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Govt won’t have to rebuild religious structures destroyed in Gujarat riots: SC

The SC was hearing an appeal filed by the Gujarat government against an order of the high court directing it to pay compensation to over 500 shrines damaged during the 2002 riots.

india Updated: Aug 29, 2017 12:53 IST
Bhadra Sinha
Bhadra Sinha
New Delhi, Hindustan Times
Supreme Court,Gujarat govt,2002 riots
Television journalists place their cameras inside the premises of the Supreme Court in New Delhi.(Reuters file photo)

The Supreme Court on Tuesday set aside a Gujarat high court order asking the state government to pay for repair and reconstruction of religious structures damaged during the 2002 post-Godhra riots.

A bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and justice PC Pant, however, said the state government’s scheme of paying ex gratia of Rs 50,000 for damaged residential and commercial properties would apply to religious properties a well.

According to official estimates, nearly 800 Muslims and more than 250 Hindus were killed in the violence in February-March, 2002, and is considered one of the worst communal riots in the country since Independence. Activists, however, say the toll was much higher.

The violence was sparked by the death of 57 Hindu pilgrims, burnt alive in a train compartment at a station in Godhra.

The top court was hearing a petition filed by the Gujarat government challenging the high court order directing it to pay compensation to repair and rebuild more than 500 shrines damaged during the riots.

“Our plea has been allowed,” additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta, who represented the state government, told HT.

The state government had told the court it was willing to pay ex gratia amount for repair and reconstruction works of various structures, shops and houses which were damaged.

In an earlier hearing, the top court had wondered if it would be proper in a secular State to order compensation for rebuilding places of worship.

“Money is required for economic growth…individual injury is a different thing where compensation is granted under Article 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Constitution. Can it happen in a diversified country that a state is distributing public money to build religious places?” it said.

Citing Article 27 in the Constitution, Mehta had argued that there was a specific prohibition against compelling people “to pay any taxes, the proceeds of which are specifically appropriated in payment of expenses for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion or religious denomination”.

He reasoned that a judicial order will be against the secular fabric of the country even if it orders use of public money for construction of places of worship for all religions.

First Published: Aug 29, 2017 11:46 IST