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‘Illegal temple’ demolished in Navsari, here is how the government has failed to remove illegal religious structures including mazars from railway platforms

In his reply, Union Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said, "There are 179 illegal religious structures existing on Railway platforms and yards across all Zonal Railways. These religious structures are in the form of Temples, Masjids, Dargahs, etc.

On Monday, 25th July 2022, the Navsari Municipal Authorities razed a Radha Krishna temple despite opposition from the locals. The temple was ‘illegally built’ on an open plot of the Sarvoday residential society in Navsari city. Looking at the swift action by the administration against the ‘illegal temple’ in a closed society, it becomes evident to revisit how the government has struggled with the removal of other illegal religious structures built on the government’s own land including dargahs from the railway platforms.

The Radha Krishna temple on an open plot of the Sarvoday residential society was apparently obstructing the entry and exit to a huge plot owned by real-estate builders. According to reports, more than 150 police officers, including Navsari Urban Development Authority (NUDA) incharge officer Ketan Joshi and Navsari Municipality officials Rushikesh Upadhyay, arrived at the Sarvoday society Monday evening with JCB machines and dumpers in order to demolish the temple. Tensions soon ensued as more than 200 people including men, women, and youths entered the temple to stop the destruction. The Radha Krishna temple, which was recently constructed on a 10-square-meter plot of private land, was thus bulldozed as the police took away everyone in the temple and besieged the site.

Supporting this action by the local administration, the residential additional collector of Navsari said, “It was an illegal construction. Notice was given in advance & 10 days’ time was given & today it has been removed.” It should be noted that this temple, however illegally built, was erected on a private plot and it was used by Hindus for purely dharmik practices and not for any unlawful activity or spreading religious hatred, preaching superstitious belief, or exploitation of poor faithful people.

Navsari District Superintendent of Police, Rushikesh Upadhyay said, “The NUDA authorities had contacted us and asked for police protection to carry out the demolition activity of the temple constructed illegally on the open plot. The temple was demolished under police protection.” So it is evident how the authorities disrespected the religious sentiments of the people while demolishing the ‘illegally built’ temple.

Now the question arises, whether ‘illegal structures’ built in the name of other religious faiths – that too on government land – are removed with this promptness? The answer to this question manifests from Union Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw’s response to a question asked in Rajya Sabha on 30th July 2022. In this answer, it becomes clear how the government is struggling when it comes to removing the illegal religious structures built on the railway land and even on railway platforms in many cases. The minister’s answer underlines the sharp contrast in the approach by respective authorities while dealing with the ‘illegal religious’ structures of Hindus and those of other faiths.

On 30th July 2021, Shiv Sena MP Anil Desai asked the minister about the action taken against such encroachments by Railway Protection Force (RPF) and railway authorities. In his reply, Union Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said, “There are 179 illegal religious structures existing on Railway platforms and yards across all Zonal Railways. These religious structures are in the form of Temples, Masjids, Dargahs, etc., and are existing for a long. The details of these religious structures have been recorded and monitoring is done regularly to ensure that no further expansion/extension of the structure takes place. Efforts to remove these illegal religious structures from all station platforms/ yards have been taken by the Railway Administration along with Railway Protection Force (RPF) with the assistance of the local Administration and Government Railway Police (GRP).”

He further said, “However, Railway Administration often has to face public agitation in the removal of these religious structures and, being a Law & Order issue, the encroachments are difficult to remove without the co-operation of the State Government which is found lacking in many cases. Further, Railway also makes efforts to amicably settle the issue by persuading the members of the religious structure committee to shift the location of their religious structures to other places outside of Railway areas. With strict vigilance and monitoring, further proliferation or mushrooming of these illegal religious structures has been prevented.”

Though it is worth appreciating that the government is trying to prevent any further mushrooming of such illegal religious structures in public places, it is alarming how the reasons for law and order are cited when it comes to explaining why these religious structures still exist there in the first place. The way in which a temple in Navsari is razed off ascertains the fact that Hindus are not causing this so-called law and order problem to the government authorities.

There have been dozens of reports of illegal mazars built on encroached land in forests, highways, educational institutions and even inside the premises of government buildings. however, the authorities seem to apply a different yardstick to determine whether they are allowed to stay, depending upon how much of ‘law and order’ problems the respective community can create.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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