The Supreme Court has refused to entertain the Narendra Modi government's plea for staying the Gujarat high court's February 8 order to pay compensation to over 500 shrines damaged during the infamous 2002 riots in the wake of the Godhra train carnage.
While declining to entertain the plea, a bench of justices K S Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra also asked the state government to furnish details of the number of religious structures actually damaged and the financial cost of their reconstruction.
The apex court wanted to know if any survey or study was conducted on the actual damage and loss to holy places during the riots. The bench later adjourned the matter for July 9.
Appearing for the state, Additional Advocate General Tushar Mehta and counsel Hemantika Wahi submitted that the high court order was erroneous as under the Constitution's secular principles, there cannot be funding to religious bodies by any government.
On February 8, the Gujarat government was pulled up by the Gujarat high court for "inaction and negligence" on its part during the 2002 post-Godhra riots that led to large-scale destruction of religious structures.
A division bench of Acting Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya and Justice J B Pardiwala had ordered compensation for over 500 places of worships in the state on a plea by the Islamic Relief Committee of Gujarat, an NGO.
The court also ordered that principal judges of 26 districts of the state will receive the applications for compensation of religious structures in their respective districts and decide on it. They have been asked to send their decisions to the high court within six months.
The plea by the Islamic Relief Committee of Gujarat in 2003 had sought the court's directions to the government to pay compensation for damages to religious places during riots on the ground that the National Human Rights Commission, too, had recommended it and the state government had in principle accepted the suggestion.
Inadequacy, inaction and negligence on the part of the state government to prevent riots resulted in large-scale destruction of religious structures across the state, the high court had observed.
The court had said when the government paid compensation for destruction of houses and commercial establishments; it should also pay compensation for religious structures.
If the structures are already restored by now, the government should reimburse the amount spent on their restoration, the court said.
The high court had directed that principal judges of all district courts in the state will decide on the applications for compensation to local shrines. The judges were asked to convey their rulings to the high court within six months.
The state government had opposed the plea, contending that it would amount to violation of fundamental right under Article 27 of the Constitution which restrains the government from imposing tax for promotion of a religion. It had added that there was no policy to facilitate compensation for repair or restoration of religious places damaged or destroyed during riots.
The court found the state government's suggestion "preposterous" that in spite of its failure to protect the rights under Article 25 and 26 of the Constitution, it was lawfully entitled to take a policy decision only to restore the places of residence and the business destroyed in the riots, but not the religious places.