September 17, 2010

roadside shrines and legality

Supreme Court has directed states to demolish un-authorised religious structures that have mushroomed all over public property. All cities are sprinkled with temples of myriad faiths, often next to roads and in markets where their owners get good number of devotees and hence fat donations.

Everybody in India is allowed to follow the faith of his liking or not follow any faith, but no Constitution, human right or law would allow you to encroach on public or someone’s property in the name of religion. However, as happens in almost all walks of life, the authorities concerned with land use either close their eyes to such encroachments OR take their cut to allow them OR encourage and protect these activities. The number of encroached religious structures, going by figures submitted by states to the Supreme Court, runs into many hundred thousands. The real number would be much higher.

Now, it is to be seen whether governments can gather the courage to demolish such un-authorised structures. Even if some government is convinced, will it bell the cat? What will be the reaction of fundamentalists and ‘devotees’? Will it lead to pick and choose in demolishing, resulting in corruption, favoritism and a new set of court cases? Chances are that the status quo will be maintained on one or the other pretext. Any significant action would, perhaps, require another direction from the Supreme Court in such stern lines: follow the order or the get jailed for contempt of court. Or even that would be stymied by parliamentarians – a bunch of vote seeking devotees.

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