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Places of Worship Act 1991

Date: 17 November 2019 Tags: Bills & Laws

Issue

The Babri Masjid demolition has brought other controversial places in the news too such as Shahi Masjid in Mathura and Gyanwapi Masjid in Varanasi. To protect these structures from extremist organisations, the government had enacted the Places of Worship Act in 1991.

 

Background

In the backdrop of popular agitation, the P.V. Narasimha Rao government had enacted, in September 1991, a special law to freeze the status of places of worship in these places.

 

Details

Aim of the Act

  • The aim of the Act was to freeze the status of any place of worship as it existed on August 15, 1947.

  • It was also to provide for the maintenance of the religious character of such a place of worship as on that day.

  • It was intended to pre-empt new claims by any group about the past status of any place of worship and attempts to reclaim the structures or the land on which they stood.

  • It was hoped that the legislation would help the preservation of communal harmony in the long run.

 

Provisions

  • 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 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.

  • These provisions 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; a suit that has been finally settled or disposed of; and any dispute that has been settled by the parties or conversion of any place that took place by acquiescence before the Act commenced.

  • The Act does not apply to the place of worship commonly referred to as Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.

 

Penal provisions

  • Anyone who defies the bar on conversion of the status of a place of worship is liable to be prosecuted.

  • The Act provides for imprisonment up to three years and a fine for anyone contravening the prohibition. Those abetting or participating in a criminal conspiracy to commit this offence will also be punished to the same extent.