Solicitor general Tushar Mehta told the bench of CJI DY Chandrachud and Justice JB Pardiwala that he needed to hold detailed consultation with high level Union government officials from various departments for preparing the response and promised to file the affidavit by December 12.
Places of Worship Act: SC to hear PILs in first week of Jan
Challenging the Places of Worship (PoW) Act, 1991, petitioner Ashwini Upadhyay said the Act pre-empted undoing of “historical” injustice wrought on Hindus.
Upadhyay, through senior advocate Aman Sinha, said at the last hearing that “destruction of temples was a historical injustice on generations of Hindus perpetrated by the then ruling elite such as Aurangzeb and PoW Act, 1991, foreclosed the possibility of remedying this injustice which is contrary to our constitutional scheme which recognises the need to remedy this generational injustice”.
The bench of CJI DY Chandrchud and JB Pardiwala agreed to post the PILs for hearing in the first week of January. Subramanian Swamy said his plea was different from others. “I have not sought the quashing of the 1991 Act. I would have no grievance against the operation of the legislation, if exemptions to disputes relating to two more temples (Kashi Vishwanath-Gyanvapi and Krishna Janmasthan-Shahi Eidgah) were given on the lines of Ayodhya (Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid),” he said.
The Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute at Ayodhya was the only exception made in the 1991 law as the suits were pending before trial court since 1949. A five-judge bench led by then CJI Ranjan Gogoi had on November 9, 2019, unanimously decided to award the disputed land to Hindus saying they produced better evidence on ownership but had asked the government to compensate Muslims with an alternative five-acre plot at a prominent place in Ayodhya.
On October 12, a three-judge bench had formulated as many as 11 questions, including – “whether suits seeking restoration and reconstruction of or for worship in the temples destroyed and demolished by the Mughal invaders would amount to “conversion” within the meaning of the term as defined in the Act? – for decision by the SC.
The SC had asked advocate Kanu Agrawal to coordinate with all parties for collation of questions framed by all and place it before the court. Upadhyay had argued that the law is discriminatory as it deprived the Hindus, Jains and Buddhists from reclaiming their ancient places of worship which were damaged and converted to mosques during the reign of Muslim Kings.
In June 2020, a PIL filed by ‘Vishwa Bhadra Pujari Purohit Mahasangh’ through advocate Vishnu Shankar Jain was first to move the SC seeking to open litigation route for ownership claim over disputed sites like those at Kashi and Mathura by challenging the validity of the 1991 Act, which barred change in character of religious places after Independence, even by means of court proceedings.