The Supreme Court has banned new constructions of shrines on public land. In addition, about existing places of worship on public land, the apex court has left it to the state governments to decide on a case to case basis whether to remove them. The order applies to places of worship of all religions.
Seeking the response of the states and the UTs on the politically sensitive issue, a bench comprising Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Mukundakam Sharma said, “Looking at the gravity and far reaching consequences of the issues, we decided to implead all states and Union territories (UTs) in the matter.”
Earlier, following solicitor general Gopal Subramanium seeking an instruction from the apex court on the issue, for in principle, all states and UTs had agreed on stalling fresh construction of shrines on public land, the judges asked district collectors to send their reports to the chief secretary of the respective state. The chief secretaries have to file their report with the SC within eight weeks.
It may be mentioned that in 2006, the Gujarat government had pulled down unauthorized construction of temples on congested streets in Ahemdabad. Subsequently, the Gujarat High Court maintained the Narendra Modi’s government’s decision and instructed civic bodies in the state to knock down all illegal structures including places of worship on public land.
However, the central government challenged in the SC the part of HC’s decision dealing with places of worship saying it would seriously impact law and order. The SC stayed the order.
No studies have been conducted to estimate the area of public land encroached by places of worship. The Land Acquisition (Amendment) Act, 2007, defines “public purpose” land as land acquired for the purpose of defence installations, infrastructure projects or public utility projects, where 70% of the land is purchased. The government cannot acquire land for private parties except under the 70% condition. Public land is land acquired for “public purpose” for which the government pays compensation to original owners.
In New Delhi, said lawyer Ranjeet Kumar, nearly 20 acres of land, worth Rs1,000 crore, have been illegally occupied near Connaught Place — a stone’s throw away from the Supreme Court.