Supreme Court says it cannot take recourse to Places of Worship Act to order blanket stay on all cases relating to disputed religious sites

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday said that it cannot take recourse to the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act of 1991 to order a blanket stay on various suits and legal proceedings pending in different courts across the country relating to disputed religious sites.

A bench of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justices PS Narasimha and Manoj Misra said that the parties to each concerned case has to seek stay from the concerned court by pointing out that the Place of Worship Act is in operation and the same has not been stayed by apex court.

“There is no stay on the Act at all. You have to point out before the court that there is no stay. Mere pendency of the plea (before Supreme Court challenging the Act) is not a stay (on the Act). We cannot stay proceedings before courts without knowing what they are,” the bench remarked.

The Court made this remark after advocate Vrinda Grover urged the Court to consider plea for stay of proceedings.

“There is an interim application seeking stay. Across the country matters are being litigated while the Act is in place. As on today, the Act applies,” Grover said.

The Court was hearing a plea by BJP spokesperson Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay challenging the Act on the ground that it allows illegal acts of invaders to continue for perpetuity by barring legal remedies to Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs.

The Court said that no blanket stay can be granted by it and also allowed the Central government three more months to file its response and adjourned the matter.

BJP leader Subramaniam Swamy said that the Central government is inclined to get the matter adjourned and that it should be placed for final hearing.

“Centre is taking adjournment after adjournment. Place it for final hearing,” he said.

“Let us see the affidavit by the Centre first,” the Court said before adjourning the matter.

The law which was introduced during the height of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement seeks to protect the status of all religious structures as it stood on the date of independence by barring courts from entertaining cases which raise dispute over the character of such places of worship.

The law further provides that such cases already pending in courts would stand abated.

The Act, however, carved an exception for Ram Janmabhoomi site which was the basis for courts including High Court and Supreme Court hearing that matter.

Since Ayodhya land was exempted, the Supreme Court had invoked this law in 2019 while awarding the disputed site at Ayodhya to child deity Ram Lalla.

The Supreme Court had, however, reaffirmed that similar such cases cannot be entertained with respect to other sites in view of the Act.

However, disputes relating to Gyanvapi mosque and Mathura-Krishna Janmabhoomi are pending before different courts in Uttar Pradesh.

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