Religious structures, illegal, and the law: India

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Judicial orders on illegal shrines

2013/ SC order

Dhananjay.Mahapatra/ UP seeks SC okay to install statues in public places/ Urges Top Court To Relax 8-Yr-Old Ban/ The Times of India

The Supreme Court order [of 2013] banning [installation of] statues of saints, religious leaders, political figures, freedom fighters and martyrs in public places]

The SC’s order came in a case from Gujarat, where a 2006 court order for removal of religious structures encroaching public places, including roads, at Vadodara had led a mob to pelt the district court with stones and damage vehicles. A series of reports by TOI on this incident was taken cognizance of by the Gujarat HC, which asked authorities to remove all religious structures from public places.

The HC order had led to further impasse. However, the then UPA government at the Centre moved the SC and got a stay. After passing several orders, often in vain, for removal of illegal structures from public places over the years, the SC on January 18, 2013 directed state governments “not to grant any permission for installation of any statue or construction of any structure in public roads, pavements, side-walks and other public utility places”.

2016/ Supreme Court’s directions

The Times of India, Apr 20 2016

Dhananjay Mahapatra  Raze All Illegal Religious Structures: SC

The Supreme Court said god never intended to obstruct footpaths or encroach upon public land and warned chief secretaries of states and Union Territories of serious consequences if they did not comply with its orders directing removal of religious structures which came up on pavements and public land after September 2011.

A bench of Justices Gopa la Gowda and Arun Mishra was peeved as not a single state had filed response to its March 8 order directing them to comply with various interim orders passed by the apex court from time to time on this issue.

The bench said, “None of the states are doing anything to comply with the SC's directions. God never intended to obstruct footpaths and pavements or encroach upon public land. Persons building religious structures on public land and footpaths are insulting god.“

The court had on September 13, 2011 said it had undertaken the exercise primarily to ensure that “henceforth no public land, public park or public street is encroached for constructing religious structures“.

“All collectors and district magistrates in the country are directed to meticulously ensure that no further land is encroached in their respective districts. The district magistrates and collectors must also ensure that no commercial activity is carried out from unauthorised structures on public land,“ it had said.

The district magistrates were directed to send their reports every month to the chief secretary of the state regarding fresh encroachment and status of existing unauthorised structures.“The chief secretaries, in turn, will file affidavits before this court once in three months on regular basis,“ the court had directed.

The bench of Justices Gowda and Mishra found that none of the states had complied with its interim orders and were taking the matter lightly by seeking time to file even the court-mandated quarterly status reports. “This is the attitude of the chief secretaries despite the Supreme Court's directions. Are our orders passed for keeping in cold storage? The chief secretaries have no respect for the highest court. We will show them what the court can do.They do not deserve any leniency ,“ the bench said.

The bench's observations followed by an order summoning all chief secretaries to be present in court made the counsel for the states plead for two weeks to file response.Additional solicitor general P S Patwalia requested the court for one last opportunity to the states for filing an affidavit detailing steps taken so far to remove unauthorised religious structures encroaching on public land.

The SC relented and ordered that only those chief secretaries who failed to file the required affidavit in two weeks would remain present in court on the next date of hearing.

2017/ Delhi HC: ‘Religious structure can’t encroach’

November 25, 2017: The Times of India

The Delhi high court made it clear that no religiousstructure can be permitted to encroach on public land at the expense of others’ rights.

A bench of Acting Chief JusticeGita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar called for a plan to relocate encroachments, including some religious structures which have come up around a 108-foot Hanuman statuein central Delhi.

Even as HC said the statue itself is protected, theencroachments surrounding it must be removed asking the AAP government todraw up a plan.

HC pointed out that Delhi Development Authority has also undertaken several projects involving relocation of temples from various partsof NCR.

“Therefore, there is no reason that religious structures cannot be relocated when they are encroaching on public land,” the court said while hearing PILs in connection with unauthorised constructions and encroachments in Karol Bagh and the Ridge areas of Delhi.

 ‘Will god hear prayers from illegal shrines?

December 13, 2017: The Times of India

Delhi high court wondered if the prayers reach God from temples built illegally on pavements.

Exasperated at the extent of illegal constructions across the city, the court made the remark while taking stock of progress made by civic agencies in removing encroachment around the 108-feet tall Hanuman statue in Karol Bagh.

“Will the prayers reach the god if you pray from illegal encroachment on pavements? What is its sanctity,” a bench of acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar said, warning that everyone responsible for unauthorised constructions, including those who built the temple, “will be dealt with”.

The court asked the north corporation, under whose jurisdiction the area falls, to produce records pertaining to the construction of road and pavement adjoining which the illegal encroachment have sprung up.

HC’s direction came after Delhi government additional standing counsel Satyakam, appearing for PWD, told the bench that roads and the pavement in the area were the corporation’s responsibility. He pointed out that since the statue is huge, a major portion rests on the land belonging to DDA.

