25September2018

Andaman Chronicle

The Daily Diary of the Islands

STATE SHOULD FRAME POLICY ON RELIGIOUS STRUCTURES

Cooperative Housing Societies across Mumbai were warned against putting up unauthorised religious structures in the city. If only it fetched a material change at the grass-root level, there would be no problem whatsoever. Mumbai’s is a case in point. The situation is only indicative of the state of affairs all over India.

Then, incidentally, a High Court division bench of Justices PB Majmudar and MridulaBhatkar had even asked the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to publish advertisementsin newspapers warning people and housing societies against constructing such structures.

‘PLEASE GOD, THE LEGAL WAY’

“Make God happy without doing anything illegal. Any unauthorised religious structure should not be permitted, even inside housing societies,” said Justice PB Majmudar while hearing a petition challenging the construction of an illegal temple in the compound of a Prabhadevi housing society.

The High Court asked the BMC to demolish a Sai Baba temple which was illegally built in the compound of the Western Prabhadevi (Flat Owners) Co-Operative Housing Society (WPFOCHA). The court instructed the BMC not to touch the deity. BMC advocate VidyaGharpure told the court the corporation had already demolished the temple and that just a pedestal was to be demolished.

“We have not touched the deity as per the HC order,” said Gharpure. The HC even reprimanded the cooperative housing society for acting illegally. “If you want to please God, don’t take law in your hands,” said justice Majmudar. Law rests upon facts and statute. But, that is only till it runs into religion which is modelled on a lot beyond fact like heresay, tradition, custom and more. Much on the lines of the mother of all demolitions – the Babri Masjid demolition which turned into an iconic event for years to follow – the authorities tend to shy from demolishing religious structures however illegal may be their status.

MAINTAIN CREDIBILITY WITH FORCE OF LAW

To retain credibility, the law-enforcer needs to be secular. In 2007, it may be recalled, IPS officer Suresh Khopde suggested religious symbols be removed from police stations and a circular enforcing the ban was issued. The entire force went up in arms over the circular that was just not enforced. Khopde then suggested that instead of observing just Hindu religious days, the police should celebrate festivals of other religious groups.

A lot of members of minority communities have doubts on the non-sectarian nature of the police. And, to dispel the notion, last year Mumbra resident Abdul RehmanMilli filed a series of RTI applications to 90-odd police stations across the city asking them whether they had religious symbols in their premises.

While most police stations didn’t bother replying to the RTI applications, around 30 replied and a majority said they didn’t have any religious symbols in their premises. Now, to check the validity of their claim, he would have to personally visit each and every police station, an ordeal that would be nearly impossible.

But, it is an open indication of a religious bias that the force has tried had to contain but continues to fail miserably. Milli, on his part, isn’t convinced just like million others. When last year, the BMC’s deputy municipal commissioner (specials) issued demolition notices to 729 illegal religious structures across the city, based on a Bombay High Court order, it irked residents across the city irrespective of religion. After all, it affected them all.

When notices were put up to demolish four crosses in Bandra, Catholic groups like the Bombay Catholic Sabha (BCS), Association of Concerned Catholics in Mumbai (ACCM), The Mumbai GaothanPanchayat and Wake Up Bandra registered huge protests outside the city’s H (west) ward office. As a mark of solidarity, they brought crosses from their homes at the protest. Soon after, Catholics living in DN Singh lane, Mazgaon were shocked to find a cross, allegedly in existence since 1936, demolished by the BMC.

DEMOLITIONS OCCUR DESPITE ASSURANCES

Despite assurance of no crosses being demolished if proved old, the demolition occurred even as the BMC claimed residents did not have proof nor did they get the directive of 15 days or four week extension from the higher-ups to hold on to the demolition.

“We have been praying here for the past 50 years. The cross was here from the time my in-laws lived and was built in 1936. How can they claim that it was not there?” had claimed a 67-year-old Eliza Cannados to a section of the media. In March last, in an attempt to assuage sentiments, the Bombay High Court suggested all religious leaders to come together and take a decision to dissuade community members from constructing religious structures on public space.

“The state government has decided to frame a policy. Religious groups and their leaders should come forward and ensure that this does not happen in the future," a Division Bench of Justices Ranjana Desai and R G Ketkar observed.

State files affidavit, BCS?withdraws plea

In response, the state government filed an affidavit stating that the Chief Minister had passed a Government Resolution (GR) dated March 14 staying demolition of all unauthorised religious structures on public roads till a proper policy is in place. However, unauthorised religious structures which have come up after the Supreme Court order will be demolished by the BMC, the affidavit stated.

In view of the GR, the Bombay Catholic Sabha withdrew its petition. The government should consult various religious leaders and take their suggestions while framing the policy, had suggested the court then.

NEED TO FRAME A POLICY

In March last year, in an attempt to assuage sentiments, the Bombay High Court suggested that all religious leaders come together and take a decision to dissuade community members from constructing religious structures on public spaces...it said, ‘The State government has decided to frame a policy. Religious groups and their leaders should come forward and ensure that this does not happen in the future.’

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