Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal Thursday demanded that the Centre promulgate an ordinance allotting land for a “grand temple” of Sant Ravidas, and promised that construction cost will be borne by the Delhi government.
Kejriwal made the remarks during a discussion in the Delhi Assembly on the controversy triggered by the demolition of a temple dedicated to the 16th Century spiritual leader, revered by lakhs of Dalits across the country.
A resolution to build a temple at the same time was passed by the Assembly. It also said that the demolition “crushes not just religious sentiments but the history of Dalit struggle”.
The issue dominated the entire proceedings on the first day of the four-day session. Speaker Ram Niwas Goel adjourned the House thrice as AAP and the BJP traded barbs over the demolition and subsequent incidents, including Wednesday’s violence.
The Sant Ravidas temple in South Delhi’s Tughlaqabad was demolished by the DDA on August 10 following a Supreme Court order, which held the structure as an encroachment on forest land.
“The Centre and DDA deliberately did not keep all the relevant facts in front of the SC. They fired from the shoulder of the SC. After country-wide protests, they realised the gravity of the issue,” Kejriwal said, adding, “They can now either file a review petition or pass an ordinance, marking the land for the Ravidas community.”
The first adjournment came within 30 minutes of the proceedings. Leader of Opposition Vijender Gupta sought to put the ball in the AAP’s court, claiming that the power to denotify forest land lies with the Delhi government’s environment department.
Dismissing Gupta’s contention, Kejriwal said that if the Centre provides even five-acre land to the Ravidas community for a new temple, the Delhi government would reciprocate by planting saplings in at least 100 acres. The temple was situated in the Jahanpanah city forest.
PB Mehta writes | Ravidas, faith, power
The Ravidas Jainti Samaroh Samiti, which had moved the SC seeking protection from demolition, failed to establish its claims over the land, according to the SC judgment. The Centre claimed that it could do little to prevent any demolition as the DDA had to follow the order of the apex court. Land falls under the Centre’s jurisdiction in Delhi.
Kejriwal, however, sought to corner the Centre, asking why DDA opposed the Samiti’s claim in court. “The Delhi government is not even a party to the case. The L-G, DDA and the Samiti were the respondents,” he said.
At one point, AAP MLA Ajay Dutt tore his shirt while making a speech, saying it was a symbolic move to highlight atrocities against Dalits.
Delhi government’s Social Welfare Minister Rajendra Pal Gautam claimed documents establish that the land was under the control of the Dalit community since 1948. “Sant Ravidas had addressed his devotees here. Babu Jagjivan Ram had inaugurated the temple in 1959. The organisation was registered in 1948, even before DDA came into being,” Gautam, a prominent Dalit face of the AAP, said.
Gupta, who met Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar during the day, later told reporters: “This is against democratic traditions. They don’t have any solid argument… We think the demolition is unfortunate. A unanimous decision should be taken to build a proper temple.”
Incidentally, even the BJP supported a resolution moved by AAP MLA Vishesh Ravi demanding an ordinance.