On its part the Delhi Police informed the court that the temple, including the statue, was being maintained and operated by a trust whose bank statements are being examined. The bench asked the police to complete its inquiry and enforce the law.

2018/ Uttarakhand HC: Seal religious sites built on encroached land

Vineet Upadhyay, Seal religious sites built on encroached public land: U’khand HC, August 26, 2018: The Times of India

Uttarakhand high court has ordered the state government to seal religious sites built on encroached public land in Rishikesh. In an order delivered on Friday, a written copy of which was made available on Saturday, the court directed the state to seal the town’s “religious places... constructed on public land or pavement without any authority of law.” The HC’s directions came while hearing a public interest litigation pertaining to rampant encroachment in Rishikesh.

According to the PIL, as many as 1,127 people had encroached upon government land, including several who had built temples.

Delhi HC refuses to stay temple demolition

September 24, 2018: The Times of India

Delhi high court has said encroachment on forest land cannot be protected while refusing to direct authorities not to demolish a five-decade-old temple, built on a forest land, in the capital. The court said it was clear from the averments made in the petition that the temple was constructed by encroachment and there was no reason to prohibit the forest department from recovering the land or demolishing the structure.

2018/  NGT: Remove illegal temples in Mathura

Anuja Jaiswal, October 25, 2018: The Times of India

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the Uttar Pradesh government to remove all illegally-constructed temples on Giriraj Parvat or those which fall within 12 hectares of land under the forest department in Mathura.

The tribunal’s order delivered stated, “UP and its authorities have been directed to respectfully shift the idols of the temples and place them in other legal temples that are beyond the 12 hectares of land, before removing the illegal constructions.”

The order further stated that no ‘samadhi’ (grave) falling in the existing land is to be removed. According to authorities, there are at least 20 temples, including three big ones, existing in the area which will have to be demolished after the order.

2019/ Court pulls up DDA for not razing temple on govt land

AmitAnand Choudhary, January 20, 2019: The Times of India

A local court has slammed the Delhi Development Authority for not removing a temple built by encroachers on government land in South Delhi, saying official agencies should not hesitate to take action against religious structures built illegally as they are not bound by any concept of religion.

Additional district judge Naresh Kumar Laka asked DDA to take action against the erring officials who allowed construction of a temple which was built by encroachers to keep possession of government land after they were removed from the land in 2012. A temporary temple was built within a day after DDA chased out the encroachers from the land in Okhla Industrial Area and the structure remained for the last seven years. Later, jhuggis were also constructed on that land.

“Generally speaking, a citizen of the country has a fundamental right to profess any religion or faith but I think the DDA is not bound by any such concept of religion being an agency of the Government of India which is following the policy of secularism as per the Constitution and in that capacity DDA was not justified in retaining the said temple of Lord Hanuman, which had given a chance to the appellants (encroachers) to still occupy the said premises,” the judge said.

The court dismissed the plea of encroachers who claimed to be owners of the land after they failed to prove any title on the property and the court termed them as law-breakers for illegally occupying the land for decades. “It prima facie shows that DDA officials were negligent and committed lapses in discharge of their duties which resulted in erection of seven jhuggis and the said temples. Accordingly, copy of this judgement be sent to the head of the department of DDA to hold a departmental inquiry and file an action taken report against the erring officials/officers within 60 days. Further, in view of the observations made by this court, if it is deemed fit, further action can be taken for removal of the said temple and encroachment,” the court said.

It expressed concern over people encroaching upon public land in the guise of religion by erecting religious structure and said action should be taken against them. “The court can protect a genuine and bona fide person but it has already been brought on record that the plaintiffs have no right, title or interest in the premises which is a government land, therefore, this court is not inclined to grant the relief of injunction. If persons like plaintiffs are given protection of law by this court to retain their possession, it will encourage not only the plaintiffs but other similarly placed persons to trespass government land,” the court said.

HC on illegal temple in Chandni Chowk, Delhi

Abhinav Garg, Nov 15, 2019: The Times of India

Delhi high court ordered removal of an unauthorised temple falling in the middle of the main carriageway in Chandni Chowk, overruling the stand of the government’s ‘religious committee’.

A bench of justices S Murlidhar and Talwant Singh also slammed Delhi government for its “u-turn” on the removal of the temple, pointing out that as far back as 2015, the court had directed the North Delhi Municipal Corporation and Delhi government to clear encroachments, including the temple that stalled the progress of Chandni Chowk redevelopment project.

The court took a dim view of the change in stance of the religious committee, which had earlier agreed to abide with the court orders and even given an undertaking. However, in a series of meetings held last month, the panel advised the architect to include the Hanuman Mandir and Shiv Mandir — both part of the same structure — in the re-development plan. It was hearing a fresh plea by the government seeking to modify its directions that the lieutenant governor should act to remove religious structures hindering the redevelopment plan. Last week, the bench had sought the presence of the architect with the relevant drawings to explain as to how the revised proposals floated by the panel can be given effect to, if at all.

