Explained: Gyanvapi Mosque row and the relevance of the Places of Worship Act
New Delhi, May 18: The controversy over the court-mandated survey of the Gyanvapi Masjid complex, has once again brought to the fore the controversy around the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991.
The Mosque is located close to the iconic Kashi Vishwanath temple.
The current controversy started when a plea by Delhi women Rakhi Singh, Laxmi Devi, Sita Sahu and others seeking permission to perform daily worship of deities Shringar Gauri, Lord Ganesha, Lord Hanuman and Nandi whose idols are located on the outer wall of the Gyanvapi mosque.
The women had moved the court with their plea on April 18, 2021, and also sought a court's order to stop the opponents from causing any damage to the idols.
However, the Muslim side have objected to the survey of the mosque, citing the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 and its Section 4.
What is The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991?
The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 was enacted to "prohibit conversion of any place of worship and to provide for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on the 15th day of August, 1947 and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto".
The Act extends to the whole of India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Section 3 of the Act bars the conversion of places of worship. "No person shall convert any place of worship of any religious denomination or any section thereof into a place of worship of a different section of the same religious denomination or of a different religious denomination or any section thereof," it says.
If, on the commencement of this Act, any suit, appeal or other proceeding with respect to the conversion of the religious character of any place of worship, existing on the 15th day of August, 1947, is pending before any court, tribunal or other authority, the same shall abate, and no suit, appeal or other proceeding with respect to any such matter shall lie on or after such commencement in any court, tribunal or other authority:
Provided that if any suit, appeal or other proceeding, instituted or filed on the ground that conversion
has taken place in the religious character of any such place after the 15th day of August, 1947, is pending on the commencement of this Act, such suit, appeal or other proceeding shall be disposed of in
accordance with the provisions of sub-section (1).
What about Ayodhya verdict?
The 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 situated in Ayodhya in the State of Uttar Pradesh and to any suit, appeal or other proceeding relating to the said place or place of worship.
Then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi-led Bench while reading Ayodhya verdict said: "In providing a guarantee for the preservation of the religious character of places of public worship as they existed on 15 August 1947 and against the conversion of places of public worship, Parliament determined that independence from colonial rule furnishes a constitutional basis for healing the injustices of the past by providing the 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. Its norms bind those who govern the affairs of the nation at every level. Those norms implement the Fundamental Duties under Article 51A and are hence positive to every citizen as well. The State, has by enacting the law, 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."
When was the Act passed?
The Act was introduced by the PV Narasimha Rao government during the Ram temple movement was gaining momentum.