The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear on September 9 a plea challenging certain provisions of the 1991 law which prohibit filing of a lawsuit to reclaim a place of worship or seek a change in its character from what prevailed on August 15, 1947.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana took note of the submissions of senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi that the plea against some provisions of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 has been deleted six times from the list of business.
”Now it is likely to be listed on September 9. Please direct that it be not deleted from the list,” the senior lawyer told the bench which also comprised Justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli.
The top court had on March 12 last year sought a response from the Centre on the PIL filed by lawyer and BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay on the issue.
Recently, on July 29 this year, a bench headed by Justice D Y Chandrachud refused to entertain six other pleas separately on the issue and asked the petitioners to file intervention applications in the pending PIL filed by Upadhyay.
Updhyay, in his plea, said the 1991 law creates an "arbitrary and irrational retrospective cut-off date" of August 15, 1947, for maintaining the character of the places of worship or pilgrimage against encroachment done by "fundamentalist-barbaric invaders and law-breakers".
The PIL seeks that sections 2, 3, 4 of the 1991 Act be set aside on grounds including that these provisions take away the right of judicial remedy to reclaim a place of worship of any person or a religious group.
The law made only one exception -- the dispute pertaining to the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid at Ayodhya.
The fresh plea assumes significance as there has been an ongoing demand by some Hindu groups to reclaim religious places at Mathura and Kashi, which are prohibited under the 1991 law.
The provisions not only offend the right to equality and life, but also violate the principles of secularism, which is an integral part of the Preamble and the basic structure of the Constitution, the plea says.
The PIL claims that the provisions of the law "not only offend Articles 14 (equality), 15 (that prohibits discrimination of Indians on basis of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth), 21 (protection of life and personal liberty), 25 (freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion), 26 (freedom to manage religious affairs) and 29 (protection of interests of minorities), but also violate the principles of secularism, which is an integral part of the Preamble and the basic structure of the Constitution".
The PIL contends that the Centre has barred the remedies against illegal encroachment on places of worship and pilgrimage of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs, who cannot file a suit or approach a high court.
The petitioner has sought a declaration from the court that the provisions of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 are void and unconstitutional for being violative of the fundamental rights to equality, practise one's religion and maintain religious places, among others, as the law validates the "places of worship illegally made by barbaric invaders".
The plea claims that the restriction to move court is against the principle of rule of law and secularism, and adds that "if the Ayodhya case had not been decided by the Supreme Court's constitution bench on November 9, 2019, Hindus would have been denied justice even after 500 years of the demolition of the temple".
"The Centre by making the impugned sections has, without resolution of the disputes through process of the law, abated the suit/proceedings, which is 'per se' unconstitutional and beyond its law-making power.
"Moreover, impugned provisions cannot be forced with retrospective effect and the judicial remedy of dispute pending, arisen or arising cannot be barred. Centre neither can close the doors of Courts of First Instance, Appellate Courts, Constitutional Courts for aggrieved Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs nor take away the power of high courts and Supreme Court, conferred under Article 226 and 32," it says.
Earlier also, another public interest litigation (PIL) petition was filed by the "Vishwa Bhadra Pujari Purohit Mahasangh" seeking directions to declare section 4 of the Act as ultra vires of the Constitution.