The Places of Worship Act was brought by the then Congress government of PM PV Narasimha Rao at a time when the Ram Temple movement was at its peak.
New Delhi, India: In simpler terms, the Places of Worship Act 1991 says that the character of a religious place cannot be changed from what it was on August 15, 1947 – the day India got independence. According to the act, the identity and character of the religious place must be protected as they were on August 15, 1947, so if a building was being used as a temple on August 15, 1947, it cannot be changed into a church, mosque, gurudwara, etc.
With PV Narasimha Rao as PM, the country introduced a law to put a lid on future controversies arising out of places of worship. It was introduced to avoid another Ayodhya/Babri case kind of dispute. In 1992, the Babri Masjid was razed to the ground. During the introduction of the bill, the Home Minister SB Chavan said the implementation of the act would prevent any new controversies over the conversion of any places of worship. Reading the bill, he said, “An act to prohibit the conversion of any places of worship and to provide for the maintenance of the religious character of any places as it existed on 15th August 1947, and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”
As per Section 4(2) of the act, any suit or legal proceeding with respect to the conversion of the religious nature of any places of worship existing on August 15, 1947, pending before any court shall be abetted, and no fresh legal proceedings or suits shall be started. The bill had met with vehement opposition from the BJP.
As 5 members of the SC judges bench, which had in November 2019 ruled in favor of the Hindu litigants, had also quoted heavily from the 1991 act, saying that in preserving the character of places of public worship, the parliament has mandated in no uncertain terms that history and its wrongs shall not be used as instruments to oppress the present and the future. While upholding the sanctity of the Places of Worship Act 1991, the bench led by then CJI Rajan Gogai had said that they were making an exception in the case of Ayodhya because it was an ongoing episode. Non-retrogression is a foundational feature of the fundamental constitutional principles of which secularism is a core component. The Places of Worship Act is thus a legislative intervention that preserves non-retrogression as an essential feature of our secular values.