Updated: March 13, 2021 7:30:42 am
The Supreme Court Friday sought the Centre’s response on a PIL challenging the Constitutional validity of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 which mandates that the nature of all places of worship, except the one in Ayodhya that was then under litigation, shall be maintained as it was on August 15, 1947, and that no encroachment of any such place prior to the date can be challenged in courts.
A bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justice A S Bopanna issued notice on the plea filed by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay who contended that the Act — it was brought in by the P V Narasimha Rao-led Congress government during the height of the Ram temple movement — bars the remedy of judicial review which is a basic feature of the Constitution, thereby depriving Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains the right to move court to get their places of worship, destroyed or encroached upon by “barbarian invaders”, restored.
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In June 2020, Lucknow-based Vishwa Bhadra Pujari Purohit Mahasangh had moved the Supreme Court, challenging the Act. Days later, the Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind too approached the court, seeking permission to be made party in the matter since “even issuance of notice in the… matter will create fear in the minds of the Muslim Community with regard to their places of worship, especially in the aftermath of the Ayodhya Dispute and will destroy the secular fabric of the nation”.
The Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind also referred to the Supreme Court’s 2019 Ayodhya judgment, and said the ruling had noted that the Act protects and secures the fundamental values of the Constitution and was a legislative instrument to protect secularism.
The judgment, it said, had also stated that the law cannot be used as a device to reach back in time and provide a legal remedy to every person who disagrees with the course which history has taken, and that courts of today cannot take cognizance of historical rights and wrongs unless it is shown that their legal consequences are enforceable in the present.
The fresh plea by Upadhyay states that the Centre by its action “has created arbitrary irrational retrospective cut-off date” and “has barred the remedies against illegal encroachment on the places of worship and pilgrimages and now Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs cannot file suit or approach High Court under Article 226. Therefore, they won’t be able to restore their places of worship and pilgrimage including temples-endowments in spirit of Articles 25-26 and illegal barbarian act of invaders will continue in perpetuity”.
Referring to the provision in the 1991 Act that any case regarding the conversion of any religious place after August 15, 1947 and before September 18, 1991 — when the Act was made by Parliament — shall stand abated, it said this is “‘per se’ unconstitutional and beyond its law making power”.
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