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Karnataka passes law to protect religious structures after furore over temple demolition

A leader of the Hindu Mahasabha was arrested Sunday for issuing death threats to Bommai, former CM BS Yediyurappa and Minister for Muzarai, Haj and Wakf Shashikala Jolle over the temple demolition.

By: Express News Service | Bengaluru |
Updated: September 22, 2021 3:41:33 pm
Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru. (Express Photo by Darshan Devaiah/File)

The demolition of a temple in the Mysuru region of Karnataka on September 10, that resulted in a political furore in the state, was carried out by “over-enthusiastic officials” without the knowledge of the government, the ruling BJP said in the Karnataka Assembly in the course of a discussion to pass a bill to protect religious structures.

The Karnataka Assembly passed the Karnataka Religious Structures (Protection) Bill, 2021 on Tuesday night amid criticism from the opposition Congress party that the BJP, which had demolished the Mysuru temple 10 days ago, was trying to shield itself from the anger of right-wing groups by passing the law to protect religious structures identified earlier as illegal structures.

The Karnataka Religious Structures (Protection) Bill, 2021 was introduced in the Assembly by Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai with the stated purpose of “protection of religious constructions on a public place 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 defines “religious structure” as a “temple, church, mosque, gurudwara, Bodh vihar, Majar etc, constructed on a public place without authority of law”. The law says that “no religious structure and construction shall be allowed by the state government or any local authority in future on a public place”.

The bill was passed with no opposition from Congress or Janata Dal (S) but was criticised by opposition leaders as a hasty attempt by the government to make up for the demolition of a Mysuru temple.

Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister JC Madhuswamy admitted on the floor of the Assembly that a temple in the Nanjangud area of Mysuru was demolished without the knowledge of the state government by over-enthusiastic officials on the basis of a court order.

“We had no knowledge of the demolition of the temple. We found that it was an act of over-enthusiasm to implement a court order,” the Law Minister said.

Leader of the Opposition Siddaramaiah said that the demolition of the Mysuru temple was wrong and that the BJP government was bringing the bill to protect religious structures under pressure from right-wing groups linked to the party.

“They are bringing the bill now because of the Hindu Jagaran Vedike and right-wing groups who have brought pressure. I had tweeted and said the demolition should not have been carried out. They demolished the temple and are now seeking to protect it – this is odd,” Siddaramaiah said.

A leader of the Hindu Mahasabha was arrested Sunday for issuing death threats to Bommai, former CM BS Yediyurappa and Minister for Muzarai, Haj and Wakf Shashikala Jolle over the temple demolition.

Revenue Minister R Ashok said the High Court was monitoring the removal of illegal religious structures in Karnataka and that Mysuru district officials had acted on court orders which have been issued at regular intervals for clearance of illegal religious structures in public places.

CM Bommai said that the Supreme Court issued orders in 2009 for the removal of illegal religious structures from public places and as many as 130 religious structures were removed in Mysuru alone and that the new bill to protect religious structures would help fill a gap in the law. “We are not nullifying the Supreme Court order. We will regularise wherever possible. If any cases are pending in a court (regarding an illegal structure) they will not come under the bill. We never gave orders to demolish the temple at Nanjangud,” he said.

Congress leader MB Patil said the state government must take action against officials who carried out the demolition if the government was unaware of it.

Incidentally, the short bill with only eight clauses — passed by the assembly on Tuesday — seeks to protect government actions taken in good faith. “No suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall lie against the state government or any officer or other employees of the state government for anything which is done in good faith or intended to be done under this Act,” it says.

The clause was opposed by the opposition on the grounds that it can be used by officials to go ahead with demolitions and the government amended the clause.

JD(S) leader AT Ramaswamy said the Supreme Court had issued orders for clearance of illegal religious structures from public places because no officials would dare to act against religious structures without court orders. “Structures tend to come up overnight on roads. The SC gave orders in 2010 because no government or government officials are going to remove these structures,” the JD(S) MLA pointed out.

Bommai said the bill protects all religious structures built prior to the enactment of the law but does allow future illegal religious structures. BJP MLA SA Ramdas who attempted to pilot a private bill to protect religious structures said Karnataka is the first state to bring a bill to protect all religious structures since the 2009 SC order for removal of illegal ones.

A Supreme Court order of September 29, 2009, in a Union of India vs State of Gujarat case, said that “no unauthorized construction shall be carried out or permitted in the name of Temple, Church, Mosque or Gurudwara etc. on public streets, public parks or other public places.” The Karnataka High Court took up a suo motu petition on June 27, 2019, to enforce the SC orders of September 29, 2009 (the SC reiterated its order on February 16, 2010, saying all “illegal religious structures constructed after September 29, 2009, shall not be tolerated”). Since it began monitoring the implementation of the SC orders, the HC has pulled up the Karnataka government many times for tardy progress in the implementation of the SC order. The HC supervision of the matter has forced the state government to issue directions to officials in all districts to implement the top court’s orders in a speedy manner.

However, the demolition of the Nanjangud temple on September 10, which went viral on social media, forced the Karnataka government to introduce a law to protect all religious structures following criticism of the ruling BJP from within and outside the party ranks.

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