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Saturday, Nov 23, 2019

Supreme Court accepts govt’s plan to rebuild Ravidas temple

The apex court ordered the demolition of the 15th century shrine after the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) informed it that the structure was located in a protected forest area.

delhi Updated: Oct 22, 2019 01:38 IST
Bhadra Sinha
Bhadra Sinha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
A man holds a placard during a protest against the demolition of Sant Ravidas Temple in New Delhi in August.
A man holds a placard during a protest against the demolition of Sant Ravidas Temple in New Delhi in August.(Sanjeev Verma/HT PHOTO)

The Supreme Court on Monday paved the way for the reconstruction of the temple of Guru Ravidas , revered by Dalits, in south Delhi, on a 400 square metre plot of land — at the same site where a Ravidas temple was demolished in August because it was located in a protected forest. That demolition itself happened on the order of the apex court and attracted the ire of Dalit groups, supported by parties across the political spectrum. Analysts said the issue could become a significant one in the Delhi assembly elections that could happen early next year.

A bench of justices Arun Mishra and Ravindra Bhatt also ordered the release of people arrested for protesting the demolition and quashed all cases that were registered against the devotees. The bench said all arrested will have to give an undertaking to be “good citizens”.

The apex court ordered the demolition of the 15th century shrine after the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) informed it that the structure was located in a protected forest area. Massive protests broke out in some parts of Punjab and south Delhi’s Tughlaqabad area over the demolition. The top court took strong exception to the rampage on the streets by the devotees of Guru Ravidas and had issued a stern warning against the “unruly protests”. SC first ordered the temple to be vacated this April, and ordered the Guru Ravidas Jayanti Samaroh Samiti to hand over possession to DDA. In early August, the top court was told by this body that the premises had been vacated. Later, when the court later heard that it had been misled, it ordered DDA to remove the structure by August 10, under police protection.

Following the demolition, a writ petition was filed by the devotees of Guru Ravidas. The court then asked attorney general KK Venugopal to explore the possibility of a settlement. Venugopal, on October 18, submitted a memorandum of association under which the Centre offered to allocate 200 sq-m land for the temple. It proposed to hand over the land to a committee set up by the Centre for the temple’s construction.

In Monday’s hearing, Venugopal doubled the offer to 400 sq-m. While the AG said the structure would be that of a portable cabin, the court ordered construction of a permanent structure as per the specifications finalised by the government. The court declined to accept the Samiti’s request that the land be handed over to it after Venugopal said the man heading the one-person Samiti, Rishipal, faced criminal prosecution for misusing the premises and leasing it out for parking of trucks on a commercial basis. Rishipal’s lawyer told the bench that his client had been looking after the temple for years now and the status must continue.

Venugopal said the temple would be maintained by the government-constituted committee and only devotees would be allowed to worship there. A boundary wall would be constructed around the temple to ensure the area remains protected from encroachment, the AG said. The court also allowed devotees to submit a representation for becoming committee members.

The move was welcomed by all parties. Aam Aadmi Party’s Sanjay Singh said: “We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision. This incident has, however, showed the BJP’s anti-Dalit sentiments. The BJP-led government at the Centre could have stopped the demolition in the first place by putting facts before the Supreme Court at the right time.”

Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari said: “We had assured the community that we are with them. It is our government at the Centre that informed the court that we are ready to give the land to the community for the construction of the temple. The temple was demolished by the AAP-led Delhi government. Why didn’t Arvind Kejriwal stop it or protest when it was demolished?”

Rajesh Lilothia, working president of the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee (DPCC), said that the Congress will continue its protest till the Ravidas temple is rebuilt on the same site. “The demolition of the temple was the result of the BJP government’s anti-Dalit attitude. We have been standing with these people and will continue to stand with them till they get a temple. This is a victory for the people,” Lilothia said.

Not everyone was pleased, though. Dalit activist groups expressed displeasure at the quantum of land on offer. “400 sq-m offered is grossly inadequate and we request the government to reconsider giving 12,350 sq yard (around 10,000 sq-m) land, which was in possession of the trust managing the temple for long. If the government wants to respect Guru Ravidas Maharaj and the Dalit community, it should ensure a dignified solution to the problem,” said Ashok Bharti of the All India Ambedkar Mahasabha, the group that led the protests in Delhi against the demolition of the temple.