Summary of Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991

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SUMMARY OF PLACES OF WORSHIP ACT

The Places of worship act was introduced with the object 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 of the Act states that “No person shall convert any place of worship of any religious denomination or any section thereof into a place of worship of a different section of the same religious denomination or of a different religious denomination or any section thereof”.

Section 4 of the Act states about Declaration as to the religious character of certain places of worship and bar of jurisdiction of courts.

4(1) It is hereby declared that the religious character of a place of worship existing on the 15th day of August, 1947 shall continue to be the same as it existed on that day

4(2) If, on the commencement of this Act, any suit, appeal or other proceedings with respect to the conversion of the religious character of any place of worship, existing on the 15th day of August 1947, is pending before any court, tribunal or other authority, the same shall abate and no suit, appeal or other proceedings with respect to any such matter shall lie on or after such commencement in any court, tribunal or other authority.

The very object of the places of worship act was to stabilize the status of any place of worship as it existed on 15th august 1947. Also, it was believed that the act will promote communal harmony in the long run.

Main Features of the Act.

The very key feature of the act is that, the act declares that the religious character of a place of worship shall continue to be same as it was on August 15th 1947.

It further prohibits any person to convert any place of religious denomination into one of a different denomination or any section.

The Act also declares that all suits, appeals or any other proceedings regarding converting the character of a place of worship which are pending before any court or competent authority as on 15th August 1947, will subside as soon as the law comes into force. And no further legal proceedings can be instituted.

There are certain exceptions as well with regards to suits that related to conversion of status that happened after 15th August 1947. The above-mentioned provisions will not apply to ancient and historical monuments and archaeological sites and remains which are covered under Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958.

Also, This Act does not apply to place of worship commonly referred to as Ram-Janmabhoomi- Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.

Penal Provisions in the Act

The Act provides for imprisonment up to three years and a fine for anyone contravening the prohibition.

Those abetting or participating in a criminal conspiracy to commit this offence will also be punished to the same extent, even if the offence is not committed in consequences of abetment or as part of the conspiracy.

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Recent updates regarding the Act

Recently, the Hon’ble Supreme court in its Ayodhya Verdict stated that “The Places of Worship Act is intrinsically related to the obligations of a secular state. It reflects the commitment of India to the equality of all religions. Above all, the Places of Worship Act is an affirmation of the solemn duty which was cast upon the state to preserve and prevent the equality of all faiths as an essential constitutional value, a norm which has the status of being a basic feature of constitution. There is a purpose underlying the enactment of Places of Worship Act. The law speaks to our history and to the future of the nation. Cognizant as we are of our history and of the need for the nation to confront it, Independence was a watershed moment to heal the wounds of the past. Historical wrongs cannot be remedied by the people taking the law in their own hands. In preserving the character of places of public worship, Parliament has mandated in no uncertain terms that history and its wrongs shall not be used as instrument to oppress the present and the future.”[1]

Recently, a petition has also been filed in the Supreme court challenging the constitutional Validity of section 4 of the Places of Worship Act.

It is contended that the Parliament by making the impugned provisions has, without resolution of dispute through process of court, abated the suits and proceedings which is per se unconstitutional and beyond the law making power of the parliament for the reason that the impugned provision cannot be implemented with retrospective effect and the remedy of resolution of dispute pending, arisen or arising cannot be barred by the parliament and the parliament cannot close the door for aggrieved persons and cannot take away the power of the courts of first instance, Appellate courts and the power of constitutional courts conferred under Article 226 and Article 32 of the Constitution of India.[2]

Further, Jamiat- Ulama- I – Hind has filed an Application in supreme court seeking to implead itself as a party in a petition which challenges the constitutional validity of Section 4 of the Places of Worship Act, 1991

The Applicant opposes the claim made by the petitioner and urges the court to look into the submissions made in the application itself without issuing notice in the matter. Stating that the claims of the petitioner seek to indirectly target places of worship which have a Muslim Character, the Jamiat submits that in the backdrop of the Ayodhya land dispute judgement, issuing notice in this matter will instil fear in the Muslim community.

Conclusion

The very object of the act is to maintain Communal Harmony in the long run and at the same time promote the idea of secularism as enshrined in our constitution. the Hon’ble court should ensure that the power to approach court under Article 226 and Article 32 should not be taken away without a proper reasonable classification.

[1] M Siddiq (D) Thr Lrs V. Mahant Suresh Das & Ors. CA 10866-10867 OF 2010

[2] https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/plea-in-sc-challenges-bar-on-hindus-right-and-remedy-against-encroachment-on-religious-property-by-158213

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