The Centre Monday requested more time to present its position on petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the Places of Worship Act, 1991, nearly 22 months after the Supreme Court gave it notice in the matter. It claimed that it is “consulting” on the matter and that “the process” is underway. The Centre was given till “the end of February” by the court.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta responded, “Kindly fix it for hearing,” after Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud questioned whether the Centre has submitted the counter-affidavit outlining its position. We are seeking advice. The procedure continues. Before then, we might file it.”
The bench, which also included Justice P S Narasimha, instructed the Solicitor General to “File Your Counter” during a brief hearing. We’ll give you until the end of February. The bench continued by saying that it would thereafter take up the petitions.
All places of worship, with the exception of the one in Ayodhya, must keep its original characteristics, according to the Places of Worship Act of 1991, which was passed during the heyday of the Ram temple campaign.
A trust with its headquarters in Lucknow, Vishwa Bhadra Pujari Purohit Mahasangh, and attorney Ashwini Upadhyay filed a petition with the Supreme Court opposing the Act in June 2020. Later, the Jamiat Ulema-I-Hind also went to court to ask for authorization to be added as a party to the dispute.
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal stated on Monday that a PIL cannot be filed to challenge a decision made by the court while speaking on behalf of some of the intervenors. He was reportedly making reference to the Supreme Court’s praise for the Act in its ruling on the Ayodhya title litigation.
The respondents assert that the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Ayodhya case, in which it addressed the Act, already recognised the law’s goals. However, the petitioners have argued that the Act was not at issue in the Ayodhya dispute and that anything the court said regarding the law would only be obiter dictum (opinion of the judge and hence not legally binding).
Mehta also expressed his opinion that what was said in the Ayodhya case “may not” cover the legality of the Act during a hearing in October 2022 in response to a particular question from the court. Possibly not covered. The Solicitor General had stated that “that [what was said in the Ayodhya case] was in a different context.
On Monday, the bench announced that when it takes the petitions up for hearing, it will take Sibal’s preliminary objections to the maintainability of the arguments into consideration.
The Supreme Court first gave notice in the case on March 12, 2021, and asked the Centre for its thoughts. The court handed the Government two weeks to submit its response by September 9, 2022. On November 14, 2022, the SG stated that a “complete affidavit will be prepared by the Union government dealing with all parts of the issue… after due contemplation.” This was further extended at the Center’s request.
The court granted the plea and ordered the government to submit the rebuttal affidavit no later than December 12, 2022.
The petitioners have challenged the Act on the grounds that it forbids the remedy of judicial review, which is an essential component of the Constitution and hence outside the purview of Parliament’s legislative authority. They claim that the Act also transgresses the secularism concept.
The petitioners stated, in reference to the Ayodhya ruling, that “the Hindu devotees would have been denied justice if the Ayodhya issue had not been determined. Therefore, any limitations on the ability to file a lawsuit in civil or high court go against the fundamental idea of the rule of law, which is a requirement for a welfare state.