The Supreme Court questioned on Wednesday a Gujarat High Court order, directing the state government to use taxpayers’ money to restore and rebuild religious sites damaged in the 2002 riots.
A bench of Justices Dipak Misra and P C Pant wondered if it would be proper in a secular State to order compensation for rebuilding places of worship.
It observed: “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?”
The bench is hearing an appeal by the Gujarat government against the high court order, asking the state to quantify the damage caused to religious places during the riots and disburse money to rebuild them.
Appearing for Gujarat, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta asserted that tax payers’ money cannot be used for restoration or construction of any religious place since that would be in the teeth of the Constitution.
Citing Article 27 in the Constitution, Mehta said there is 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. “What is prohibited, therefore, is use of state fund, which consists of payment of various taxes by citizens, for repair /reconstruction/construction of any place of worship of any religion,” said Mehta, asking the top court to set aside the high court order.
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