The Supreme Court has granted the Centre until 31 October to file its reply on petitions challenging the Places of Worship Act, 1991.
This act prohibits the conversion of the religious character of a place of worship as it existed on 15 August 1947.
During the proceedings, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, informed the three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud and comprising justices P S Narasimha and Manoj Mishra, that the challenge pertains to an act and that the central government was in the process of preparing an affidavit.
Considering the subject matter and the complexity of the issue, the Centre requested additional time.
The notice in this matter was initially issued on 12 March 2021. Despite several extensions, the Centre failed to submit a reply.
Consequently, the bench, presided over by CJI Chandrachud, granted further time on 12 October and 14 November in 2022, and 9 January and 5 April in 2023.
The court said in Tuesday’s order, “The Solicitor General states that a common affidavit in reply is under preparation in response to the entire batch of cases. However, having regard to the ramifications of the case, it is being submitted that sufficient time may be granted to the Union of India to file a response. The counter affidavit shall be filed by October 31, 2023”.
Former Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy, one of the petitioners, has requested the apex court to list the matter for a final hearing.
He expressed his concern that the Union of India has been repeatedly seeking adjournments, and he does not believe there will be any change in this pattern.
The CJI responded by stating that sufficient time will be given to the Union of India to present their counter. Only after that will the court proceed with the matter.
Advocate Vrinda Grover, representing one of the Muslim parties, highlighted that despite the act still being in force, litigations challenging the religious character of various places of worship are ongoing in different courts.
She also mentioned an application that had been filed seeking a stay on those proceedings.
The bench, however clarified that there is no stay on the act and added, “All that you have to do is to point out to the Court that there is no stay on the Act. Mere pendency of proceedings doesn’t mean there is a stay.”
Grover asked the bench to confirm that there was no stay of the act, but the court refused to do so.
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