The state government has urged the Supreme Court to extend its deadline for the demolition of 1,300 religious structures, which were supposed to be pulled down by the end of August. Citing the drought and the engagement of state machinery, the state has sought an extension of four months.
In two different cases being heard by the Bombay high court and Supreme Court, the state said in an affidavit submitted to the court that it could not follow the court order. The government, during the hearing in June, told the court that there are 847 religious structures in rural areas and 871 in urban areas.
“In a fresh affidavit, we told the court that 202 urban structures and 155 rural structures were demolished. Those figures are low,” said an official from the home department on the condition of anonymity. “As this may lead to a contempt of the court order, we filed the affidavit. It is expected to be considered during the next hearing.”
While hearing the case, the SC had asked the state to clarify its stand on the illegal structures. It had directed the state to classify the structures in two categories – those prior to 29 September 2009, and those erected after this date. The state was asked to file action-taken reports and to submit a time-bound plan for the demolitions.
The state told the apex court that it had 49,849 illegal religious structures in rural areas and 14,549 illegal structures in urban areas prior to September 2009. Of the rural structures, 31,389 have been regularised, while 488 have been demolished and 64 shifted. In urban areas, 216 have been regularised, 102 demolished and 17 shifted. “Most of the illegal structures prior to September have been regularised. The apex court has adopted a more aggressive stance regarding the demolition of structures that have been constructed in the past seven years,” he said.
“Despite the Supreme Court’s orders to demolish the illegal shrines erected after September 2009, the state has failed to do so. It has been protecting the structures under pretexts such as drought. Though the Supreme Court has allowed the state to relocate or regularise such structures, I think they should not be protected,” said Bhagwanji Raiyani, the petitioner fighting the case in the high court for the past fifteen years.