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Place of Worship Act , 1991 UPSC NOTE

 What is the dispute?

  • A suit was filed in 2022 in the Varanasi district court by a group of Hindu women worshippers seeking to assert their right to worship deities they claim are still found on the premises of the Gyanvapi mosque. 

  • The plaintiffs say they have a right to worship Ma Sringar Gauri, Ganesh, Hanuman and other “visible and invisible” deities

  • Also pending is another batch of suits filed in 1991 seeking a declaration that a part of the site of the Gyanvapi mosque belongs to Lord Vishweshwar.

  • The main basis for the suits is that the Hindu side says that an old temple of Lord Vishweshwar lies at the centre of the Gyanvapi compound

  • The site, they contend, is the abode of the ‘self-manifested’ deity since time immemorial. 

  • They claim that the temple was demolished on the order of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1669.

  • So far, court orders have favoured the position that these suits are not barred by the Places of Worship Act. 

  • The ASI’s report, submitted to the Varanasi district court, claims that a temple existed there prior to the construction of the mosque

  • Subsequently, the court has allowed the conduct of Hindu prayers at a cellar on the premises. 

  • The order allowing Hindu prayers has been questioned by the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee, which administers the Gyanvapi mosque.

  • The suits in Mathura pertain to the Shahi Idgah mosque that stands adjacent to the Krishna Janmabhoomi Temple there. 

  • These suits claim that the mosque was built over the birthplace of Lord Krishna

  • The mosque committee, however, denies the allegation. 

  • The dispute was settled through a compromise between the Sri Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sansthan and the Shahi Idgah Trust in 1968, and implemented through a decree in 1974. 

  • As part of the settlement, the Sansthan had given up a portion of the land to the Idgah

  • The current suits challenge this compromise as ‘fraudulent’ and seek the transfer of the entire parcel of land to the deity

  • The Allahabad High Court has transferred to itself all suits pertaining to the Mathura dispute.

Why this act enacted?

  • When the Babri-Masjid Ram Janmabhoomi dispute gained momentum, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other Hindu organisations took up the case of two other mosques — the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi and the Shahi Idgah in Mathura

  • In September 1991, the P.V. Narasimha Rao government enacted a special law to freeze the status of places of worship as they were on August 15, 1947. 

  • The law kept the disputed structure at Ayodhya out of its purview as it was then an ongoing litigation.

Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991

  • The Act declares that the religious character of a place of worship shall continue to be the same as it was on August 15, 1947

  • It says that no person shall convert any place of worship of any religious denomination into one of a different denomination or section. 

  • It declares that all suits, appeals or any other proceedings regarding converting the character of a place of worship, which are pending before any court or authority on August 15, 1947, will abate as soon as the law comes into force. 

  • No further legal proceedings can be instituted.

  • There are a couple of exceptions to the rule

  • The 1991 Act will not apply to ancient and historical monuments and archaeological sites and remains that are covered by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958

  • It will also not apply to any suit that has been finally settled or disposed of, any dispute that has been settled by the parties before the 1991 Act came into force, or to the conversion of any place that took place by acquiescence.

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