Bill to protect religious structures passed in Karnataka assembly
The Basavaraj Bommai-led BJP government on Tuesday managed the passage of the Karnataka Religious Structures (Protection) Bill, 2021 just one day after it was proposed and then tabled in the lower house of the ongoing monsoon session of the state assembly.
The bill, which will now be tabled in the upper house, was passed even as legislators across the aisle, including of the BJP, sought to get clarifications on the scope of the bill and its intent to protect religious structures from being demolished as per the 2009 Supreme Court order.
The bill primarily provided protection to all religious structures that came up on public land before the law comes into force. It means that the authorities would not be able to demolish religious structures on public land unless there is a specific court order for demolition of a religious structure, reading of the bill shows.
JC Madhuswamy, Karnataka’s minister for minor irrigation, law and parliamentary affairs, said that structures of all religions will come under the ambit of this new bill.
“There was lacuna and to fill it up we have brought this (bill),” Madhuswamy said, reacting to allegations over the government’s inability to stop the demolition of a temple in Nanjangud of Mysuru district on September 12.
The bill comes days after a video of a temple in Nanjangud being torn down by an earth mover went 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 demolition also saw right-wing groups attack the BJP over the move, even as the Basavaraj Bommai government claimed that it did not have any prior information.
Siddaramaiah, the Congress’ leader of the opposition and former chief minister, questioned how the temple was demolished without the government’s knowledge and sought to know why no action was taken against the district officials for carrying out the act.
“You are saying that from now on no temple should be demolished but what about the ones (demolished) earlier? You are bringing this bill because the Hindu Jagrana Vedike and Hindu Mahasabha pressurised you and the government got scared,” he said.
The regularisation of illegal encroachments for religious purposes not just circumvents the court orders but is also likely to set a precedent in the state where a significant chunk of government land, lakes, forests and other places are lost to land sharks and others.
“I have an apprehension that government land that is set aside for various purposes, if temples are built there and in deemed forests and in such zones, will this law be applicable there?” Krishna Reddy, the Janata Dal (Secular) legislator from Chintamani questioned.
The Bommai government is moving quickly to pass a bill which will not just minimise the backlash but also has the potential to pander to religious groups ahead of the yet-to-be announced zilla panchayat elections as well as the 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 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 “empower 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.”
Several BJP legislators too sought to know the wordings of the bill which stated that no action can be taken against an official if the demolition was done in “good faith”.
Bommai clarified that no action can be taken against the district officials since they were following court orders.
Madhuswamy said that the demolition was done due to “over enthusiasm” of the district officials and to avoid a repeat of the incident, the bill was introduced.
The chief minister said that there were 315 illegal structures of temples, mosques and churches in Mysuru district and of this 161 were demolished between 2010-2019.