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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Explained: Karnataka law to protect religious structures on public land

The bill defines an illegal religious structure as a “temple, church, mosque, gurudwara, Bodh vihar, Majar etc, constructed on a public place without authority of law”.

Written by Darshan Devaiah BP , Edited by Explained Desk | Bengaluru |
Updated: October 26, 2021 10:45:01 am
KarnatakaKarnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai had introduced the Bill in the assembly with the stated purpose of “protection of religious constructions on a public place constructed before the date of commencement of this Act". (File photo)

The Karnataka Religious Structures (Protection) Act, which was passed in the state assembly in September, has come into effect following the assent of Governor Thaawarchand Gehlot. The law has now been published in the Karnataka Gazette notification.

The law aims to protect religious structures in public places by preventing demolition.

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai had introduced the Bill in the assembly 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 short bill with only eight clauses seeks to protect government actions taken in good faith on religious structures.

What are the provisions of the Act?

The bill defines an illegal religious structure as a “temple, church, mosque, gurudwara, Bodh vihar, Majar etc, constructed on a public place without authority of law”. The law also says that “no religious structure and construction shall be allowed by the state government or any local authority in future on a public place without proper permission.”

The law gives protection to the state government and its officers or employees. “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,” the Act says.

The act further says that the district administration may allow religious activity in such protected structures, subject to custom, law, usage, and any other conditions as may be laid down by the state government from time to time.

What forced the Karnataka govt to bring this law now?

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 had said earlier in the Karnataka assembly in the course of a discussion to pass a bill to protect religious structures.

The demolition of the Nanjangud temple in Mysuru on September 10 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.

The demolition of the temple by Mysuru district officials, as part of a drive against illegal construction, triggered a war of words between members of the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress in the region. Former Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had condemned the demolition of an ‘ancient’ Hindu temple at Nanjangud in Mysuru district without consulting local residents.

How was the bill passed in assembly?

The Karnataka assembly passed the Karnataka Religious Structures (Protection) Bill, 2021 on September 21 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 rightwing groups by passing the law to protect religious structures identified earlier as illegal.

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

One of the clauses in the bill which protects the state government or any officer or other employees of the state government was opposed by the opposition saying that it can be used by officials to go ahead with demolitions.

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