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India

SC Grants Centre More Time To Respond To Pleas Challenging Places Of Worship Act

A bench of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justice JB Pardiwala asked the Centre to file an affidavit by December 12 and posted the matter for the first week of January next year.

A view of Supreme Court of India ( Credit: ANI)
A view of Supreme Court of India ( Credit: ANI)

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday granted more time to the centre to respond to the batch of petitions challenging certain provisions of the Places of Worship (Special Provision) Act, 1991, that prohibit the filing of a lawsuit to reclaim a place of worship or seek a change in its character from what prevailed on August 15, 1947.

A bench of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justice JB Pardiwala asked the Centre to file an affidavit by December 12 and posted the matter for the first week of January next year. The top court adjourned the matter after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Central government, sought more time to file an affidavit in the case as he needs to do deliberation with the highest level in the government. “I need to consult with the government for filing a detailed counter,” Mehta said.

Dr Subramanian Swamy, former MP and BJP leader told the bench that in his plea he was not seeking to set aside the Act but only two more temples need to be added and then the Act can remain as it is. On previous occasions also the top court had granted time to the Centre to file a response. The pleas challenged the Places of Worship Act saying that the Act takes away the rights of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs to restore their ‘places of worship and pilgrimages’, destroyed by invaders.

Daughter of the Kashi Royal Family, Maharaja Kumari Krishna Priya; BJP leader Subramanian Swamy; Chintamani Malviya, former Member of Parliament; Anil Kabotra, a retired army officer; advocates Chandra Shekhar; Rudra Vikram Singh, resident of Varanasi; Swami Jeetendranand Saraswati, a religious leader; Devkinandan Thakur Ji, resident of Mathura and a religious guru among others have filed the pleas in the apex court against the 1991 Act.

On the plea of advocate Ashwini Upadhyay and one other plea challenging the Act, the apex court had issued notices to the Centre on March 12 last year. The 1991 provision is an Act to prohibit conversion of any place of worship and to provide for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on August 15, 1947, and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind had also a filed plea in the top court challenging the petitions filed by a Hindu petitioner saying that entertaining the pleas against the Act will open floodgates of litigations against countless mosques across India.

India Muslim Personal Law Board has also moved the apex court opposing a batch of petitions challenging the validity of certain provisions of a 1991 law. One of the pleas stated, “The Act excludes the birthplace of Lord Rama but includes the birthplace of Lord Krishna, though both are the incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the creator and equally worshiped all over the world.”

The pleas further stated that the Act blatantly offends the right of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs to restore, manage, maintain and administer the places of worship and pilgrimage guaranteed under Article 26 of the Indian Constitution.

The petitions filed have challenged the constitutional validity of Sections 2, 3, 4 of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act 1991, which it said offends Articles 14, 15, 21, 25, 26, 29 and violates the principles of secularism and rule of law, which is an integral part of Preamble and the basic structure of the Constitution. The pleas said that the Act violates the principles of secularism and Sections 2, 3, and 4 of the Act have taken away the right to approach the Court and thus right to judicial remedy has been closed.

Section 3 of the Act bars the conversion of places of worship. It states, “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.”

Section 4 bars filing of any suit or initiating any other legal proceeding for a conversion of the religious character of any place of worship, as existing on August 15, 1947.

“The Places of Worship Act 1991 is void and unconstitutional for many reasons, the plea said, adding that it offends the right of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs to pray, profess, practice and prorogate religion (Article 25)”, the petitions said.

The Act infringes on the rights of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs to manage maintain and administer the places of worship and pilgrimage (Article 26), the pleas added. The Act deprives Hindus, Jains Buddhists, and Sikhs of owning/acquiring religious properties belonging to the deity (misappropriated by other communities).

“It also takes away the right of judicial remedy of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs to take back their places of worship and pilgrimage and the property which belong to deity”, stated the pleas.

The Act further deprives Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs to take back their places of worship and pilgrimage connected with cultural heritage (Article 29) and it also restricts Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs to restore the possession of places of worship and pilgrimage but allows Muslims to claim under Section 107, Waqf Act, the pleas added.”

“It is respectfully submitted that the Central Government by making impugned provision (Places of Worship Act 1991) in the year of 1991 has created arbitrary irrational retrospective cut-off date, declared that character of places of worship and pilgrimage shall be maintained as it was on August 15, 1947, and no suit or proceeding shall lie in the court in respect of the dispute against encroachment done by barbaric fundamentalist invaders and such proceeding shall stand abated,” the PILs stated.