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.

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