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Trustee of Lucknow mosque moves SC to oppose PIL on 1991 law on religious places

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New Delhi: A trustee of a 350-year-old mosque in Lucknow Saturday moved the Supreme Court to oppose a PIL which challenges provisions of a 1991 law prohibiting filing of a lawsuit to reclaim a place of worship or seek a change in its character from what prevailed on August 15, 1947.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde, on March 12, had agreed to examine the controversial provisions of the the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 which provided that except the Ram Janmbhoomi-Babri masjid dispute no similar dispute related to a religious place can be reopened in a court of law.

The petition was filed by BJP leader and lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay alleging that the government cannot make a law to curtail the right to approach the court to reclaim the religious place.

Now, Wasif Hasan, a co-mutawalli, also called a trustee of Muslim Wakf, of 350-year-old ‘TeelyWali masjid’ of Lucknow, filed the application in the pending PIL seeking to intervene as a party in the future hearings on the PIL.

The interim plea said the co-mutawalli of the mosque has been fighting a case in a Lucknow court where Hindus are claiming that there existed a temple before the masjid came into being.

Hasan sought dismissal of the PIL of Upadhyay.

The PIL, on the other hand, listed reasons for striking down the provisions of the 1991 law and said, “Article 13(2) prohibits the State to make laws to take away the rights conferred under Part-III (fundamental rights) but the Act takes away the rights of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs to restore their ‘places of worship and pilgrimages’, destroyed by barbaric invaders.”

It said the law “excluded the birthplace of Lord Rama but included birthplace of Lord Krishna, though both are the incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the Creator and equally worshipped all over the world, hence arbitrary, irrational and offends Articles 14-15 (right to equality)”.

Rights to pray, profess, practice and propagate religion of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs, guaranteed under Article 25, have been deliberately and brazenly offended by the Act, it said.

The petition alleges that the 1991-law creates an “arbitrary and irrational retrospective cut-off date” of August 15, 1947 for maintaining the character of the places of worship or pilgrimage against encroachment done by “fundamentalist-barbaric invaders and law-breakers”.

The plea has sought that sections 2, 3, 4 of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 be set aside on grounds including that these provisions take away the right of a judicial remedy to reclaim a place of worship of any person or a religious group.

The fresh plea assumes significance as there has been an ongoing demand by some Hindu groups to reclaim religious places at Mathura and Kashi, which are prohibited under the 1991 law.

Earlier also, another public interest litigation (PIL) petition was filed by the “Vishwa Bhadra Pujari Purohit Mahasangh”, seeking directions to declare section 4 of the Act as ultra vires.

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