SC agrees to examine validity of law preserving religious character of places of worship as existing on Aug 15, 1947; notice issued to Centre

THE Supreme Court Friday issued notice to the Central Government on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by BJP leader and advocate Ashwini Upadhyay challenging the constitutional validity of ‘The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991’.

Notice was issued by a bench comprising Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justice AS Bopanna.

In his plea, Upadhyay contended that the 1991 Act took away the rights of Hindus, Jain, Buddhists, Sikhs to restore their places of worship destroyed by “barbaric invaders”.

The plea added that the Act excluded the birthplace of Lord Rama but included the birthplace of Lord Krishna, though both were considered the incarnation of Lord Vishnu and were equally worshipped. The act, the plea contended was, therefore, arbitrary and irrational.

It went on to state that Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs had suffered from 1192 to 1947. “Question is as to whether even after the Independence, they cannot seek judicial remedy to undo the barbarian acts through process of court to establish that law is mightier than sword”.

“The Act affects the right to religion of Hindus and snubs their voice against illegal, inhumane barbarian action committed in pre-independence period”, the petition said.

The notice was issued by the apex court on the heels of a court in Mathura examing a suit on behalf of Lord Shrikrishna Virajman, for the removal of Masjid Idgah, allegedly built on the land of Shrikrishna Janam Bhoomi.

Similarly, a court in Varanasi yesterday issued notices on a civil suit filed by devotees of Lord Shiva seeking the removal of the Gyanwapi mosque built by Aurangzeb in 1669 adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath temple by allegedly demolishing an ancient temple.

‘The Places of Worship (Special Provision) Act’ was enacted by Parliament to prohibit the 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 the 15th day of August 1947 and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

A five-judge bench in the Ayodhya case said that the Places of Worship Act which was enacted in 1991 by Parliament protected and secured the fundamental values of the Constitution. The bench observed-

“The State, has by enacting the law, enforced a constitutional commitment and operationalized its constitutional obligations to uphold the equality of all religions and secularism which is a part of the basic features of the Constitution. The Places of Worship Act imposes a non-derogable obligation towards enforcing our commitment to secularism under the Indian Constitution. The law is hence a legislative instrument designed to protect the secular features of the Indian polity, which is one of the basic features of the Constitution”.

The bench added, “In providing a guarantee for the preservation of the religious character of places of public worship as they existed on 15 August 1947 and against the conversion of places of public worship, Parliament determined that independence from colonial rule furnishes a constitutional basis for healing the injustices of the past by providing the confidence to every religious community that their places of worship will be preserved and that their character will not be altered”.

The Places of Worship Act, however, contains an exemption from the application of its provisions to the place of worship ―commonly known as Ram Janam Bhumi –Babri Masjid and to any suit, appeal or proceeding relating to it.