Places of Worship Act, 1991- UPSC Current Affairs

PLACES OF WORSHIP ACT, 1991

Accelerate your UPSC exam preparation with our daily edition of Current Affairs Dialog Box. In today’s edition, we will talk about the Places of Worship Act, 1991 and how it is related to the UPSC CSE syllabus. Read to enhance your UPSC CSE Preparation.

Prelims: The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991

Mains: Indian Constitution, The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 and Related Provisions 

Why in the News?

Recently, the Supreme Court has asked the Varanasi district magistrate to secure the area where a Shivling was claimed to have been found during a videographic survey of the Kashi Vishwanath temple-Gyanvapi mosque complex.

Probable Question

What does the Places of Worship Act, 1991 say? Discuss the criticism surrounding the law.

Key Points

Background

  • The recent controversy began when five Hindu women filed a plea to worship idols within the Gyanvapi mosque complex. 
  • The plea claimed that the mosque was built after demolishing a temple which stood there in the 17th century.
  • A Varanasi court last month ordered a videographed survey of the Gyanvapi Masjid complex to find out the veracity of the claim.
  • The court commission activity was concluded with an inspection session lasting 135 hours on May 16.
  • A local court in Varanasi on May 16 ordered that a portion of the Gyanvapi Mosque premises be sealed after lawyers representing five Hindu plaintiffs claimed that a Shivling was found in the ablution water tank of the mosque in the concluding day of a Court Commissioner-led video inspection.

Supreme Court on Gyanvapi Case

  • The apex court “excluded” any of these reliefs “allowed” by the trial judge in his May 16 order. 
  • Instead, the Bench confined its order to only directing the protection of the specific area in which the Shivling has reportedly been found, without affecting the right of Muslims to offer prayers in the mosque.
  • The court posted the plea of the mosque committee, which had invoked the Places of Worship Act while seeking a stay on the survey.

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Provisions of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991

  • This law was enacted by the Parliament in 1991 in the backdrop of the Ram Mandir agitation. 
  • This Act freezes the religious character of a place of worship as it existed on August 15, 1947.
  • Section 3 of the Act prohibits the conversion of a religious place of worship or a section of a religious place of worship into a place of worship of a different religion or a different denomination of the same religion.
  • In addition, the Places of Worship Act imposes a positive obligation on the State to maintain the religious character of all places of worship as it existed at the time of independence.
  • Exemptions under the Act:
  • The disputed site of the Ayodhya Ram Temple was exempted from the Act.
  • Any place of worship which is an ancient and historical monument, or an archaeological site covered by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958.
  • Any dispute that has been settled by the parties or conversion of any place that took place by acquiescence before the Act commenced.
  • A suit that has been finally settled or disposed of.
  • Penalty: Anyone contravening the prohibition on converting the status of a place of worship is liable to be imprisoned for up to three years, and a fine.

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Supreme Court’s View (2019)

  • The Supreme Court had observed that the Act “imposes a non-derogable obligation towards enforcing our commitment to secularism”.
  • The court described the law as one that preserved secularism by not permitting the status of a place of worship to be altered after Independence.

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