The Supreme Court has directed the Collector/Magistrate/Commissioner of the district concerned in each State and Union Territory to ensure total compliance with its Tuesday’s order banning unauthorised construction of any temple, church, mosque or gurdwara in public streets/public spaces across the country. They should send a report to the Chief Secretary who, in turn, would file a report to the court within eight weeks.

A two-judge Bench said: “In respect of unauthorised constructions of any religious nature which have taken place in the past, the State governments would review the same case by case and take appropriate steps. This will be done as expeditiously as possible.”

Considering the gravity of the issue which had far-reaching consequences, the Bench, consisting of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Mukundakam Sharma, issued notice to all States and Union Territories and directed them to file their response by the next date of hearing.

Where the problem started

The Bench was hearing an appeal filed by the Centre against a May 2006 Gujarat High Court order that directed all municipal corporations in the State to demolish places of worship causing obstruction on roads and other places. The Centre intervened when the situation in Vadodara and other cities became tense after violence and the Army staged a flag march in the riot-affected areas. Later the scope of the petition was enlarged to cover all States and Union Territories.

The Centre, in its appeal, said it was concerned at the safety of citizens and the law and order situation. Temples or mosques, demolitions would have a major fallout on communal harmony, it said. Unauthorised constructions could be removed without offending the sensitivities of any group.

The Centre made it clear that it was not justifying the existence of unauthorised constructions, more so if they were encroachments on public land. However, the removal of religious places was intrinsically sensitive, and must be subjected to scrutiny and classification before demolition.

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