Can a court direct the state to compensate or fund the restoration of places of worship damaged due to its alleged failure to maintain law and order? The Supreme Court on Wednesday began to hear a plea in which the Gujarat government has raised the question.
The issue came into focus after the destruction of such structures during the 2002 Gujarat riots.
The bench was hearing a petition filed by the Gujarat Government challenging the 2012 order of the High Court directing it to pay compensation to over 500 shrines damged during the post-Godhra riots.
“Can we command the state to construct the places of worship or religious structures damaged because the state failed to maintain the law and order situation”, asked a bench of justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla Pant.
While Gujarat Government sought quashing of the High Court order contending that it was neither manageable, enforceable or capable of execution as per law, the NGO, Islamic Relief Committee of Gujarat (IRCG), said the state government is liable to compensate those who suffered damages.
“What is troubling us is whether the state because of its failure to control law and order situation can be asked to compensate with funds the restoration of temple, church, mosque, gurudwara, math etc”., the bench said.
It further asked whether a body collective, running places of worship like temple, church, mosque, gurdwara or math, can seek damage and compensation because the state has failed to maintain law and order leading to their damage.
The High Court had issued an interim direction for computation of actual damages to the places of worship to be made by 'special officers' who were District Judges.
The apex court on August 27, 2013 had directed the maintenance of status quo on the February 8, 2012 order of the High Court and decided to examine the legal issues arising out of the matter.
The bench had said it has to be examined how far it would be constitutional to command the state to give money from its funds which come from tax payers for restoration, relocation and renovation of religious structures damaged due to its failure to maintain law and order situation.
The court noted that in the instant case, government compensation relating to individuals have been completed but the issue which is bothering was about the compensation for religious places.
The bench also wondered under which provision of law was a district judge asked to act as a special officer to quantify the amount of damage.
“Under which provision of law, the Special Officer, who is a District Judge will proceed for determining the amount to be paid as compensation. Under which provision, the Special Officers will hear arguments and appreciate the evidence for quantifying the compensation, “the bench asked.
It also said places of worship come up besides the roads and middle of the footpath and they would also seek compensation.
However, senior advocate Yusuf H Muchhala and advocate Ejaz Maqbool submitted that such structures would be classified as unauthorised and submitted that such comprehensive failure of law and order in Gujarat amounted to acts of nonfeasance/misfeasance/ malfeasance in public law.
This Case also raises an important Constitutional question "whether the right to religion include the right to get protection for the religious places as well".