Bid to start legal fight for disputed shrines

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NEW DELHI: In a significant post-Ayodhya verdict development, a Hindu organisation has moved the Supreme Court seeking to open the litigation route for ownership claim over disputed sites like those in




as it challenged the validity of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, which barred change in character of religious places after independence, even through court proceedings.
The Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute was the only exception made in the 1991 law providing for status quo as of 1947 as the suits were pending before a trial court since 1949 and the unstated political and religious prominence of the case. A five-judge bench led by then CJI

Ranjan Gogoi

had on November 9 last year unanimously decided to award the disputed land in


to Hindus saying they produced better evidence on ownership but had asked the government to compensate Muslims with an alternative five acre plot at a prominent place in the city.
The five-judge bench had referred to the 1991 Act in its 1,045-page Ayodhya verdict 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.
“Non-retrogression is a foundational feature of the fundamental constitutional principles of which secularism is a core component. The Places of Worship Act is thus a legislative intervention which preserves non-retrogression as an essential feature of our secular values.”
However, the PIL filed by 'Vishwa Bhadra Pujari Purohit Mahasangh', an organisation of Hindu priests, through advocate Vishnu Shankar Jain said the remarks relating to cardinality of the 1991 Act were mere observations without any judicial force as the Act was not under challenge during the proceedings.
The petitioner said, "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 high courts against high handedness 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.
"Parliament cannot restrain Hindu devotees from getting back their religious places of worship through judicial process and cannot make any law which takes away or abridges the vested religious right of devotees and cannot make any law with retrospective effect."
The Act imposes a bar on institution of fresh suits or legal proceedings relating to disputed places of worship to further “tolerance for all faiths”. The Ayodhya verdict also noted the statement of then Union home minister S B Chavan who said the law not only sought to prohibit forcible conversion of places of worship but also “not to create new disputes and to rake up old controversies which had long been forgotten by people”.
Holding that the 1991 legislation gave a fillip to the basic feature of the Constitution, the SC in Ayodhya case had said, “The state has, by enacting the law, enforced a constitutional commitment and operationalised its constitutional obligations to uphold the equality of all religions and secularism which is part of the basic features of the Constitution. The Places of Worship Act imposes a non-derogable obligation towards enforcing our commitment to secularism under the Constitution. The law is, hence, a legislative instrument designed to protect the secular features of the Indian polity, which is one of the basic features of the Constitution.”

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