Constitutionality of the Places of Worship Act
Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay v Union of India
The Supreme Court will decide whether the Places of Worship Act, 1991, which prevents the conversion of places of worship from the religion they were on August 15th, 1947, is constitutionally valid. The Court's decision will shape the course for multiple challenges concerning the 'true nature' of places of worship pending before subordinate Courts all over the country.
Petitioner: Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay
Respondent: Union of India
Whether Sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Places of Worship Act 1991, violate Articles 14 and 15 and the guarantee of equality in the Constitution?
Whether Sections 2, 3 and 4 violate Articles 25, 26 and 29 and the basic feature of secularism in the Constitution?
Whether temples ‘destroyed by invaders’ remain temples under Hindu and Islamic personal law?
Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay is an advocate and politician. He has filed a petition challenging sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Places of Worship Act, 1991 (‘the Act’).
Section 3 of the Act criminalises ‘conversion’ of a place of worship for one religion or sect into another. Section 4 declares that the character of a place of worship will be determined as it was on August 15th 1947. It also bars Courts from determining whether any place of worship has been converted after August 15th 1947. Section 5 of the Act excludes its application to the site known as ‘Ram Janma Bhumi’ or ‘Babri Masjid’.
The petition asks the Court to declare sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Act unconstitutional. It says the Act bars judicial review which is a basic structure of the Constitution and cannot be taken away. It also violates the principle of secularism which is a basic feature. The petition implies the Act shows preference to one religious community.
The petition contends that the choice of date adversely impacts Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. From 1192 onwards, Muslims and the British ruled India and destroyed temples. By freezing the date in 1947, it does not allow these communities to restore their places of worship. This violates Articles 14 and 15 which guarantee equality and Article 21, the right to life. The petition also says this violates the right to religious freedoms under Articles 25, 26 and 29.
The petitioner also argues that temples that are destroyed are maintained under personal laws. Hindu laws state that deities are ‘eternal’ and they do not lose land because the idols are destroyed. Islamic laws require a waqf to acquire a mosque. Destruction of temples does not create a waqf and is not a valid mosque in Islamic law. Thus, destroyed temples are still temples in law.
The CJI Bobde led bench has issued a notice in this case.