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'Nothing To Show They're Going To Persecute Christians': Karnataka HC Refuses To Stay Church Survey Order

Mustafa Plumber
25 Oct 2021 12:31 PM GMT
Nothing To Show Theyre Going To Persecute Christians: Karnataka HC Refuses To Stay Church Survey Order
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The Court asked how data collection can be wrong and observed that it could be even for the welfare of minorities.

The Karnataka High Court on Monday issued notice to the state government on a petition filed by People's Union For Civil Liberties, challenging the communication issued by the State government dated July 7, seeking to collect information about churches in the state. A division bench of Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi and Justice Sachin Shankar Magadum refused to pass an...

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The Karnataka High Court on Monday issued notice to the state government on a petition filed by People's Union For Civil Liberties, challenging the communication issued by the State government dated July 7, seeking to collect information about churches in the state.

A division bench of Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi and Justice Sachin Shankar Magadum refused to pass an interim order sought for staying the operation of the impugned letters and directing the respondents not to take any coercive action pursuant to or under the impugned communications. The bench said "There is nothing on record to show such an urgency that an interim order is to be passed at this stage."

Senior Advocate Professor Ravivarma Kumar appearing for the petitioner submitted "In my opinion this is violation of my Right to Freedom of religion guaranteed under Article 25 and particularly Article 26, of the Constitution of India, which enables me to administer my institutions. Be that as it may why only Christians are chosen why are they picked and chosen for this hostile discrimination."

To which the court orally observed, "It is not Christians but it is the churches for which the data has been sought." In response Kumar said "Churches are not run by Hindus or Muslims, they are run only by Christians. This is a discrimination on the basis of religion against Christians". The court then observed, "The data has been sought by the Minority Welfare department. It can be for the welfare of minorities, the information that is collected. How can you say that in any manner it is violating your Rights?"

Stating this, the court issued notice to the respondents and directed the state government to file its statement of objections to the petition within three weeks.

Following which, Kumar pressed for interim relief. He submitted "In the interregnum, damage will be done and the persecution will continue and we will be harassed for no reason. I have made out urgency in the petition." He added "They have asked for information in three days, will that be not a case of urgency. Look at the impugned communication."

To which the court reiterated, "What wrong they have done by collecting the data, what wrong they have done. They have not yet done anything which may prejudice your rights."

In response, Kumar said, "With great respect it amounts to persecution, it amounts to interference with the administration of my institutions which is not authorized under law. It is absolutely without authority of law and it is persecution of Christian minorities in the state."

The court was also informed about an undertaking given by the Advocate General before the court in 2008 withdrawing a communication issued by which the police were to collect similar information.

However, the court said, "There is nothing on record to show that in any manner they are going to persecute the Christians."

Kumar then read out from an annexure to the petition about how an MLA had directed to submit a report about Hindus who are converted to Christianity. How officers are told to urgently prepare a list of Hindu's who have converted to Christianity. In this respect visit each house and verify the property and submit the list. He then queried with the court, "What more urgency is required, sir? Is it not persecution of Christian Minority community?

The court said "How is it persecution?". To which Kumar replied, "We are subject to verification at the hands of those persons who have no authority. If this is not about persecution then what is it? We have a Right to privacy. They are visiting our homes, collecting data of our children and parents. Under what authority it is being done. Is one MLA competent to direct the collection of data? A court has said even the committee of the Legislation has no such power."

However, the court simply observed "We will consider your arguments. Let them have their instructions."

The petition states that the letter dated July 7, issued by the state government (Directorate of Minorities), is devoid of reasons, amounting to discrimination and being violative of the right to privacy of a large section of the population in the state, guaranteed in the Constitution of India.

Further, the plea states "The survey intends to collect data related to the churches' location, by noting down the name of the district, taluk and vidhan sabha constituency. Name of the institute and address, khata number, survey number and finally the details of the pastor/father of the church."

"The impugned letter does not explain the purpose of collecting information about churches. Neither does it explain why such information relating to only churches is being collected to the exclusion of other communities or even other minorities. The impugned letter does not mention the objective of gathering information and what purpose/rationale is behind collecting data of such nature under those specific heads. Such an exercise is not rooted in any law authorising the respondents to collate information of such nature," the petition says.

It is also said that the letter does not specify or mention the details of the concerned authority responsible for information collection, collating and processing, overseeing the use of such information and protecting the data put together by the respondents. "The vagueness of the impugned letter has escalated the level of anxiety amongst the Christian community as they are being targeted and subjected to threats, abused and harassed by fundamentalist forces," it says.

The plea also says that the Karnataka Minorities Commission Act, 1994 contains no provisions that empower the Commission, let alone any other state apparatus or instrumentality to collect or maintain data about churches in Karnataka, in the manner that has been attempted by the respondents.

The petition states that the impugned communication seeking to collect information about the churches is illegal, discriminatory, void, arbitrary, unconstitutional and liable to be quashed as being violative of the right of equality and privacy under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.

The communication does not have any legislative backing and are not authorised by any legislation, order, bye-law, rule regulation or notification and therefore are liable to be quashed as unconstitutional. Further, it is said the impugned communications are an affront to the secular fabric of our nation and are in gross violation of the basic feature of secularism embedded in the ethos of our constitution.

The plea prays for directions to declare that communication dated July 7 and July 9 as illegal, void and unconstitutional. It also seeks directions to the respondents to formulate fair and equitable mechanisms and systems to protect the interest of minorities.

The plea also seeks to protect and safeguard all the information/data already collected pursuant to the impugned communications in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court in the Puttaswamy case and principles enshrined in the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019.

Case Title: People Union For Civil Liberties And State Of Karnataka

Case No: WP 18661/2021.


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