The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 has been challenged in the Supreme Court on the ground that it bars judicial review, which is a basic feature of the Constitution.


What is the issue?

  • The Committee of Management of Anjuman Intezamia Masjid, Varanasi has challenged in Supreme Court the videography survey ordered by a local court of the Maa Shringar Gauri Sthal in the Kashi Vishwanath temple-Gyanvapi mosque complex.
  • The Masjid Committee has appealed that an earlier suit filed in 1991 by some devotees alleging that the Gyanvapi mosque was built after demolishing a temple had been stayed by the HC and the present proceedings which were instituted in 2021, were an attempt to get around the stay.


What does the 1991 Act say?

  • The 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.
  • Significantly, it prohibits any legal proceedings from being instituted regarding the character of a place of worship, and 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.
  • In other words, all pending cases will come to an end, and no further proceedings can be filed. However, any suit or proceedings relating to any conversion of status that happened after the cut-off date can continue.
  • 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.



  • The 1991 Act will not apply in some cases. It will not apply to ancient and historical monuments and archaeological sites and remains that are covered by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958.
  • It will also not apply to 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 to the conversion of any place that took place by acquiescence.
  • The Act specifically exempted from its purview the place of worship commonly referred to as Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. It was done to allow the pending litigation to continue as well as to preserve the scope for a negotiated settlement.


What could happen in this case?

  • If the survey finds the existence of a Hindu temple structure inside the Gyanvapi compound, which would naturally be more than 100 years old, it could be declared an ancient monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, and therefore, exempt from the Places of Worship Act.
  • As per the Act, an “ancient monument” is “any structure, erection or monument, or any tumulus or place of interment, or any cave, rock-sculpture, inscription or monolith, which is of historical, archaeological or artistic interest and which has been in existence for not less than one hundred years.”