, in full or part, of a place of worship of any religious denomination into a place of worship of a different religious denomination — or even a different segment of the same religious denomination.
- Holiness of a place: Section 4(1) declares that the religious character of a place of worship “shall continue to be the same as it existed” on August 15, 1947.
- Litigation: Section 4(2) says any suit or legal proceeding with respect to the conversion of the religious character of any place existing on August 15, 1947, pending before any court, shall abate — and no fresh suit or legal proceedings shall be instituted.
- Exception for Ayodhya: Section 5 stipulates that the Act shall not apply to the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case, and to any suit, appeal or proceeding relating to it.
Why is the law under challenge?
- The cut-off date of August 15, 1947, is “arbitrary, irrational and retrospective” and prohibits Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs from approaching courts to “reclaim” their places of worship.
- Such places, he argued, were “invaded” and “encroached” upon by “fundamentalist barbaric invaders”.
- The right-wing politicians have opposed the law even when it was introduced, arguing that the Centre has no power to legislate on “pilgrimages” or “burial grounds” which is under the state list.
- Another criticism against the law is that the cut-off is the date of Independence, which means that the status quo determined by a colonial power is considered final.