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India: Supreme Court says no more religious structures, statues on public roads

18 January 2013

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The Times of India

Supreme Court bans shrines, statues on public roads

by Dhananjay Mahapatra, TNN | Jan 19, 2013, 12.36 AM IST

The order can empower municipal and government bodies to prevent unauthorized constructions being carried out under the garb of religious structures as often local political interests and religious sentiments render authorities helpless.

NEW DELHI: In an order that will be welcomed by civic bodies and bring relief to citizens, the Supreme Court on Friday banned fresh encroachment of roads, pavements and sideways by construction of religious structures or installation of statues of public figures.

The apex court’s ruling addresses a common hazard in all Indian cities and towns where unauthorized religious structures - often thinly disguised cases of land grab - have sprung up on public and private land and are obstructing roads and inconveniencing residents.

The order can empower municipal and government bodies to prevent unauthorized constructions being carried out under the garb of religious structures as often local political interests and religious sentiments render authorities helpless.

Along with religious structures, the court also ruled on installation of statues. "Henceforth, states shall not grant permission to install any statue or erect any structure on public roads, pavements and sideways and other public utility places," ordered a bench of Justices R M Lodha and S J Mukhopadhaya.

The order was passed on an application challenging the Kerala government’s permission to a private society to install the statue of public figure on a traffic island on a national highway at a busy intersection where vehicles had to crawl because of existing encroachments.

The bench said the time has come to ban construction of temples, mosques, churches and gurudwaras on public places abutting roads which significantly restrict movement of vehicles leading to long traffic snarls. After issuing the ban, the court clarified that it would not apply to installation of street lights, mask lights or other public utility services.

On existing unauthorized religious structures on roads, the bench took a nuanced position recognizing that removal of such construction is not an easy task for either municipal authorities or police. It said these could be removed without creating a law and order problem.

"Public road is not anyone’s property. Each citizen had a right to use the road and that right cannot be interfered with or impeded by constructing a temple, mosque, church or gurudwara or by installing the statue of a public figure," said Justices Lodha and Mukhopadhaya.

The order came on the application by K R Pradeep Kumar of Thiruvananthapuram district during the hearing on the issue of removal of religious structures encroaching into areas earmarked for roads. The court had, in an interim order on September 29, 2009, directed that henceforth no unauthorized construction shall be carried out or permitted in the name of temple, church, mosque or gurudwara on public streets, public parks or other public places. The direction is now a final ruling.

In respect of unauthorized constructions of religious nature that have already taken place, state governments were asked to review these on a case to case basis and take appropriate steps as expeditiously as possible. The court on Friday asked the amicus curiae to collate the policy of each state on this issue for scrutiny after four weeks.

Kerala had informed the court that out of 901 cases of encroachment, only three had been removed. The applicant, Pradeep Kumar, said though Kerala had the highest average road length in the country, the growth of traffic had rendered most roads congested.

He said installation of statues on roundabouts had further narrowed road space leading to frequent accidents. The Sundaran Nadar Foundation was permitted to install a statue in the middle of the national highway from Thiruvananthapuram to Kanyakumari at Neyyatinkara on a traffic island.

A statue of Shri Ayyankali was installed at the Vellayambalam Square in the 1980s, the applicant said. In addition, there were cases of encroachment of roads by commercial establishments in various towns, he said.

No steps have been taken by the state government to remove illegal encroachments on the roads and to prevent new structures constructed in the middle/side of important arterial roads adding to the existing problem of traffic congestion, Kumar had complained.

He had said on one hand, the state was filing affidavits on removal of encroachment on roads and on the other, it was permitting installation of statues in the middle of roads resulting in further congestion and accidents.

o o o

The Hindu

New Delhi, January 18, 2013

Enough of statues at public places, Supreme Court tells States

J. Venkatesan

No more permission. Ensure strict compliance, Bench tells Chief Secretaries

The Supreme Court on Friday directed all States not to grant permission for erecting statues or construction of any structure at public places or on highways which would obstruct traffic.

A Bench of Justices R.M. Lodha and S.J. Mukhopadaya passed this order even as it directed status quo on unveiling of a statue of Sundaram Nadar at Neyyatinkara on the Thiruvananthapuram-Kanyakumari highway, on an application seeking permission for unveiling it. The application was filed in a pending matter on removal of unauthorised religious constructions.

The Bench said: “Henceforth, the State [Kerala] government would not grant any permission for statue or construction of any structure at public places, [on] roads or [at] any place of public utility… This order shall also apply to all other States and Union Territories.” However, it would not apply to installation of traffic utility structures like streetlights. The Bench asked the Chief Secretaries and the Administrators of Union Territories to ensure strict compliance.

When counsel for Kerala M.T. George sought permission for unveiling the statue of Sundaram Nadar, Justice Lodha asked, “Why do you want statues on the middle of the road? Instead of glorifying leaders, why don’t you utilise the funds for uplift of the poor?”

When counsel said, “We are doing it from our own funds,” the judge hit back: “What do you mean? They are all public funds, meant for the public of India. Are you getting foreign funds? Time has come when the public interest has to be paramount. You cannot have statues at public places. Each and every citizen has a right to the public place that cannot be taken away by any person. Such practice must be discontinued.”

Counsel said: “We are not an exception. Even in Delhi such statues are installed.” To this, Justice Lodha said: “If some States have a bad practice, it does not mean other States should follow [it]. Every action of the State must be guided by the public interest. If you want to highlight the achievements of these leaders, you can do it without obstructing public roads.”

The Bench asked the Kerala government to file an affidavit in four weeks indicating whether the road on which it wanted the statue unveiled was a national or State highway.