In a judgement last week by the Allahabad High Court, it ruled that the land belonging to a religious body can be acquired in the larger public interest. It said so while asking National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) and the Church of North India Association to work out the specifics to demolish or shift a Church for construction of a 6 lane road in Firozabad district of Uttar Pradesh.
The court observed that the constitution grants safeguards to a religious place but not in such cases. Court said that the Place of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, which the petitioners had pointed to, “bars any person from converting any place of worship of any religious denomination or different religious denomination”, but construction of a highway or bypass can’t be argued to be in conflict with the aforementioned act or any constitutional provision allowing freedom of religion.
The court, however, suggested that such a demolition or shifting should be deferred for a month in wake of festivals like Christmas and new year.
This is not for the first time when a religious boy has found infrastructure development project “hurting their religious sentiments”. There have been instances of authorities backing down under pressure.
For example in 2012, DMRC had to stop construction work after local Muslim leaders built a makeshift mosque on the ruins of Mughal-era Akbarabadi mosque near Red Fort, which was discovered while excavating for Metro construction work. Civil work in the area was stalled for over two years.
Similarly, an IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal was suspended by the UP government in 2013 for demolishing an unauthorised mosque wall being built on on public land. She was merely following court orders.
There were protests by Muslim organisations earlier this year in Vijaywada, Andhra Pradesh and construction of Inner Ring Road was stalled for months because a mosque and a temple had to be demolished. Hindu and Christian groups too protested on other occasions when around 30 temples and a portion of a church, all in Vijayawada, had to be demolished for road projects.