In a blatant violation of the Supreme Court's (SC) orders to raze religious structures on encroached government land, the local government and the district administration have not only failed to demolish the existing structures but have also turned a blind eye towards the new structures that continue to come up under the garb of religions.
The apex court in 2013 had also asked the states and the union territories to issue notifications for putting in place "policy/rules" for removal or relocation of illegal religious structures built on public land and sought action against officials who allow such constructions in future but nothing has been done so far.
In absence of policy, the departments fail to act at initial stage and delayed action results in special drives that costs time, efforts and resources. In majority of the cases, the local government (Ludhiana municipal corporation, Ludhiana Improvement Trust and Greater Ludhiana Area Development Committee) sends requests to the police commissioner to provide them with a force so as to carry out demolition drives, which can be avoided by taking timely action against the encroachments.
Right from the pavements of main roads to green belts and vacant government land, the encroachers fearlessly usurp small and large chunks. In majority of the cases, the encroachers enjoy the support of one or the other political groups.
Terming adjournment of action as an "Achilles heel" of the local government, advocate Hari Om Prakash remarked, "The religious institutions, including temples, gurdwaras and churches, block roads (major arteries of Ludhiana) to accommodate the vehicles of the worshippers which is completely ignored by the law enforcing departments. A stern action is the need of the hour so as to do away with encroachments by religious organisations," advocate went on to add.
First of all the group of encroachers either install a deity's statue or erect a small cemented plinth and start lighting oil lamps. Thereafter, the cemented structure is expanded followed by a small wall on all four sides. Gradually, regular prayers are offered at the specific spot and people are urged to pay obeisance at the place. Finally, encroachers create a dwelling thereby making claims on the said land.
A nomadic community had the grave of their ancestors in Urban Estate, Phase 1, Dugri and the community comes to pay tributes at the grave every year in the month of June. For last one decade, the area adjacent to the grave which is on government land has increased. Which used to be a simple grave, now has a room measuring 20x20 feet, which has a door that remains locked. The area residents have complained about the encroachment to the local government but to no avail.
In another case, during the election code of conduct in 2014 parliamentary elections, a political leader facilitated the construction of temple in Raman Enclave of Maharaishi Valmiki Nagar. A group of area residents gave a complaint to the Ludhiana Improvement Trust (LIT) with a copy to the chief vigilance officer, Punjab, Chief Justice, Punjab and Haryana High Court, Chandigarh and to the deputy chief minister. The temple was being constructed with the financial aid from a party candidate in lieu of the votes from the area residents.
Additional commissioner agreed to have received complaints pertaining religious encroachments in the above areas and various other parts of the city adding that the MC was doing its best to do away with the menace. "We are considering relocation of the religious structures, which are more than 10 years old but will not allow mushrooming of new," Rishipal went on to add.