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Places of Worship Act

Topics Covered: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Places of Worship Act:


Context:

The Supreme Court has asked the government to respond to a plea challenging the Places of Worship Act enacted in 1991 which freezes the status of places of worship as it was on August 15, 1947.

What’s the issue?

A petition has been filed in the court terming the law as “arbitrary, irrational and retrospective”.

  • The cut-off date (August 15, 1947) as per the law bars Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs from approaching courts to “re-claim” their places of worship which were “invaded” and “encroached” upon by “fundamentalist barbaric invaders”.

The petitioner also said the Sections of the Act that dealt with the bar on legal claims were against the principles of secularism.

What is the objective of the Act?

  • The aim of the Act was to freeze the status of any place of worship as it existed on August 15, 1947.
  • It was also to provide for the maintenance of the religious character of such a place of worship as on that day.
  • 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.
  • It was hoped that the legislation would help the preservation of communal harmony in the long run.

Key features:

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 authority on August 15, 1947, will abate as soon as the law comes into force. No further legal proceedings can be instituted.

Exceptions:

These provisions will not apply to:

  1. Ancient and historical monuments and archaeological sites and remains that are covered by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958.
  2. A suit that has been finally settled or disposed of; and any dispute that has been settled by the parties or conversion of any place that took place by acquiescence before the Act commenced.
  3. The Act also does not apply to the place of worship commonly referred to as Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. This law will have overriding effect over any other law in force.

Sources: the Hindu.