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What is Places of Religious Worship Act 1991? Why is it in news?

Religious Worship Act 1991: The ongoing Gyanvapi Masjid Case has brought focus back to the Places of Religious Worship Act 1991. The Supreme Court on May 17, 2022 asked the Varanasi District Magistrate to protect the area where the alleged ‘shivling’ was discovered without impeding the right of Muslims to enter and worship. The court has scheduled the matter for hearing again on May 19.

The Varanasi court had earlier directed the district administration to seal the spot in the Gyanvapi Masjid complex where a Shivling was claimed to have been found during the videography survey. The Supreme Court was hearing a plea challenging the videography survey. The plea filed by the Committee of Management of Anjuman Intezamia Masjid contended that allow the videography survey was contrary to provisions of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act 1991.

The Gyanvapi Masjid videography survey was completed on May 16. While the Hindu side claims that a ‘Shivling’ was found inside a reservoir in the mosque complex, the Muslim side dismisses the claim saying that it is only a fountain.

Read: What is Gyanvapi Masjid Case?

What is Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991?

The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 was passed in 1991 by the then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao during the peak of the Ram Mandir movement. The Act prohibits conversion of worship and to provide for the maintenance of religious character of any places of worship as it existed on August 15, 1947. 

The act states that legal proceedings could be initiated if the change of religious character of the place of worship was done after August 15, 1947. It also does not apply to the Ram Janma Bhumi Babri Masjid Case.

Religious Worship Act 1991: Key Provisions

Section 3- Bar conversion of places of worship: Under the Act, no person shall convert any place of worship of any
religious denomination or any section thereof into a place of worship of a different section of the same
religious denomination or of a different religious denomination or any section thereof.

Section 4- Declaration as to the religious character of certain places of worship and bar of jurisdiction
of courts.

1. The Act declares that the religious character of a place of worship existing on August 15,1947 shall continue to be the same as it existed on that day.

2. The Act states that any suit, appeal or other proceeding with respect to the conversion of the religious character of any place of worship, existing on August 15, 1947 is pending before any court, tribunal or other authority, shall end with the commencement of the act. It also bars fresh appeals regarding the same.  

Religious Worship Act 1991: Penalty Violation 

Violation of Section 3 of the Act shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term that may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

What is known as Worship Act?

The worship act bars conversion of any place of worship into a place of worship of a different religion or even different section of the same religion.

What are the places of worship called?

Places of worship means temple, mosque, gurudwara, church, monastery or any other place of religious worship of any religious domination. 

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