Criminal Trident Pack: IPC, CrPC and IEA by Sr. Adv. G.S Shukla and Adv. Raghav Arora
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Key Takeaways

  • A brief introduction of the Places of Worship Act, 1991.
  • A brief history behind the enactment of the said Act.
  • The provisions of the Act and their explanations.
  • Current status of the said Act.

Introduction

The Places of Worship (Special Provision) Act got enacted on 18th September 1991. A brief introduction of the Act opens up 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.” As per Section 2 (b) of the Act, term the "conversion", includes “alteration or change of whatever nature” and Section 2 (c) of the Act provides that "place of worship" includes a “temple, mosque, gurudwara, church, monastery or any other place of public religious worship of any religious denomination or any section thereof, by whatever name called.” The Act shall be said to have commenced on 11th July 1991.

History

The said Act was brought by the Congress government when P V Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister of India. At that time, the Ram temple movement was at its peak. Babri Masjid was still standing by that time, but then L K Advani’s rath yatra and his arrest in Bihar and also the firing on ‘kar sevaks’ in Uttar Pradesh led to the communal tensions and rifts. A Bill was then moved in Parliament by the then Home Minister S B Chavan for which he said that “It is considered necessary to adopt these measures in view of the controversies arising from time to time with regard to conversion of places of worship which tend to vitiate the communal atmosphere… Adoption of this Bill will effectively prevent any new controversies from arising in respect of conversion of any place of worship…”

Regarding the validity of the said Act, currently, two petitions are pending before the Hon’ble Supreme Court. One of the petitions was filed by the ‘Vishwa Bhadra Pujari Purohit Mahasangh’ which is a Lucknow-based trust along with Sanatan of Vedic Hindu Religion and the other was filed by Advocate Ashwini Upadhyay. The grounds on which it has been challenged is that-

  • It bars judicial review which is the basic feature of the Indian Constitution.
  • The retrospective cut-off date is arbitrary and irrational.
  • Right to religion of Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Sikhs is abridged.

Provisions of the Act

Section 3

The said Section bars the conversion of any place of worship of any religious denomination into some other place of worship of any other religious denomination.

Section 4

Section 4 (1) of the Act provides that the religious character of a place of worship shall remain the same as existed on 15th August 1947. Section 4 (2) of the Act provides that, if 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, at the time of the commencement of this Act; then the same shall abate, and no other suit, appeal or other proceedings with respect to any such matter shall be entertained by the court, tribunal or any other authority. However, if the conversion of any place of worship takes place after 15 August 1947, then the same shall be dealt with by the competent authority in accordance with subsection (1) of Section 4 of this Act.

As per Section 4 (3), provisions of sub-sections (1) and (2) shall not apply to any place of worship referred herein, which is an ancient and historical monument or an archaeological site or remains covered by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 or any other law for the time being in force. Also, the Act would not have a retrospective effect upon the judgments already delivered by the courts or tribunals.

Section 5

Section 5 of the Act specifically provides that the Act shall not apply to Ram Janma Bhumi-Babri Masjid situated in Ayodhya in the State of Uttar Pradesh and to any suit, appeal, or other proceeding related to the said place or place of worship.

Section 6

The mentioned Section deals with the punishment related to the contravention of the provisions of the Act. Section 6 (1) says that whoever contravenes the provisions provided in Section 3 shall be punished with imprisonment for a term that may extend up to three years and shall also be liable to a fine. Also, anyone who commits or attempts to commit or instigates the commission of such act which is punishable as per sub-section (1), shall be punished for the offence as provided in sub-section (1).

Abetment for the commission of an offence punishable under sub-section (1) or even being a party to conspiracy for any such commission, shall be punishable with the punishment provided for the offence even if such offence be or be not committed in consequence of such abetment or in pursuance of such criminal conspiracy, notwithstanding anything mentioned in Section 116 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Section 7 of the Act provides that the Act shall have the overriding effect on all other enactments.

Current Status of the Act

Currently, the Places of Worship Act is in the news because the Gyanvapi Masjid’s existence is again in question. Gyanvapi Masjid in Varanasi which is claimed to be built by Aurangzeb in the 17th century has been a matter of religious conflict like many other mosques that were built by destroying the Hindu temples during the reign of Aurangzeb. The prominent examples are of Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi-Shahi Idgah dispute and the Ram Mandir-Babari Masjid dispute.

Similarly, Gyanvapi Masjid-Kashi Vishwanath temple has again emerged as a matter of religious conflict. Hence, the Places of Worship Act is brought into the picture again. Since the Act provides that any status of the religious place that existed on 15th August 1947 shall be retained and there shall be no conversion of such places; the Hindus are claiming that the ‘shivling’ is present within the premises of Gyanvapi Masjid. Thus, they are demanding that the area of Masjid should again be converted into the Shiv temple. A case in furtherance of the same was also filed in Varanasi Court after which a survey was conducted in the complex of Masjid. The mosque committee however argued that the suits filed in 2021 citing the “right to Worship” are in fact barred by The Places of Worship Act, 1991, and with such an attempt, the dispute which was ended by the said law, might revive consequently. Therefore, the status of the said Act still is sustained.

Conclusion

The Places of Worship Act, 1991 was brought to put an end to the communal disputes related to the places of worship. Since India has been invaded by various invaders like Mughals, Afghans, etc. and it had been a common practice among the rulers who ruled India from time-to-time, to destroy the existing structure and build their own upon that place; therefore, after independence, it had to be stopped to avoid any further communal riots or conflicts related to the disputed places like temples, mosques, gurudwaras, etc. The rationale behind the enactment of the said Act was quite practical and in the interest of the common people, however, it is still a matter of controversy as few of the structures of religious importance that existed on 15th August 1947 are claimed to have been built upon the Hindu places of worship which are not ordinary temples but the temples of great importance and belief of Hindus.


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