Rashid Paul

HC seeks detailed reports on ‘illegal’ religious structures in J&K, Ladakh

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Srinagar: The J&K High Court has directed the administration of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh to file before it detailed reports on the “illegal” religious structures existing within their respective union territories.

The direction came in a public interest petition on allegedly illegal religious structures that have come up by way of encroachment on public land including streets, parks and other communal places.

Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Puneet Gupta who heard the petition said that it appears that the Chief Secretaries of the States and Administrators of the Union Territories were (already) directed (by the Supreme Court of India) to review the encroachments on the case to case basis and take appropriate steps as expeditiously as possible adding “nothing has been filed before this court”.

The bench directed “the Divisional Commissioners of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh to obtain reports from all their Deputy Commissioners on the illegal religious encroachments under the heads: (a) Location of the encroachment; (b) Area encroached; (c) Details of the encroacher.”

The information shall be complied within six weeks, it directed and furthermore asked the Div Coms to place information before the Chief Secretaries of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

The Chief Secretaries shall in turn “cause the matter to be considered by all the concerned and competent authorities and a policy decision be taken.”

The information and the decisions taken have subsequently to be placed before the High Court before the next date of hearing.

The matter of allegedly illegal religious constructions has engaged the attention of the Supreme Court of India since 2009 wherein on 31st of January 2018 it observed “repeated orders have been passed by this court with respect to the removal of illegal religious structures which have come up by way of encroachments on public land.”

Looking to the far-reaching implications and consequences of the court orders it impleaded all the States and the Union Territories as respondents to the petition.

As an interim measure, it directed “henceforth no unauthorized construction shall be carried out or permitted in the name of Temple, Church, Mosque or Gurudwara etc. on public streets, public parks or other public places etc.”

In respect of the unauthorized construction of religious nature which had already taken place, the State governments and the Union Territories were directed to review the matter on case to case basis and take appropriate steps as expeditiously as possible.

To ensure compliance of its directions, the court directed all the District Collectors and Magistrates/Deputy Commissioners in-charge of the districts to ensure that there is total compliance of the order passed by it.

Looking at the gravity of the matter, the Supreme Court also directed “no order or direction inconsistent to its orders, shall be passed by any other court in the country.”

The court found that no comprehensive and satisfactory responses were filed on its directions.

It observed that it had become imperative “to direct all the States and the Union Territories to formulate comprehensive policy regarding the removal/ relocation/regularization of the unauthorized religious constructions.”

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