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Post at: Aug 22 2022

PLACES OF WORSHIP ACT

Present Context  

  • In May 2022, Lower Court (Varanasi) has ordered a survey of Gyanvapi mosque in Kashi temple complex after a petition claimed the presence of Hindu deities there. 
  • Committee of Management of Anjuman Intezamia Masjid, cited protection under the Places of Worship Act, 1991.
  • Later on 22 May 2022, the Mathura court stated that  Places of Worship Act won’t apply in Krishna Janmabhoomi case: 

About the Places of Worship Act, 1991

  • The Act to prohibit conversion of any place of worship.
  • It provide for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on the 15th day of August, 1947.

Exception 

  • Act not to apply to Ram Janma Bhumi-Babri Masjid case.

Important Provisions

  • Section (2)-It extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Section 3c- “place of worship” means 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.
  • Section 5- Act not to apply to Ram Janma Bhumi- Babri Masjid. Nothing contained in this Act shall apply to the place or place of worship commonly known as Ram Janma Bhumi-Babri Masjid.
  • Section 6- Punishment for contravention of section 3- (1) Whoever contravenes the provisions of section 3 shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

In which cases will the law not apply?

  • It will not apply to ancient and historical monuments and archaeological sites and remains that are covered by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958.
  • It will also not apply to any suit that has been finally settled or disposed of, any dispute that has been settled by the parties before the 1991 Act came into force, or to the conversion of any place that took place by acquiescence.

Criticism of the Act 
 The Act was challenged by a petition on the following grounds-

  • It amounts to taking away the right of the people to seek justice through the courts and obtain a judicial remedy. 
  • It also contends that the cut-off date of August 15, 1947, is arbitrary and irrational.
  • It is also said the law violates the right to practise and propagate religion, as well as the right to manage and administer places of worship.

Supreme Court on the status freeze

  • In its final verdict on the Ayodhya dispute, the Supreme Court had observed that the Act “imposes a non-derogable obligation towards enforcing our commitment to secularism”. 
  • The court went on to say: “Non-retrogression is a foundational feature of the fundamental constitutional principles, of which secularism is a core component."
  • The court described the law as one that preserved secularism by not permitting the status of a place of worship to be altered after Independence.
     

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