The Supreme Court today agreed to hear pleas challenging the Places of Worship Act, 1991. It said that a three-judge bench would hear pleas related to the said law on 11 October and asked the parties concerned to complete pleadings.
The Supreme Court allowed applicants to intervene in hearing of pleas on validity of the 1991 law that prohibited change of character of religious places.
In one of the petitions, a representative of the former royal family of Kashi moved the Supreme Court, challenging the Places of Worship Act, 1992. The application by Maharaja Kumari Krishna Priya, daughter of the current titular head of the former royal family, and two others contend that the law is a “textbook instance of a legislation that was passed in the most undemocratic of manners possible, without any regard for fundamental rights of affected parties, in particular the right of formerly colonised indigenous communities to seek reclamation of occupied religious cum civilisational sites”.
The plea filed through advocate J Sai Deepak urged the court to permit them to become parties in writ petitions — already pending and listed for hearing before the SC on Friday — on the issue so that they could present their arguments in law.
Dealing with the Places of Worship Act, the application said, “For a legislation that shuts the doors of justice to affected communities and parties, it was ‘debated’ only on three dates i.e., 23.08.1991, 09.09.1991 and 10.09.1991 and the Bill was passed on the last of the said dates. The debate of 23.08.1991 clearly captures the fact that the period of seven days’ notice was not afforded to members of Lok Sabha before the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Bill dated 22.08.1991 was introduced”.
That it exempted the Ayodhya dispute from its purview “itself highlights in stark relief the discriminatory, arbitrary and capricious nature of the Act”, the petition said.
The petition urged, “… a study ought to have been undertaken to identify the number of such pending disputes, which too could have been entitled to a similar exemption”. It urged the court to treat claimants of other occupied religious sites at par with owners of Ramjanmabhoomi so that they too have the opportunity to present evidence before a court of law to make good their case for restoration of their sites.
The petition said it was "indeed shocking that the Government of an ‘independent’, formerly colonised country deemed it fit to enact a legislation which places an embargo on reclamation of occupied religious sites of indigenous/Bharatiya faith systems”. The Places of Worship Act, it said, “is a textbook example of oikophobia/oikomisia and misautogeny i.e., hatred or contempt for one’s own people and culture” and “demonstrates its “colonial consciousness…which perpetuates a state of affairs that existed during the period of colonisation, either Middle Eastern or European”.
The Places of Worship Act “actively stands in the way of the truth being laid bare through constitutional means before a court of law through evidence which is legally admissible”, the application stated.
Arguing that it could not be contended that the constitution celebrated all values except the truth, including secularism, at the expense of truth, the plea stated that “every time the truth is brushed under the carpet ostensibly in the name of secularism, it contributes to communal disharmony”. Therefore, it stated, “to contend that the truth must be given a silent burial to preserve secularism and to maintain communal harmony is to commit an error of logic, apart from insensitively taking away the right of the victims of colonisation to present the evidence of the ravages of colonisation and its continuing injustice in “independent” Bharat, namely the continued occupation of their religious and civilisational sites which they continue to hold dear”.
The second petitioner is Santosh Tamilarasan, a member of Tuluva Vellalar community, “which rebuilt the Kapaleeshwara Temple in Chennai after its destruction by the Portugese” and which has “exclusive right of trusteeship in the Kapaleeshwara Temple”. Tamilarasan has contended that the “St Thomas Basilica now stands in its place”.
The third applicant is a Vaishnava, who said he had the “duty and right to seek reclamation of the Bindu Madhav Mandir” too.
Other pleas against Places of Worship Act
There are other petitions filed by Vishnu Shankar Jain, Ashwini Upadhyay, Subramanian Swamy, and others against different provisions of the Places of Worship Act together. Ashwini Upadhyay in his petition said that the 1991 law created an arbitrary and irrational retrospective cut-off date of 15 August1947 for maintaining the character of the places of worship or pilgrimage against encroachment done by “fundamentalist-barbaric invaders and law-breakers”.
During the hearing, Advocate Vishnu Shankar Jain said, “Sections 3 and 4 of the places of worship act are challenged. My submission is that right to judicial review can not be taken away. I am relying on the Minerva mills’ judgment.” Senior Advocate Rakesh Dwivedi appeared for the Union of India while Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that no reply has been filed on behalf of the Union of India. SG Mehta told that it will be filed soon.
Muslims want Places of Worship Act to continue
The Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind and All India Muslim Personal Board had filed petitions opposing the pleas seeking the review of Places of Worship Act, 1991.
The Supreme Court asked the central government to file response in two weeks on pleas challenging Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991.
The Jamiat had appealed to the apex court to not even issue notice in regards to the challenging pleas and asked for outright dismissal. The Jamiat had said issuing a notice will create fear in the minds of the Muslims.
The Jamiat had contended that if the court agrees to review the Act, it will open floodgates of litigations against countless mosques in the country.