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All calm, time for answers now

The Union Home Ministry has sought a detailed list of religious structures encroaching on public land from the Gujarat government.

india Updated: May 07, 2006 01:20 IST

The Union Home Ministry has sought a detailed list of religious structures encroaching on public land from the Gujarat government. The information, according to sources, has been sought under Article 355 of the Constitution (Duty of the Union to protect States against external aggression and internal disturbance) and Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991.

In a communication to the state government on Monday, the day violence erupted in Vadodra, the Centre asked for a comprehensive list and details of religious structures that encroached on government property. The Gujarat government is yet to submit such a list to the Home Ministry.

The Centre has also advised the state government to verify all land records before demolishing religious structures as the demolition drive may lead to communal tension both in Gujarat and outside the state.

The Centre’s opinion is based on the Places of Worship Act, which “prohibits conversion of any place of worship and to provide for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on August 15, 1947”.

The Home Ministry has also indicated to the Gujarat government that the information available with it reveals that the dargah in Vadodara, which was demolished, came up on the outskirts of the city and the “road came much later”.

“The basic idea of seeking details from the state government is to identify the religious structure that were in existence as of August 15, 1947, since the Places of Worship Act calls for the maintenance of the religious character of such structures,” an official said.

Ministry officials were of the view that the district administrations should demolish only those religious structures that encroach on public land after building plans and by-laws came into existence.

Interestingly, the Centre also made Article 355 and the Places of Worship Act the basis for filing a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court on Thursday, which stayed a  Gujarat High Court order directing civic authorities in Vadodra, Rajkot and Surat to clear encroachment by religious structures on public land.