The Supreme Court on Friday left it to a Constitution bench to decide whether religious activities can be permitted on government land or property in a secular country like India. The question arose in the context of a petition challenging an order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which had denied permission for a ‘jagran’ and ‘mata ki chowki’ event at a park in south Delhi.
The bench of Justices R F Nariman and Indu Malhotra, before which the petition came up, was of the view that “such religious activity” cannot be held in public places. “We think that what the NGT has done is right,” Justice Nariman told the petitioner’s counsel, Fuzail Ayyubi.
Ayyubi said his client — Jyoti Jagran Mandal — had been conducting the jagran for the last 40 years at the park. “It is done just once a year and has been held in the same park. Never in the past were we stopped from doing it,” he submitted. Stating that the ‘mata ki chowki’ is similar to ‘Ramleela,’ the counsel pointed out that the NGT had allowed the latter in October 10, 2017.
The organisation said that the National Green Tribunal had also allowed it to perform religious activities at Chanchal Park in Lajwanti area of Mayapuri in the national capital. But this was withdrawn later, forcing them to hold it on the road.
Justice Malhotra then suggested that the event be held inside a banquet hall. Justice Nariman added, “I think this is a constitutional issue, and I feel it is not permitted as per the Constitution. We will refer it to the Constitution bench and let the Chief Justice look into it.”
The court framed the question and referred it to the Chief Justice of India for setting up a Constitution bench. The petitioner contended that in its May 29, 2018 order, the green tribunal failed to appreciate that the park in question was only an empty plot of land with no trees and, therefore, the question to preserve a “lung space” did not arise.