Places of Worship Act: SC refuses fresh pleas, allows intervention applications

POINTING OUT that two petitions challenging the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, were already pending before it, the Supreme Court on Friday refused to allow a bunch of fresh petitions in the matter but gave liberty to file intervention applications in the already pending matters.

“How many petitions will we have? Can you not intervene in those proceedings?” Justice D Y Chandrachud, presiding a two-judge bench, asked Senior Advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, who appeared for one of the new petitioners.

Dwivedi agreed with the concern but urged the court to tag the petitions with the existing ones and direct the Registry not to entertain any further petitions.

But the bench said, “Intervene in that. It’s a question of law… In case somebody else wants to withdraw, you can always transpose yourselves.”

Senior Advocate C S Vaidyanathan, appearing for a petitioner, said intervenors will not get the right to argue or make submissions and urged the court to tag it without issuing notice.

But Justice Chandrachud said “we always allow intervenors” and asked: “How many citizens will come, we now allow everyone to intervene!”

Senior Advocate Vijay Hansaria said there were some additional points which may not be allowed to argue as an intervenor and that is the reason why they had filed writ petitions. He said some of the grounds are different from those in the pending petitions.

Addressing the concern, the bench recorded in its order, that the “petitioners will be at liberty to supplement the ground which have been urged in the main proceedings through appropriate submissions in the intervention application as well as written submissions…”.

The Act was brought by the P V Narasimha Rao-led Congress government when the Ram temple movement was at its peak. It mandates that the nature of all places of worship, except Ayodhya, shall be maintained as it was on August 15, 1947 and that no encroachment of any such place prior to the date can be challenged in courts.

In March 2021, the apex court had issued notice on one of the petitions challenging the Constitutional validity of the Act. The petition has contended that the Act bars the remedy of judicial review which is a basic feature of the Constitution, thereby depriving Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains the right to move court to get their places of worship which were destroyed or encroached upon by “barbarian invaders” restored.

In its November 2019 judgment in the Ramjanmaboomi-Babri Masjid (Ayodhya case) title suit, a five-judge bench comprising Justice Chandrachud had made certain observations in support of the Act though its constitutional validity was not under challenge in the case.

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