In a policy decision that has raised many eyebrows, Maharashtra government has virtually given a veto power to minorities over installation of statues in public and private spaces in the state.
The General Administration Department headed by the Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis posted a controversial Government Resolution (GR) [pdf] on 2 May, which explains the new “statue policy” of the government. The GR includes guidelines to be followed while erecting any statue.
There are two contentious points in the GR which are discriminatory in nature and are bound to be misused.
1. The guidelines says, “No person or organization shall be allowed to erect a statue on a land owned by government, NGO or by a private entity without the permission of the District Collector”
2. It further says, “Local police station in-charge must submit a no-objection certificate after ascertaining that installing the statue will not create law and order issues or increase communal tension in the future. Additionally, a no-objection certificate which clearly mentions that local residents and minorities are not opposed to installation of the statue must be obtained.”
These two points combined together give a virtual veto power to minorities over installation of any statue on any public or even private land.
It means that a person can’t install a statue in his/her home or a private organization can’t install a statue in its premises if some minority community in the locality is opposed to it. The GR also mentions a Supreme Court order [pdf] dated 13/01/2013 which put an interim ban on installation statues on any public utility places.
However, this flawed statue policy of Maharashtra Government is also applicable to public recreational places like parks and more shockingly to private land.
This policy seems to be inspired from a similar policy that was formed by the then Cong-NCP government in 2005. OpIndia columnist Ashutosh Muglikar pointed this out on Twitter.
However, the 2005 policy did not require explicit ‘no objection’ from minorities, rather it said that the wishes of minorities should be mentioned in the NOC. Which means that as per the old policy, an NOC could be given for a statue even if a minority community was opposed to it (the local administration needed to have the political will).
Also, unlike the latest policy, private land was left out of the scope of the 2005 policy. Lastly, that a similar policy was formed by the previous government cannot be a justification to giving more teeth to that flawed policy.
Interestingly Maharashtra government wants to build a 210 meter tall statue of Shivaji Maharaj in the Arabian Sea. Could the Rs. 3600 crore project get stalled if some minority community members oppose it? Perhaps this particular project will be safe as the latest GR may not be applied retrospectively, however there could be similar challenges in future.
Former PM Manmohan Singh had (in)famously said that minorities had the first right on India’s resources. Now Maharashtra CM appears to have said through this GR that minorities have the first right on all statues in Maharashtra.
Equally worrisome is the fact that this policy has empowered organizations like Sambhaji Brigade who often use muscle power to push their divisive agenda. This could act as stimulant for other groups to flex muscles by claiming to represent some minority community and claiming threat to communal harmony or public order. It could prove almost as bad as the first amendment (to constitution) restricting free speech, which was introduced by Pandit Nehru.
This GR comes close to an earlier decision by the Fadnavis government, where a law to protect journalists was passed. That law is also prone to misuse. One hopes that the state government realizes these threats and takes corrective steps.
UPDATE (7th May 2017): The Maharashtra government has now removed the clause that mandated the NOC from minorities.