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This is in bad faith

Illegal shrines encroach on public land. Don’t allow religion to break the law.

india Updated: Sep 15, 2010 23:14 IST

All across India, religion is good business. Like in any other business, there are legit as well as not-so-legit practitioners in this too. For the third time in a row, the Supreme Court on Tuesday reminded the states that they must demolish unauthorised religious structures, the illegal part of the business, that have come up on public land, a directive that most states have been dragging their feet on implementing. However, the numbers of unauthorised religious structures are alarming. Among the states that have filed affidavits in the case, Tamil Nadu has the highest number of illegal shrines (77,450) though others like Rajasthan (58,253), Madhya Pradesh (51,624) and Uttar Pradesh (45,000) are not exactly lagging behind. The court was hearing the Centre’s appeal against a 2006 Gujarat High Court order to remove such structures. In fact, in 2009, the apex court itself had ordered that all such shrines must go.

There’s no doubt that the Court’s decision is absolutely correct since in India illegal structures, religious or otherwise, have a magical habit of becoming legal by just occupying a place for a certain period of time. Such structures often begin as a nondescript one-room stop-shop for a prayer-on-the-go. Once it manages a fair number of the faithful, some other additions are made — all on public land. In legal language, it is called encroachment. Along the way, the turnover of the donation box also increases as the number of devotees rise. As a few more years pass, the illegal structure creeps into the cityscape as well as the mindscape of the people. Often prime public land is lost to the structures and authorities don’t even bother to demolish them citing ‘public sentiments’. It is no secret that in many cases, land sharks get into the picture and then just use the shrine as a ruse to get more land illegally. Often, such shrines are located at busy areas and lead to traffic problems. But nobody seems to mind because they seem to have religious sanction.

The Supreme Court’s religion-neutral directive that these shrines must go is definitely welcome and must be carried out as quickly as possible. Public land is not free land for anyone to usurp and colonise. There are specific uses for them and that’s how it should be used.