Validity of Places of Worship Act | Supreme Court gives Centre ‘sufficient time’ to clarify its stand; adjourns case to October 31

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the government required “a little more time” to make up its mind about the validity of the Places of Worship Act.

Updated - July 11, 2023 02:52 pm IST

Published - July 11, 2023 12:26 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A view of Supreme Court of India. File

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

The Supreme Court on July 11 gave the Centre “sufficient time” till October 31 to clarify its stand on the validity of the Places of Worship Act, which protects the identity and character of religious places as they were on Independence Day.

Appearing before a Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D. Y. Chandrachud, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the government required “a little more time” to make up its mind about the law.

Earlier hearings in 2023 and the previous year had seen the government take similar adjournments seeking more time to come to a decision and file an affidavit.

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“The Union of India is taking adjournments after adjournments, if it goes on like this…. Let the hearing start,” former Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy, urged the court.

But the Chief Justice said the hearing cannot possibly start without hearing the view of the government. “Besides, the petitioners would also want to file their responses to the Centre’s stand,” the court noted.

The Bench said the government, considering the ramifications of the issue involved, should file a comprehensive affidavit.

In an earlier hearing, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, had said the court would have to first consider the question whether a PIL challenging the Places of Worship Act of 1991, a Central legislation, would lie, especially after a five-judge Bench of the apex court had upheld the validity of the Act in its Ayodhya judgment.

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”.

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In an October 2022 hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the government, had however ventured his personal opinion that the remarks made in the Ayodhya judgment about the 1991 Act would not preclude the court from examining the validity of the statute now.

Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, for petitioner Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, had also agreed that the comments in the Ayodhya verdict about the Act were 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, had argued that 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 that the law has 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”.

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