Heed the order

The Karnataka government has shown scant regard for a supreme court order that called on all states to demolish unauthorised places of worship on roads and other public places. The apex court had directed the government on December 7, 2009, to remove all illegal structures, including temples, mosques, churches and gurudwaras, within eight weeks.

The Karnataka government identified 4,817 structures across the state that were illegally constructed in public places such as vacant land, parks, roads, streets, corners, and circles. But, roughly 15 months after the expiry of that deadline, the government has acted upon just 1,659 of them — a mere fraction of the illegal structures it should have promptly razed. Of all the districts, Bangalore Urban has acted the most diligently to implement the court order, while Hassan has failed to act upon even a single illegal structure. Of the 154 structures that were regularised, a staggering 82 are in Tumkur and 55 in Dakshina Kannada.

The slow pace at which the government is acting to implement the apex court order is shocking. Can the government explain why it is dragging its feet? Officials have blamed the government’s failure to act upon the court directive on peoples’ religious sentiments. They have said they need to take the public into confidence before they demolish places of worship. Given religious sensitivities, they are citing law and order problems. These are valid excuses but they are not unsurmountable problems. The government has the sound backing of the court order. It should therefore clarify that its demolition of the illegal structures is required under the law.

Many of the illegal places of worship have become a safety hazard to pedestrians; they have been erected on pavements on busy streets forcing people to walk on the road. In some places, they are situated bang in the middle of a road causing accidents. It is well-known that many of these structures are but a ruse to grab public land.

There is little sacred about the land on which these shrines have come up. If the government implements the court order and demolishes illegal structures of all religious communities without favouring one or the other, there is little reason for law and order problems to erupt. Unrest is unlikely if all communities are treated alike. The government must implement the court order without further delay. Defiance of the court is not the way responsible governments behave.

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