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SC agrees to examine Places of Worship Act

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New Delhi, Mar 12: The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to examine the validity of the Places of Worship Act. A Bench headed by Chief Justice of India, S A Bobde sought the response of the Centre.

The court is hearing a petition challenging the constitutional validity of act, which barred any litigation seeking to change the character of a religious place from what it was at the time of independence.

SC agrees to examine Places of Worship Act

The petitioner Ashwini Kumar said that the law is discriminatory as it deprives Hindus, Jains and Buddhists from reclaiming their ancient places o worship which were damaged and converted to Mosques during the reign of Muslim Kings.

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"The 1991 Act has barred the right and remedy against encroachment made on religious property of Hindus exercising might of power by followers of another faith. The result is that Hindu devotees cannot raise their grievance by instituting any suit in Civil Court or invoking the jurisdiction of the High Courts against high handiness of ultras and will not be able to restore back the religious character of Hindu Endowments, Temples, Mutts etc from hoodlums if they had encroached upon such property before August 15, 1947 and such illegal and barbarian act will continue in perpetuity," the petitioner said.
Senior advocate Gopal Subramaniyan appeared in the court for the petitioner.

The law has made only one exception -- on the dispute pertaining to the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri masjid at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh.

The fresh plea assumes significance as there has been an ongoing demand by some Hindu groups to reclaim religious places at Mathura and Kashi, which are prohibited under the 1991 law.

The provisions not only offend the right of equality and life, but also violate the principles of secularism, which is an integral part of the Preamble and the basic structure of the Constitution, the plea says.

The PIL claims that the provisions of the law "not only offend Articles 14 (equality), 15 (prohibits discrimination of Indians on basis of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth), 21 (protection of life and personal liberty), 25 (freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion), 26 (freedom to manage religious affairs) and 29 (protection of interests of minorities), but also violate the principles of secularism, which is an integral part of the Preamble and the basic structure of the Constitution".

The PIL contends that the Centre has barred the remedies against illegal encroachment on places of worship and pilgrimage of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs, who cannot file a suit or approach a high court.

The petitioner has sought a declaration from the court that the provisions of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 are void and unconstitutional for being violative of the fundamental rights to equality, practise one''s religion and maintain religious places, among others, as the law validate the "places of worship" illegally made by barbaric invaders.

The plea claims that the restriction to move court is against the principle of rule of law and secularism, and adds that "if the Ayodhya case had not been decided by the Supreme Court''s constitution bench on November 9, 2019, Hindus would have been denied justice even after 500 years of the demolition of the temple".

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    "The Centre by making impugned sections has, without resolution of the disputes through process of the law, abated the suit/proceedings, which is ''per se'' unconstitutional and beyond its law-making power.

    "Moreover, impugned provisions cannot be forced with retrospective effect and the judicial remedy of dispute pending, arisen or arising cannot be barred. Centre neither can close the doors of Courts of First Instance, Appellate Courts, Constitutional Courts for aggrieved Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs nor take away the power of high courts and Supreme Court, conferred under Article 226 and 32," it says.

    Earlier also, another public interest litigation (PIL) petition was filed by the "Vishwa Bhadra Pujari Purohit Mahasangh", seeking directions to declare section 4 of the Act as ultra vires.

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