The Needless Resurrection of a Buried Issue

The five-judge Constitution Bench, led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi in M. Siddiq v. Mahant Suresh Das popularly known as Ram Janmabhoomi temple case had upheld the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991.
The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991
The Preamble of the Act reads: “An act 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.”
What is the law about?
Passed in 1991, the law seeks to maintain the “religious character” of places of worship as it was in 1947 — except in the case of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, which was already in court
Important Provisions

  • Sections 3 and 4 of the Act declare that the religious character of a place of worship shall continue to be the same as it was on August 15, 1947, and that no person shall convert any place of worship of any religious denomination into one of a different denomination or section.
  • Section 4(2) says that all suits, appeals or other proceedings regarding converting the character of a place of worship, that were pending on August 15, 1947, will stand abated when the Act commences and no fresh proceedings can be filed.
  • Section 5 expressly exempts Ram Janmabhumi-Babri Masjid, situated in Ayodhya, from the Act.
  • Opposition parties had opposed the law when it was introduced, arguing that the Centre has no power to legislate on “pilgrimages” or “burial grounds” which is under the state list.
  • However, the government had said it could make use of its residuary power under Entry 97 of the Union List to enact this law.
  • Entry 97 confers residuary powers to the Centre to legislate on subjects that are not enumerated in any of the three lists.
  • The SC said the law manifests the secular values of the Constitution and strictly prohibits retrogression.
  • “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 mandates 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,”
  • The court had stated: “Historical wrongs cannot be remedied by the people taking the law in their own hands. In preserving the character of places of public worship, Parliament has mandated in no uncertain terms that history and its wrongs shall not be used as instruments to oppress the present and the future.”

SOURCE: THE HINDU, THE ECONOMIC TIMES,MINT

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