Petitions Add Up Against Places Of Worship Act In An Overworked Supreme Court

As on June 1, 2022, the SC had a total of 70,852 pending matters, out of which 496 were for the Constitution Bench.

The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a plea challenging the constitutional validity of a provision of the Representation of the People Act, which had led to the introduction of electronic voting machines, (Image: PTI)

New Delhi: Former Bharatiya Janata Party MP Chintamani Malviya has approached the Supreme Court challenging the constitutional validity of certain sections of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, but this is not the first time it has been challenged in the already high pendency courts of India.

As on June 1, 2022, the SC had a total of 70,852 pending matters, out of which 496 were for the Constitution Bench. These cases of the Constitution Bench include 56 main matters and 440 connected matters.

The present case by BJP’s Malviya joins others, like the petition in 2020 by the Vishwa Bhadra Pujari Purohit Mahasangh filed before the apex court. This had come after the Ayodhya verdict in October, 2019, by the Supreme Court, which was in favour of the Ram Janbhoomi.

The Mahasangh had then challenged the validity of Section 4 of The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, which Malviya too is challenging along with other sections which are 2 and 3. It had then claimed that the provision “validates the alleged illegal and barbarous action of invaders who had converted the Hindu places of worship by restricting the right of Hindus to reclaim possession of these places of worship which had been converted by the invaders”. It alleged that the Section “discriminates the members of the Hindu community vis-a-vis the members of the Muslim community in the matter of restoring possession of places of worship”.

Then there was the plea before the SC challenging the validity of the Act, and in that case the Court had issued a notice to the Central government. The plea was by BJP Spokesperson Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay which is also pending before the court.

This time the plea filed by Chintamani Malviya challenges the constitutional validity of sections 2, 3 and 4 of the 1991 Act, claiming that they violate the principles of secularism.

It has sought a direction from the court to declare sections 2, 3, 4 of the 1991 Act as void and unconstitutional for being violative of fundamental rights so far as it seeks to validate “places of worship”, illegally made by barbaric invaders.

The plea claimed the provisions of the law not only offended fundamental rights to equality, non-discrimination and freedom to practice religion but also principles of secularism which is an integral part of the Preamble and the basic structure of the Constitution.

Justice DY Chandrachud spoke on the burden of judges today, during a seminar on ‘Protecting human rights and preserving civil liberties: The role of courts in a democracy’, held at King’s College in London. “The Supreme Court has 34 judges, we have over 35,000 cases which we deal with every year. On every Monday and Friday every judge of the Supreme Court is reading between 60-65 or maybe 70, there have been times that I have read more than 120 on a Monday. This is the kind of workload that a Supreme Court judge does.”

He went on to explain the enormity of their work, while dealing with a heavy backlog of cases. “On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays each of us is dealing with at least between 20 and 40 cases where you reserve judgement, go home and start dictating judgement for the next day. Together with this you are also reading for Friday, so the workload on judges of the Supreme Court is enormous,” he said.

The Act and its provisions which are being challenged, was brought under the leadership of former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, on September 18, 1991, around the time when vociferous Hindu Right wing groups demanded a temple at what they believed was the Ram Jhanbhoomi site where the Babri Masjid stood. In fact, the Masjid was exempted under the protection of the Act, and over a year later was illegally demolished.

The Act says, “Act not to apply to Ram Janma Bhumi-Babri Masjid—Nothing contained in this Act shall apply to the place or place of worship commonly known as Ram Janma Bhumi-Babri Masjid situated in Ayodhya in the State of Uttar Pradesh and to any suit, appeal or other proceeding relating to the said place or place of worship.”

So, while the Act did not protect the Babri Masjid it does protect religious places across Indiaexcept the State of Jammu and Kashmir. It covers those sites from “conversion”, including instances of “alteration or change of whatever nature”, of places of worship, describing them as “a temple, mosque, gurudwara, church, monastery or any other place of public religious worship of any religious denomination or any section thereof, by whatever name called”.

Further, it says there is a: “Bar of conversion of places of worship—No person shall convert any place of worship of any religious denomination or any section thereof into a place of worship of a different section of the same religious denomination or of a different religious denomination or any section thereof.”