The Supreme Court of India on Friday sought response of the Centre on a plea challenging a 1991 law that prohibits conversion of any place of worship from the way it existed on August 15, 1947, reported Bar and Bench.

A Bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and AS Bopanna issued notice to the Centre on a petition filed by advocate and Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay.

The plea challenges the provisions of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991. The Act seeks to protect the status of all religious structures as it was on Independence Day by barring courts from entertaining cases that raise a dispute over the religious character of these places. The Act also states that any such cases before the court would stand abated.

In his plea, Upadhyay has contended that the Act created an “arbitrary irrational retrospective cut-off date” of August 15, 1947, reported Live Law. It claimed that the law allows “illegal encroachment” on places of worship and stops Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs from approaching courts under Article 226. “Therefore, they [religious groups] won’t be able to restore their places of worship and pilgrimage including temples-endowments in spirit of Articles 25-26 [right to pray, practice and propagate religion-right to manage, maintain and administer places of worship] and illegal barbarian act of invaders will continue in perpetuity,” the petition said.

Article 226 empowers High Courts to issue a direction, order, and writs for enforcement of fundamental rights and other legal rights.

Upadhyay alleged that the provisions of the Act violates the basic principle of secularism and are against the duty of the government to protect historic places under Article 49 and to preserve religious cultural heritage under Article 51 (A) of the Constitution.

The plea also alleged that the law violates Article 14 (right to equality), Article 15 (right against discrimination), Article 21(right to life & personal liberty).

An exception to the Act, however, was made for the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi site, allowing courts to hear the dispute. In 2019, the Supreme Court had invoked this law while awarding the disputed Ayodhya site to deity Ram Lalla. The court had, however, said that such similar cases cannot be entertained with respect to other sites in view of the Act.