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Upendra Bharti | HENB | New Delhi | Nov 14, 2022:: The Supreme Court on Monday granted time till December 12 to the Union government to submit a “comprehensive” affidavit to a clutch of petitions challenging the validity of the 1991 Places of Worship Act, as the Centre said it is yet to conclude its consultation and formalise a stand on the issue.
The apex court was hearing on the matter of validity and implications of disputed Places of Worship Act, 1991 as filed by two veteran BJP leaders, Advocate Ashwini Upadhaya and Dr Subramanina Swamy including others.
The 1991 Places of Worship Act is believed as ‘Anti-Hindu and Pro-Muslim’ as it has snatched the rights of Hindus to proclaim the Hindu places of worship at Temples and religious places which were desecrated, destroyed and encroached by the Muslim invaders – Mughal rulers to change those as Islamic worship places like Mosques or Madrasas etc.
The 1991 Act was promulgated by the then Congress Govt in the Center led by PV Narsima Rao in the advent of Ayodhya Sri Ram Janmabhoomi Temple movement at the peak.
Now, the government needs to come clear before the top court whether a review of the Act, which locks the religious identity of a place of worship as it existed on August 15, 1947, and makes it punishable to attempt to change its character, is being mulled over or not.
If the Centre opts to defend the law as it is, it will have to justify the rationale behind the cut-off date and stopping reclamation of religious places destroyed by Muslim invaders, among others, raised by the petitioners.
On Monday, a bench comprising Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and justice JB Pardiwala took note of the submissions of solicitor general Tushar Mehta that the Centre’s affidavit could not be filed as he needed some more time for finalising the stand.
“I need to consult with the government for filing a detailed counter. I would need consultation at a higher level in the government. If some time can be given, we will file a detailed counter,” Mehta, appearing for the Centre submitted before the bench.
Accepting the S-G’s request, the bench adjourned the hearing on the petitions after recording in its order that due deliberations with government authorities are needed. It asked the Centre to file a “comprehensive affidavit” by December 12 and fixed the matter for hearing in the first week of January.
The Union government was issued a notice by the top court around 20 months ago, but it is yet to convey its stand on the issue.
The court had in March 2021 issued a notice on Ashwini Upadhyay’s petition, alleging that the 1991 law violated Article 25 (right to practice and propagate religion) and Article 26 (right to manage religious affairs) of the Constitution, besides being discriminatory by barring religious communities from approaching courts to restore their places of worship. He even questioned the Centre’s power to enact such legislation.
Subsequently, several other petitions and applications were filed on the issue. Muslim bodies such as Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind and All India Muslim Personal Law Board harped upon a declaration in the Ayodhya verdict, which held that the Act is “a legislative intervention which preserves non-retrogression as an essential feature of our secular values.”
The Jamiat’s petition sought enforcement of the 1991 law, complaining: “Muslim places of worship are being made the subject matter of frivolous controversies and suits, which are patently barred under the 1991 Act.”
Upadhyay and Vishwa Bhadra Pujari Purohit Mahasangh, on the other hand, have argued that the top court was not dealing with the 1991 Act in the Ayodhya land dispute and what was said was just obiter dicta (observations made in the passing).
During the last hearing on October 12, S-G Mehta, when asked by the bench to convey his personal views on the impact of the observations made by a five-judge bench in the Ayodhya verdict, said that that the various issues raised on the validity of the 1991 Act may not be covered by the Ayodhya judgment.
BJP Leader and Rajya Sabha MP Subrasumaniam Swamy also reached the Supreme Court on the matter of Places of Worship Act. 1991. Swamy said he did not seek repeal of the Act in his petition.
He said that Kashi and Mathura are just like Ayodhya’s Ram temple dispute.
So the sites of Kashi Viswhanath (Gyanvapi) and Mathura Krishna Janmasthan (Idgah) sites should be excluded from the purview of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act-1991.
Swamy said, “I am not demanding repeal of the Act. But let the two temples be included and the Act may remain in its form.”
The bench said it would consider Swamy’s plea at the next hearing of the case. Earlier, the Supreme Court had given the Center till October 31 to file its reply on petitions challenging the validity of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act.
As Supreme Court was hearing on the petition filed by Senior Advocate and BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay including others, Upadhyay contended that Sections 2, 3, 4 of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act-1991 should be struck down on the ground that these provisions take away the judicial right of any person or religious group to reclaim a place of worship.
There is a huge resentment of the majority people in India for the draconian “Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act-1991” as it was introduced and enacted with an intention to neutralize the ‘Ram Janmabhoomi like movement’ in further to reclaim other Hindu places of worship so far captured by the Muslims by using culpable force.
Taking his twitter handle, Hindu interlocutor and Hindu Existence Website Editor, Upananda Brahmachari demanded, “Anti-Hindu and Pro-Muslim Places of Worship Act must be revoked in full”.
__Inputs from Agencies.
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