Places of Worship Act | Supreme Court gives petitioners liberty to intervene in pending case

Petitioner argues that the August 15, 1947 cut-off date in the 1991 Act that mandates that the identity of a religious place of worship/pilgrimage be retained as was on that date, is “arbitrary and irrational”

July 29, 2022 08:35 pm | Updated July 30, 2022 10:28 am IST - NEW DELHI

Supreme Court of India. File

Supreme Court of India. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The Supreme Court on Friday frowned upon more and more petitions being filed, challenging the Places of Worship Act.

A Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud gave six new petitioners liberty to intervene in a case, in which the apex court had already sought the government's response last year.

Editorial | Act early, decisively: On the bid to change nature of places of worship

In March 2021, the top court had issued a formal notice to Union Ministries of Home, Law and Culture on a petition filed by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay against the various provisions of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act of 1991.

The 1991 Act mandates that the identity of a religious place of worship as it had existed in August 15, 1947 should not be changed.

Cut-off date “arbitrary”

However, Mr. Upadhyay had argued that the cut-off date was "arbitrary and irrational". He said the Act, by fixing a retrospective cut-off date (August 15, 1947), illegally barred Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs from approaching courts to "re-claim" their places of worship which were "invaded" and "encroached" upon by "fundamentalist barbaric invaders".

Mr. Upadhyay said: "The Act declared that character of places of worship-pilgrimage shall be maintained as it was on August 15, 1947 and no suit or proceeding shall lie in court in respect of disputes against encroachment done by fundamentalist barbaric invaders and law breakers and such proceeding shall stand abated."

He challenged Sections 2, 3, and 4 of the Act, which deals with the bar on legal claims that were against the principles of secularism.

"Section 2, 3, 4 not only offend right to pray, practice and propagate religion (Article 25), right to manage maintain administer places of worship-pilgrimage (Article 26), right to conserve culture (Article 29) but also contrary to State’s duty to protect historic places (Article 49) and preserve religious cultural heritage (Article 51A)," the petition said.

Six new petitions

The six new petitions challenge the 1991 Act on similar, if not identical grounds.

"How many petitions are being filed?" Justice Chandrachud asked on Friday.

One of the new petitions accuse the 1991 Act of “validating the illegal and barbarous action of invaders”.

Another petition filed by Anil Kabotra in the Supreme Court takes on an identical note by saying that mosques have to be constructed on “legally owned” and “virgin land”. “Temple’s religious character does not change after demolition of roof, walls, pillars, foundation and even offering namaaz," it said.

A petition by Devkinandan Thakur echoes the same notions of “historic wrong”.

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