A Muslim body has moved the Supreme Court seeking to oppose a plea filed by a Hindu organisation challenging a provision of a 1991 law that provides for maintaining the "religious character" of holy structures as it existed on August 15, 1947, in a bid to open the litigation route to reclaim disputed religious sites other than the Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya.
The petition filed by 'Jamiat Ulema-I-Hind', seeking impleadment in the plea filed by 'Vishwa Bhadra Pujari Purohit Mahasangh', has prayed that the court should not entertain the petition challenging the provision of the 1991 law.
"At the outset this application is being filed to oppose the present Writ Petition, so that this Court is pleased to not issue notice in the present petition. It is submitted that even issuance of notice in the present matter will create fear in the minds of the Muslim Community with regard to their places of worship, especially in the aftermath of the Ayodhya Dispute and will destroy the secular fabric of the nation," the Jamiat's plea said.
It said the petition of the Mahasangh proceeds on the basis that Section 4 of the Places of Worship Act prevents members of the Hindu community from reclaiming those places of worship which according to them were Hindu religious structures but were allegedly converted by Muslim invaders.
It is apparent that the present petition seeks to indirectly target places of worship which are presently of Muslim character, the Jamiat's petition said.
It added that that the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, was enacted to fulfil two purposes - first, it prohibits the conversion of any place of worship and in doing so, it speaks to the future by mandating that the character of a place of public worship shall not be altered.
The Jamiat's plea said that secondly, the law seeks to impose a positive obligation to maintain the religious character of every place of worship as it existed on August 15, 1947 when India achieved independence from colonial rule. It said that these propositions have been recognised by the top court in its recent five-judge verdict in the Ayodhya dispute.
"Ultimately this Court concluded that the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 impose a non-derogable obligation towards enforcing our commitment to secularism under the Indian Constitution. It was further observed that it was legislative instrument designed to protect the secular features of the Indian polity, which is one of the basic features of the Constitution," the Muslim body said.
It said the Places of Worship Act is intrinsically related to the obligations of a secular State and it reflects the commitment of India to the equality of all religions.
The Muslim body said historical wrongs cannot be remedied by people taking the law in their own hands and in preserving the character of places of public worship, 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.
"Lastly, as was pointed out during the hearing of the M. Siddiq case (Ayodhya dispute case) before this Court that there is a list of numerous mosques which is doing the rounds on social media, alleging that the said mosques were built allegedly by destroying Hindu places of worship, needless to say that if the present petition is entertained, it will open floodgates of litigation against countles" it said.
The filing of petition of Mahasangh, challenging Section 4 of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, assumes significance in the case of Kashi and Mathura where two disputed mosques stand.
The 1991 law also prohibits the conversion of any temple into a mosque and vice versa.
The apex court on November 9 last year in a unanimous 5-0 verdict had backed the construction of a Ram temple by a trust at the disputed site in Ayodhya where the demolished Babri Masjid once stood, and had ruled that an alternative five-acre plot must be found for a mosque in the Hindu holy town.
The five-judge bench, headed by then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, had dealt with the 1991 Act and had said that the law is a legislative instrument designed to protect the secular features of Indian polity, which is one of the basic features of the Constitution.
The PIL filed by Mahasangh has sought directions to declare Section 4 of the 1991 Act as ultra vires, meaning beyond its legal power or authority, and unconstitutional.
"The impugned Act has barred the right and remedy against encroachment made on religious property of Hindus exercising might of power by followers of another faith," it has said.