The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act 1991 cannot be enforced in a dispute between two sects of the same religion, the Supreme Court has said while refusing to entertain a petition related to a dispute between two segments of the Jain community on ”conversion” of places of worship.
The top court was hearing the plea filed by Sharad Zaveri and others, followers of Mohjit Samuday of the Tapagacch denomination of Shwetamber Murtipujak Jains, seeking enforcement of the 1991 Act and prevention of the conversion, implicit or explicit, of the places of worship.
The Act prohibits conversion of any place of worship and provides for maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on August 15, 1947.
The plea also sought to ensure that places of worship where Tapagacch followers are entitled to exercise religious rights are open to all members of the denomination including monks.
A bench of justices D Y Chandrachud and J B Pardiwala noted that the dispute in the present case is between two segments of the same denomination, namely, the Tapagacch denomination of the Shwetamber Murtipujak Jain community.
“The resolution of the above dispute cannot take place merely on the basis of the averments in the petition under Article 32 and counter affidavits in opposition,”’ the top court said.
The mere fact that the petitioners invoke the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act 1991 is not ground enough to entertain a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution when the underlying facts on the basis of which such a claim is made would have to be duly established in the course of the trial of a civil suit, it said.
“The nature of the rights which the petitioners claim would have to be established on the basis of evidence. The rights which are claimed and the alleged infraction of rights would also have to be established on the basis of evidence,” the bench said.
The apex court said sufficient remedies are available in the form of a suit under Section 92 of the Code of Civil Procedure 1908 or, even otherwise.
“In this backdrop, this court is not inclined to entertain a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution. The petitioners are granted liberty to pursue their civil remedies as available in law. Nothing contained in this order would amount to an expression of opinion on the rights which the petitioners’ claim or their entitlement in fact or in law,” the bench said.