News Polity & Governance

PLACES OF WORSHIP ACT, 1991

Written by Talent KAS

Related Topic in KAS Prelims Syllabus:

Indian Constitution, Political System and Governance [Paper-I]: Indian Constitution and its salient features, Public Policy and Governance

News

In its Ayodhya verdict, the Supreme Court mentioned about the Places of Worship Act, 1991.

Context

  • When the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute was at its height, some organisations also laid claim to two other mosques — the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi and the Shahi Idgah in Mathura.
  • In this backdrop, the P.V. Narasimha Rao government, in September 1991, enacted a special law named Places of Worship Act, 1991.

Objective

  • The aim of the act was to provide for the maintenance of the religious character of such a place of worship as on August 15, 1947.
  • It was intended to prevent 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.

Main Features of the Act

  • The religious character of a place of worship shall continue to be the same as it was on August 15, 1947.
  • 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.
  • The Act provides for imprisonment up to three years and a fine for anyone violating the prohibition.

Exceptions

These provisions 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
  • Suit that has been finally settled or disposed
  • Any dispute that has been settled by the parties or conversion of any place that took place by acquiescence before the Act commenced
  • Place of worship commonly referred to as Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid in Ayodhya

Significance

This legislative obligation on the State to preserve and protect the equality of all faiths is an essential secular and basic feature of the Indian Constitution.

What SC said about the Act?

  • In its Ayodhya judgment, the Supreme Court commended the Act as one that preserved the constitutional value of secularism by not permitting the status of a place of worship to be changed.
  • The court observed that “non-retrogression is a foundational feature of the fundamental constitutional principles, of which secularism is a core component.”

[Source: The Hindu]

About the author

Talent KAS