Govt buckled under pressure, has set bad precedent
Representative image. Credit: DH file photo
The Karnataka government has adopted a ‘secular’ policy towards all illegal religious structures in the state – whether they be temples, mosques, churches or gurudwaras, among others — by granting them protection from demolition even if they are built on public land, including roads, junctions and parks. The stated objective of the Karnataka Religious Structures (Protection) Bill, which was passed by the Assembly, is to “protect communal harmony and not to hurt the religious sentiments of the public.” However, the real objective is to negate an order of the Supreme Court which had directed demolition of all unauthorised religious structures across the country. Karnataka had identified 6,300 such constructions. Though the demolition drive has been slow-paced over the years, Chief Secretary P Ravi Kumar had recently sent a reminder to deputy commissioners to hasten the process, following a nudge from the High Court. While structures belonging to different communities were being razed across the state, the demolition of a temple in Nanjangud led to a controversy, with BJP MP Pratap Simha communalising the issue. This also gave the opposition a stick to beat the BJP government with, considering that the demolitions occurred under the watch of the party that claims to be the custodian of Hindus.
While Simha threatened to launch a ‘save temple’ agitation, some office-bearers of the Hindu Mahasabha declared that when even Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated for “being anti-Hindu”, it would not be difficult to mete out the same treatment to Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai. The decision of the government gives rise to suspicion that it buckled under pressure and threats from such fringe elements. The Bill is self-defeating in many ways. For one, it could come in the way of infrastructure projects like roads, as clearing illegal religious structures will now be impossible. Besides, it also ties the government’s hands with regard to encroachment of forest lands, lakes or civic amenity sites in the name of religion. The question also arises if the Bill will really save those religious structures that are currently lined up for demolition as one contradictory clause in the Bill states that no protection shall be granted to a structure if any case relating to its removal is pending in any court of law. In the instant case, the matter of demolition of most structures are pending before court.
While the Bill states that no protection will be granted to illegal structures in the future, the message it sends out is the opposite. The Bill sets a bad precedent and virtually gives a carte blanche to those who have encroached upon public land by building a religious structure.