Friday, August 31, 2012

SC sneers at Gujarat stand on riot-hit shrines

The Narendra Modi government on Monday said compensation to religious structures damaged in the 2002 riots would be against the tenets of secular governance. It justified its stand in the Supreme Court by saying it had given no grant for the repair of such structures damaged in the 2001 earthquake.
    Additional advocate general Tushar Mehta told a bench of Justices K S Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra that the state’s policy did not permit the use of public funds for repair and reconstruction of religious structures.
    Challenging a Gujarat HC order asking the Modi government to compensate for damaged religious structures, Mehta referred to Article 27 of the Constitution which does not permit the state to recover or utilize taxpayer money for promoting a particular religion.
    Unimpressed, the bench said, “Prima facie your argument on Article 27 seems to be on slippery ground.” The court wanted to know whether the state took a similar stand on a demand for compensation for the repair of quake-damaged religious structures.
    “During the earthquake in Bhuj, did you not compensate any religious structure and was there not any claim,” asked the bench. Mehta said in natural calamities, the primary concern of the state was to restore normal life by providing financial aid to distressed families. “During the Bhuj earthquake, we (state) did not compensate a single religious structure nor was any claim entertained,” he added.
    The bench said, “We will then have to examine the aspect whether the state must compensate religious structures during earthquake or tsunami.” The court asked the Gujarat government to file a survey report on the extent of damage sustained by religious structures during the riots, the compensation amount disbursed till now and the scope of the state’s objection under Article 27.
    The Gujarat government also objected to the HC’s February 8 order and the manner in which it adjudicated the state’s guilt before saddling it with the task of compensating damaged religious structures. The HC had held that damage to religious structures was a direct consequence of the state’s “inaction and negligence”. The matter is expected to be heard next on July 30 by when the petitioner NGO has been directed to prepare its response to the state’s affidavit.