Places of Worship Act

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    In News

    • Recently, the Supreme Court (SC) frowned upon more and more petitions being filed, challenging the Places of Worship Act.

    Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991

    • It underlines the need to protect the liberty of faith and worship.
    • Objective:
      • To provide for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship.
      • To prohibit conversion of any place of worship.
      • To curb communal tension.
    • Major Provisions:
      • Section 3 of the Act: It bars the conversion, in full or part, of a place of worship of any religious denomination into a place of worship of a different religious denomination, or even a different segment of the same religious denomination.
      • Section 4(1): It declares that the religious character of a place of worship shall continue to be the same as it existed on August 15, 1947. 
      • Section 4(2): Any suit or legal proceeding with respect to the conversion of the religious character of any place of worship existing on August 15, 1947, pending before any court, shall abate — and no fresh suit or legal proceedings shall be instituted.
      • Section 5: The Act shall not apply to the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case, and to any suit, appeal or proceeding relating to it.
      • Section 6: It prescribes a punishment of maximum three-years imprisonment along with a fine for contravening the provisions of the Act.
    • Exemptions:
      • Ram Janma Bhumi Babri Masjid
        • Under Section 5 of the Act, it does not apply to Ram Janma Bhumi Babri Masjid.
        • Nothing contained in this Act shall apply to Ram Janma Bhumi-Babri Masjid situated in Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh) and to any suit, appeal or other proceeding relating to it.
      • Any place of worship that is an ancient and historical monument or an archaeological site, or is covered by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958.
      • Any dispute that has been settled by the parties or conversion of any place that took place by acquiescence before the Act commenced.
      • A suit that has been finally settled or disposed of.

    Supreme Court’s (SC) Views

    • In the 2019 Ayodhya verdict, the SC held that the Act manifests the secular values of the Constitution and strictly prohibits retrogression.
    • It provides confidence to every religious community that their places of worship will be preserved and that their character will not be altered.
    • The law addresses itself to the State as much as to every citizen of the nation and its norms bind those who govern the affairs of the nation at every level.
    • Through it, the State-enforced a constitutional commitment and operationalized its constitutional obligations to uphold the equality of all religions and secularism which is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution.
    • Those norms implement the Fundamental Duties under Article 51A and are hence positive mandates to every citizen as well.
    • In agreeing to examine the law, SC has opened the doors for litigation in various places of worship across the country.

    Way Ahead

    • Every religious community must be brought into confidence that their places of worship would be preserved and that their character would not be altered.
    • At the same time, this law should not bar judicial review, which is a basic feature of the Constitution.

    Source: TH