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SC seeks details of religious sites damaged in 2002 Gujarat riots

Asked by the Supreme Court whether the State of Gujarat will pay compensation if a religious shrine is destroyed in a tsunami or earthquake,the Narendra Modi-led government on Monday said it has a policy to pay ex gratia only in case of loss of life or injury.

Written by Krishnadas Rajagopal | New Delhi |
July 10, 2012 2:25:57 am

Asked by the Supreme Court whether the State of Gujarat will pay compensation if a religious shrine is destroyed in a tsunami or earthquake,the Narendra Modi-led government on Monday said it has a policy to pay ex gratia only in case of loss of life or injury.

The exchange happened in a hearing of the Gujarat government’s challenge against a HC order directing it to aid the repair and rebuilding of religious shrines damaged in the 2002 post-Godhra communal riots.

The Gujarat government is defending its right as a secular state which cannot be seen favouring any particular religion.

The Narendra Modi-led state government has objected to the High Court accusing it of “inaction and negligence”. Adherence to the High Court order by doling out compensation,the state argued in the SC,would amount to a violation of the constitutional principle that a secular state should not be seen to favour any particular religion.

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The Gujarat government maintains that the state exchequer could not be used for building and repairing religious sites,a question the apex court has to now decide.

“You compensate if a house is washed away in a flood or if it is damaged in an earthquake. Then why not in case of a religious place?” a Bench of Justices K S Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra asked.

In response to this,the state counsel pointed to how in the 2001 earthquake the Gujarat government had compensated families who lost members,injured ones in the natural tragedy,but stayed away from using public funds to repair religious shrines.

Sources in the Gujarat legal team in the SC said the shrines in Gujarat come under the Bombay Public Trusts Act,and they have well-endowed funds to restore or repair in case of any structural damages.

The court has scheduled the case for a detailed hearing on July 30,by which time the state government has been asked to file an affidavit with regard to religious sites affected by the riots.

The Bench also asked the state to quantify the amount needed for building and repairing those sites that were affected by the riots.

In an earlier hearing,the Bench had sought the entire gamut of records which the High Court had based its conclusions on in an order dated February 8,2012.

The apex court had also sought replies from a voluntary organisation,Islamic Relief Committee of Gujarat,which had filed a public interest litigation in the High Court in 2003 with details of damage to 271 religious structures in 26 districts during the post-Godhra riots. The High Court order had asked principal district judges in 26 districts to entertain applications seeking compensation for repair and reconstruction of religious structures.

A Division Bench of Acting Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya and Justice J B Pardiwala of the High Court had ordered compensation for over 500 religious structures in the state,reasoning that when the government had paid compensation for destruction of houses and commercial establishments,it should also pay compensation for religious structures.

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