The Allahabad high court has ruled that government can acquire land belonging to places of worship and convert it for “benefit of public at large”.
A bench comprising justice VK Shukla and justice MC Tripathi on Friday passed the order on a petition filed by the Church Of North India Trust Association, which challenged the acquisition of land by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI).
While disposing of the petition, the court, however, took a liberal view and observed that demolition of a church on Christmas eve would be “too harsh” and stayed its demolition for a month. It directed the NHAI and the petitioner to demolish/shift church and graveyard after that period.
The petitioner had contended that NHAI acquired land for the purpose of construction of 6-lane Agra-Etawah bypass on NH-2 passing through UP and land of the church was also acquired during this exercise. It said the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Acts, 1991, prohibited conversion of any place of worship and provided for the maintenance of its religious character.
The bench rejected this contention, saying that ‘the place of worship Act’ put restrictions on conversion of place of worship of one community or section to religious place of worship of the other community.
“Legislative intent of the same is clear that said the provision had been introduced to see that communal harmony is not disturbed and persons of one religious community may not take on the other,” the bench said.
The NHAI is constructing 6-lane Agra-Etawah bypass on NH-2 passing through UP and the land that it has acquired for this purpose includes that of the Memorial Church, Shikohabad which is currently a regular place of worship. Adjacent to the church, there is also a Christian cemetery.