Pointing out that “there cannot be a greater equalising factor than death”, the Bombay High Court on Monday asked the Maharashtra government not to discriminate even in death, while hearing a matter related to cancelling allotment of a plot of land meant for a Christian cemetery in the city. The court has now asked the government to give an undertaking related to allotment of a plot for the purpose.
A bench of Chief Justice Manjula Chellur and Justice M S Sonak was hearing a petition filed by the United Christian Community Centre, a charitable organisation from Malad (East), that had raised the issue of lack of cemeteries for a large section of Christians. The petition had alleged that the state had arbitrarily cancelled allotment of a 7,500 sqm plot at Goregaon, which had been reserved for a Christian cemetery.
The court, while hearing the matter on Monday, reminded the state that it was bound to implement the constitutional principle of “secularism” and it could not discriminate against any citizen on the ground of faith or religious beliefs.
“Why was the allotment of a plot for a Christian cemetery cancelled just like that, for no apparent reason? This is a genuine demand. We don’t think any authority should be adverse to this,” the bench said. It asked: “Can you stop anyone from dying? You can’t postpone it if He (God ) wants it.”
According to the petition, while Hindus and Muslims have been allotted land for crematoriums or cemeteries, Christians have been singled out. Furthermore, from Dahisar to Khar, there is no place available for Christian burials.
The petition also stated that the government has discriminated against the Christian community by not allotting a single burial ground to it since 2000, therefore, depriving the community of its rights of proper and decent burial.
“We want the administration to show to the public that it believes in and will implement the principle of secularism. One community cannot be given the upper hand over any other religious community,” Chief Justice Chellur said reminding the state that everyone was united by faith.
During the last hearing, the bench had directed the Dairy Development Board commissioner and a secretary from the urban development department to appear before the court to explain why the allotment was cancelled. Hearing the matter Monday, the court said: “Don’t compel us to be impolite.” Asking government officials to tell them when the land could be allotted for the cemetery, the Chief Justice said: “Don’t let it be encroached land.” She has given the government time till next week to give an undertaking on allotment of land. “Next Friday, if nothing happens, at least we know what to do.”