A bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde, who was part of the five-judge bench that decided the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute in favour of Hindus on November 9, 2019, and Justice A S Bopanna issued notices to the ministries of home, law and culture on the PIL filed by Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay.
The PIL said the Centre had created arbitrary and irrational retrospective cutoff date of August 15, 1947 for maintaining the character of religious places and barred filing of any suit in courts in respect of “disputes against encroachment done by fundamentalist, barbaric invaders and law-breakers” and all pending suits in this regard shall stand abated.
Rao govt brought in Act in face of Babri campaign
The Act had made a lone exception for the Ayodhya case as the dispute had been festering for centuries. “The Centre has barred remedies against illegal encroachment on places of worship and pilgrimage and now Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs can’t file suit or approach a high court under Article 226. Therefore, they won’t be able to restore their places of worship and pilgrimage as guaranteed under Articles 25-26 of the Constitution and illegal barbarian acts of invaders will continue in perpetuity,” he said.
The Places of Worship Act was enacted by the Narasimha Rao government in the face of a campaign started by VHP for control of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi and Shahi Idgah in Mathura. VHP has argued that the mosques at the sites in question were built after demolishing Hindu temples and should be handed back to the majority community.
The Rao government brought the law to freeze and maintain the denominational character of all places of worship, barring the Babri-Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi complex in Ayodhya, as it existed on August 15, 1947.
A similar PIL filed by an association of priests through advocate Vishnu Shankar Jain is also pending with the court. This PIL has sought scrapping of the 1991 law, ostensibly to revive litigation on disputed religious sites in Mathura (Krishna Janmasthan) and Varanasi (Kashi Vishwanath temple-mosque).
This plea had evoked sharp reactions from Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, which had moved the SC terming this a surreptitious attempt to correct historical wrongs and warning that it was fraught with the risk of unleashing a barrage of litigations.
In its 1,045 page Ayodhya judgment, the SC had referred to the1991 Act and said, “In providing a guarantee for preservation of the religious character of places of public worship as they existed on August 15, 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 Places of Worship Act is a legislative intervention which preserves non-retrogression as an essential feature of our secular values.”
Upadhyay’s petition made a strong pitch for the court to revisit its stand. “Hindus are fighting for restoration of the birthplace of Lord Krishna from hundreds of years and peaceful agitation continues but while enacting the Act, the Centre excluded the birthplace of Lord Ram in Ayodhya but not the birthplace of Krishna, though both are incarnations of Vishnu,” he said.
Upadhyay said Islamic rule was established in India after 1192 when Muhammad Ghori defeated Prithviraj Chauhan and that foreigners ruled India till it gained independence in 1947.
Therefore, if any cut-off date was to be fixed for maintaining the character of religious places, then it should be 1192 as after that, thousands of temples and shrines of Hindus, Buddhists and Jains were damaged and converted to mosques by Muslim rulers, he said.