J. Venkatesan

New Delhi: The Orissa government on Thursday assured the Supreme Court that it would not allow VHP leader Praveen Togadia’s yatra on Friday or any other day carrying the ashes of Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati, who was killed in his ashram in Kandhamal district on August 23.

A Bench consisting of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justices P. Sathasivam and J.M. Panchal recorded the assurance and asked the government to maintain law and order and ensure that no untoward incident took place in the riot-hit district. The court asked the State to file a report and posted the matter for September 11.

Earlier, Additional Solicitor-General Gopal Subramaniam, appearing for the Centre, and senior counsel Colin Gonsalves for the petitioner (Archbishop of Cuttack Raphael Cheenath) urged the court to stop the yatra as it would result in serious consequences.

Appearing for Orissa, senior counsel K.K. Venugopal said: “We have not given any permission for the yatra and we will prevent it. We will take all possible steps to stop the yatra [of Mr. Togadia] at the State border and will not allow any outsider to enter the State. We will be able to control the situation if the Centre deploys four additional battalions of paramilitary forces and we will ensure that no untoward incident takes place.” Prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Cr.PC ban were already clamped in the whole of Kandhamal district.

The Chief Justice told Mr. Venugopal: “Take steps to ensure that no one is allowed to inflame the situation. We can’t give any concrete direction. Our attempt is only to see that these sorts of yatras should not result in violence.”

The Bench was hearing the writ petition filed by the Archbishop seeking a CBI probe into the killings of Christians and damage caused to churches and other institutions in Kandhamal district.

The Additional Soliticor-General said Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, who had toured the riot-hit areas and visited relief centres on Wednesday, assured the Orissa government of all possible help to restore normality. Adequate number of CRPF personnel had been deployed.

Mr. Subramaniam said the situation was very tense and the State should not permit any activity that would escalate tension.

Mr. Gonsalves urged the court to stop Mr. Togadia’s yatra, which, if allowed, would result in inflammatory speeches. Provocative messages during the yatra would have serious consequences.

He cited the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya in 1992 despite an assurance given by the then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, and said assurances to maintain law and order during the yatra should not be accepted.

In response to Wednesday’s direction, the Orissa government filed an affidavit giving details of deployment of paramilitary forces and the State police to protect lives and property.

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