Place of Worship (Special Provision) Act, 1991
The Supreme Court asked the Centre to respond to a plea challenging the constitutionality of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 which prohibits the religious conversion of places of worship as they existed on the day of Indian independence.
Place of Worship (Special Provision) Act, 1991 was enacted to preserve communal harmony in the long run. Discuss in light of Supreme Court Ayodhya Verdict 2019.
About Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991:
● The law seeks to maintain the “religious character” of places of worship as it was in 1947 — except in the case of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute.
● It was intended to pre-empt new claims by any group about the past status of any place of worship and attempts to reclaim the structures or the land on which they stood. The law was enacted to preserve communal harmony in the long run.
Important Provision of the act:
● The Act declares that the religious character of a place of worship shall continue to be the same as it was on August 15, 1947. It says no person shall convert any place of worship of any religious denomination into one of a different denomination or section.
● It 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 authorityon August 15, 1947, will abate as soon as the law comes into force. No further legal proceedings can be instituted.
● The Act does not apply to the place of worship commonly referred to as Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.
Supreme court Judgement:
● In the 2019Ayodhya verdict, the Supreme Court commended the enactment as one that preserved the constitutional value of secularism by not permitting the status of a place of worship to be changed.
● It said the Places of Worship Act “imposes a non-derogable obligation towards enforcing our commitment to secularism.”
● The court observed that “non-retrogression is a foundational feature of the fundamental constitutional principles, of which secularism is a core component.”
Criticism of the Legislation:
● The cut-off date is arbitrary, and it means that the status quo determined by a colonial power is considered final.
● It barred people from seeking remedies against illegal encroachment on the places of worship. The petitioners also argued that the act bars the judicial review.
● The Central government has no power to legislate on “pilgrimages” or “burial grounds” which are under the state list. However, the government enacted the law using residuary power under Entry 97 of the Union List.