2002 Gujarat Riots: Gujarat HC order directing State Govt to pay compensation for destruction of religious structures set aside; Govt. Scheme accepted

Supreme Court: The bench of Dipak Misra, CJ and PC Pant, J set aside the Gujarat High Court order directing the Gujarat Government to give compensation in favour of the persons in charge of all the religious places including those of worship, which were damaged during the communal riot of the year 2002 for restoration to the original position, as those existed on the date of destruction.

The Court, however, accepted the scheme framed by the State Government where the Government has fixed the maximum amount under the caption of ex gratia assistance and also conferred the power on the District Collector of the Districts where religious places are situated to determine about the ownership or administration rights of religious places concerned. Noticing that the terms and conditions of the said scheme were reasonable, the Court directed that the claimants who fulfil the conditions of the scheme shall approach the authorities therein within eight weeks and the said authorities shall determine the same within three months from the receipt of the claims. Further, if any party is aggrieved by the denial of the benefit, he can take appropriate steps in accordance with law.

Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the State, had argued that the State fund which consist payment of various taxes by citizens cannot be directed by the High Court to be spent for restoration/construction of any religious places by issuing a writ under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, inasmuch as under the scheme of Articles 25, 26, 27 and 28 under the heading “Right to Freedom of Religion”, the Constitution protects certain rights while prohibiting certain actions.

The Court, relied upon the rulings in Prafull Goradia v. Union of India, (2011) 2 SCC 568, where the two-Judge Bench has opined:

“the object of Article 27 is to maintain secularism and the said Article would be violated if the substantial part of the entire income tax collected in India, or a substantial part of the entire central excise or the customs duties or sales tax, or a substantial part of any other tax collected in India, were to be utilized for promotion or maintenance of any particular religion or religious denomination. However, if only a relatively small part of any tax collected is utilised for providing some conveniences or facilities or concessions to any religious denomination, that would not be violative of Article 27 of the Constitution.”

The Court also took note of the ruling in Archbishop Raphael Cheenath S.V.D. v. State of Orissa, (2009) 17 SCC 90, where the Court had emphasized on the creation of atmosphere where there shall be complete harmony between the groups of people and the duty of the State to have discussions with the various groups to bring about peace and give possible help to the victims and had directed the Government to formulate a scheme regarding the religious places.

The Court noticed that while fixing the maximum limit on ex gratia assistance in it’s scheme, the Government has equated the same with houses which have been given the assistance. It was hence, held that when the individual’s grievances pertaining to property has been conferred the similar assistance, the assistance rendered for repairing/restoration of public places of worship will come within the guidelines of the aforementioned cases. [State of Gujarat v. IRCG, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 1011, decided on 29.08.2017]

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