Gyanvapi mosque and the Places of Worship Act

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Gyanvapi mosque and the Places of Worship Act

SC directed DM of Varanasi to ensure protection of the area at the Gyanvapi mosque complex where a ‘shivling’ is found during the survey there.

What does the Places of Worship Act say?

  • Law was enacted to freeze status of all places of worship in the country as on August 15, 1947.
  • Exception: kept Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi dispute out of its ambit as it was then the subject of litigation.
    • Dispute ended after court ruled that land on which Masjid stood should be handed over to Hindu community for the construction of a Ram temple.
  • Challenge to the Act questions legality of the prohibition it imposes on any community laying claim to the places of worship of another.
  • Act says that no person shall convert any place of worship of any religious denomination into one of a different denomination or section.
  • It contains a declaration that a place of worship shall continue to be as it was on August 15, 1947.
  • It prohibits any legal proceedings regarding the character of a place of worship
  • Declares that all suits and appeals pending before any court or authority on the cut-off date regarding the conversion of the character of a place of worship shall abate.
  • However, any suit or proceeding relating to any conversion of status that happened after the cut-off date can continue.

In which cases will the law not apply?

  • It will not apply to
    • Ancient and historical monuments and archaeological sites and remains that are covered by Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958.
    • Any suit that has been finally settled or disposed of, any dispute that has been settled by the parties before the 1991 Act came into force, or the conversion of any place that took place by acquiescence.
  • Anyone contravening the prohibition on converting the status of a place of worship is liable to be imprisoned for up to three years, and a fine.
  • Those abetting or participating in a criminal conspiracy to commit this offence will also get the same punishment.

What has the Supreme Court said on the status freeze?

  • In its final verdict on Ayodhya dispute, SC had observed that the Act imposes a non-derogable obligation towards enforcing our commitment to secularism.
  • Court described the law as one that preserved secularism by not permitting the status of a place of worship to be altered after Independence.

How is the Act likely to affect the Gyanvapi proceedings?

  • Lawyers for the Gyanvapi mosque administration argue that the ongoing civil cases filed by Hindu devotees is an attempt to change the status of the place of worship and violates the Act.
  • From entertaining the litigation, to orders such as appointing a commissioner to conduct a survey and r to seal off a portion following the claim that a ‘shivling’ has been found are all contrary to the 1991 Act.
  • VHP contends that Places of Worship Act is not applicable to Gyanvapi issue, as there was no change to the religious structure since 1947, and that Hindus have always been performing puja at the site.


The outcome of the case will depend on whether the courts deem the proceedings contrary to the Act, or rule that it is not applicable to the dispute in Varanasi.

Exam track

Prelims take away

  • Gyanvapi mosque
  • Places of Worship Act