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Places of Worship Act

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    23rd May, 2022

Overview:

  • Act and its Provisions
  • Exemptions under the Act
  • Necessity of the Act
  • Judicial point of view

Context

The Supreme Court will hear an appeal challenging the order of a civil court in Varanasi, which allowed inspection, survey and videography at the Gyanvapi Mosque complex.

Background

  • The Committee of Management of Anjuman Intezamia Masjid, has filed the appeal.
  • The principal contention is that the order of the Varanasi court, which was upheld by Allahabad High Court in April is “clearly interdicted” by The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991.

Analysis

What is the law is all about?

  • The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 is described as “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 the 15th day of August, 1947, and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”
    • Section 3 bars the conversion, in full or part, of a place of worship of any religious denomination into a place of worship of a different religious denomination — or even a different segment of the same religious denomination.
    • Section 4(1) declares that the religious character of a place of worship “shall continue to be the same as it existed” on August 15, 1947.
    • Section 4(2)says any suit or legal proceeding with respect to the conversion of the religious character of any place of worship existing on August 15, 1947, pending before any court, shall abate — and no fresh suit or legal proceedings shall be instituted.

 

Certain Exemptions under the Act:

  • Section 5stipulates that the Act shall not apply to the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case, and to any suit, appeal or proceeding relating to it.
  • Besides the Ayodhya dispute, the Act also exempted:
    • Any place of worship which is an ancient and historical monument or an archaeological site covered by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958.

 

Why this law was required?

  • The Act was introduced in the year 1991
  • The Act was passed in the backdrop when Janmabhoomi movement had gained massive support.
  • The main primary motive of the act to prevent rising incidents of communal unrest inside the territorial boundary.

 

Judicial Opinion on the Act

  • While delivering the Ayodhya verdict, SC bench said that,
    • Legislative guarantee to preserve religious institutions, provides a confidence to every religious community, ensuring fraternity and peace in the society.
    • The Places of Worship imposes a non-derogable obligation towards protecting the secular feature of the constitution, one of the Basic Structure Doctrine.

Conclusion

Secularism is one of the Basic Structure Doctrine of our Indian Constitution. In order to protect the religious rights of the citizens, Parliament had enacted the Place of Worship (Special Provisions) Act in the 1991. During Ayodhya Verdict Supreme Court described the law as a legislative 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 the 15th day of August, 1947.

PRACTICE QUESTION

Q1. What are the provisions of The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991? Discuss its significance in the present day scenario.

Q2. Discuss the relevance of pluralism and secularism in multi-ethnic Indian society.

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