The court directed the removal of the illegal temple, after the architect categorically stated that the structure will hamper the carriageway work. He added that it won’t be possible to go by the demands of the panel to allow the temple to exist at the present site after dismantling the chabutra platform around the structure.

Separately, the panel had also recommended that Bhai Matidas Smarak, another religious structure, “may be made an integral part of the beautification and redevelopment plan to showcase the heritage of Indian history.”

In 2015, while taking stock of progress in the pedestrianisation of Chandni Chowk and building of a dedicated Non-Motorised Lane (NMV), the court had been told that that five unauthorised religious structures were blocking the right of way in Chandni Chowk.

When neither Delhi government, Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation or north corporation disputed that these are encroachments, the court had ordered their immediate removal. However, the civic body went to Supreme Court, which reaffirmed that the “responsibility to remove the encroachment is primarily of the municipal corporation. However, in such an endeavour, the government must extend a support to the corporation.”

2021: Chandni Chowk temple in right of way finally demolished

January 4, 2021: The Times of India

An encroachment in the form of a temple on the central verge of the road near Moti Bazaar was removed by North Delhi Municipal Corporation in compliance with an order by Delhi High Court.

The structure was coming in the way of completion of the Chandni Chowk redevelopment project.

Teams of the corporation carried out the action amid heavy deployment of police personnel. On December 18, the high court had dismissed the plea by a religious society seeking a stay on the removal of the Hanuman temple.

Before this action, the corporation had made three attempts earlier to relocate the temple, but met with no success. The structure on the main road, which is being pedestrianised, had been declared illegal and the order for its removal was passed in 2015.

The ambitious project is being closely monitored by the high court since its inception. The project has 24 stakeholders, including PWD, north corporation and Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation.

Earlier, north corporation had tried to remove the encroachment on November 20 and 22 and December 20, but the exercise could not be carried out due to unavailability of police force and large crowds gathering near the temple.

A senior corporation official said the entire area was barricaded around midnight. “Barricades were placed at Chandni Chowk Road, Netaji Subhash Marg T-junction, near Town Hall and the entry and exit points of various katras. Both Delhi Police and CRPF personnel were present in large numbers to maintain law and order. Action started around 5.30am and it took 15 minutes to remove the structure,” added the official.

On November 14, 2019, Delhi High Court had rejected the recommendations of Delhi government’s religious committee to allow the temple to exist at the site. The order was challenged in Supreme Court, which disposed of it after the government said it would move a suitable application before the high court for further directions.

Removal of encroachments remains a key hurdle in the timely execution of the Chandni Chowk redevelopment project, the last deadline for which was December 31, 2020. Last month, Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation had noted that the delay in removal of encroachment from the colonnade at Fountain Chowk was not only causing hindrance to the movement of pedestrians, but also their safety.

Illegal shrines in India

30-yr-old Chennai shrine demolished from footpath after HC order

The Times of India

December 8, 2014

After Madras HC orders, the Chennai corporation demolished a 30-year old temple that was built on the footpath at the north gate entrance of the court in the 1980s. The Needhi Kumariamman temple, built for the well-being of ex Chief Minister MG Ramachandran when he was under treatment in the US, was demolished on Sunday. Teams of police officials and corporation workers carried out the demolition.

Illegal shrines in Mumbai

The Times of India, Nov 12 2015

B B Nayak

After HC order, Navi Mumbai finds over 500 illegal shrines

A total of 503 illegal religious structures stand in Navi Mumbai today , reveal surveys undertaken by Cidco and NMMC. Now, Cidco plans to conduct another survey and activists say many more such llegal shrines may get added to the list. Cidco identified 445 such illegal structures in the jurisdiction of Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC), excluding gaothan conglomerates in civic area. The NMMC conducted a new survey and amended its list, after which 58 more illegal structures were added to the count in areas under its administration. Sources from both agencies said action would be taken on the illegal religious structures that had come up after 2009, in adherence to the Bombay high court directive to crack the whip on such structures within 10 months beginning October. “We have razed six of the 22 structures that came up after 2009,“ additional municipal commissioner Ankush Chavan said.

Officers penalised for removing encroachments

Gorakhnath Mandir, Jaipur/ 2018

IPS officer shifted after civic body razes Raj temple, March 1, 2018: The Times of India

An IPS officer was removed from the Jaipur Development Authority, hours after the civic body’s enforcement wing partially demolished a temple that UP CM Yogi Aditya Nath wanted to protect. The JDA found the temple to be encroaching upon a city road.

The Gorakhnath Mandir is linked to UP’s Gorakhnath Math. When the JDA had initiated action against it in 2015, Yogi, then the Gorakhpur BJP MP, had written a letter asking the body not to demolish the 35-yearold shrine. The JDA enforcement wing’s head, SP Rahul Jain was removed and put on awaiting posting orders.

“It isn’t right to demolish the temple. It is an administrative decision to put the IPS officer on awaiting posting order,” state urban development minister Srichand Kriplani told

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