The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Centre to make its stand clear on whether a Constitution Bench in the Ram Janmabhoomi case has already settled the question of validity of the Places of Worship Act of 1991.
The 1991 parliamentary law protects the identity and character of religious places as they were on August 15, 1947.
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The Ayodhya judgment of the Supreme Court had found that the 1991 Act spoke "to our history and to the future of the nation… In preserving the character of places of public worship, the Parliament has mandated in no uncertain terms that history and its wrongs shall not be used as instruments to oppress the present and the future”.
On Wednesday, when asked by a Bench led by Chief Justice of India U.U. Lalit for his "personal opinion" Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the government, said what was said in the Ayodhya judgment about the 1991 Act would not preclude the court from examining the validity of the statute now.
"That [Ayodhya judgment] was given in a different context and may not cover the issue here," Mr. Mehta gave his opinion.
Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, for petitioner Ashwini Upadhyay, said the remarks made in the Ayodhya verdict was merely 'obiter dicta" and did not have the force of law.
Advocates P.B. Suresh, Vipin Nair and Vishnu Shankar Jain, appearing for petitioner Vishwa Bhadra Pujari Purohit Mahasangh, said the validity of the 1991 Act was not in question before the Constitution Bench in the Ayodhya case.
A slew of petitions has been filed in the apex court against the Act, contending it has illegally fixed a retrospective cut-off date (August 15, 1947), illegally barring 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".
The main objective of these petitions is to set right a "historical wrong".
The court's readiness to test the law is significant considering the recent happenings in courts in Delhi, Varanasi, Mathura and the Supreme Court which test the protective grip and probe the boundaries of The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act of 1991.
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Recently, a Delhi civil court had referred to the remarks about the 1991 Act in the Ayodhya judgment while dismissing a suit to “restore” alleged Hindu and Jain temples inside the Qutb Minar complex.
“Every endeavour should be made to enforce the objective of The Places of Worship Act… Our country had a rich history and seen challenging times. Nevertheless, history has to be accepted as a whole. Can the good be retained and bad be deleted from our history?” the civil court had asked in November 2021.