Bill tabled by Karnataka government to protect religious structures from demolition
The Basavaraj Bommai-led BJP government in Karnataka on Monday tabled a bill in the assembly to protect religious structures from being demolished, a move seen as a way to circumvent court orders.
The government tabled the Karnataka Religious Structures (Protection) Bill, 2021 and is scheduled to take it up for discussion on Tuesday.
The bills “empowers the state government to make rules regarding the manner and conditions subject to which religious structures existing on the date of commencement of this act shall be protected.”
The move comes at a time when the BJP has been at the receiving end of criticism from right-wing and other groups over a video of a temple torn down in Nanjangud by Mysuru district authorities.
While the bill is scheduled to be taken up for discussion in the lower house on Tuesday, there remains questions if all religious structures that have been constructed on encroached land will be protected. The bill is also likely to set a precedent on how the government views encroached property and how such matters will be addressed.
The Bommai government is moving quickly to pass a bill which will not only minimise the backlash but also has the potential to pander to religious groups ahead of the yet-to-be announced zilla panchayat elections, and 2023 assembly polls.
“Provision empowers the state government to make rules regarding the circumstances in which protection to religious structures in respect of which any case relating to the removal is pending in any court of law,” the bill states.
The Bommai government discussed the plan to bring such a bill at a cabinet meeting on Monday, a senior minister said, requesting not to be named due to the ongoing monsoon session.
The developments come after a video of a temple in Nanjangud being torn down by an earth mover on September 12 had gone viral on social media with Mysuru-Kodagu member of Parliament Prathap Simha raising the issue to target authorities who were carrying out the drive with no consultations.
The BJP has seen a backlash even from its own support base which, the party feared, would dent its prospects in the yet-to-be announced zilla and taluka panchayat polls as well as 2023 assembly polls.
The demolition drive also brought together voices from various political parties with the likes of Siddaramaiah, the Congress’ leader of the opposition, and GT Deve Gowda, a senior JD(S) legislator, also voicing their anger against the drive
Chief minister Bommai had ordered authorities across the state to halt any such plans to demolish religious structures in the state.
Speaking at the state working committee meeting in Davangere on Sunday, former chief minister and senior BJP leader BS Yediyurappa assured the cadre of bringing about a bill to save temples.
Bommai had assured to discuss the matter in detail and discuss the same in the cabinet meeting on September 14, Hindustan Times reported.
The Karnataka high court had pulled up authorities for failing to take action against illegal structures built on government land, prompting the Mysuru district administration to act. On August 12, the HC said the Supreme Court has stated that all illegal religious structures that were built after September 29, 2009 shall not be tolerated.
The HC is hearing a petition to ensure compliance with the Supreme Court order on the matter.
“It is considered necessary to provide protection of religious constructions on public places constructed before the date of commencement of this act, in order to protect communal harmony and not hurt the religious sentiments of the public,” the bill states in its objects and reasons. The bill further states that the provisions “empowers the state government to make rules regarding the circumstances in which protection to religious structures in respect of which any case relating to the removal is pending in any court of law.”