New Delhi: The Supreme Court said Monday it will examine whether a high court, in exercising its powers under Article 226 of the constitution, can direct a state government to compensate for damage caused to religious places during riots or natural calamities.
An apex court bench of Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice Dipak Misra said that it will also look into Article 27 whether under this the tax payers’ money could be used for the repair or restoration of religious places damaged during riots or natural calamities.
While Article 226 empowers the high courts, in the territory of their jurisdiction, to issue direction to any person or authority, including the government, for the enforcement of the fundamental rights, Article 27 prohibits the tax payers money from being used for promotion of any particular religion or religious denomination.
The court’s observation came after Gujarat’s Additional Advocate General Tushar Mehta contended that public money could not be released for the restoration or repair of a damaged religious structure as directed by the state high court.
Senior counsel Y.H. Muchhale appearing for the respondent Islamic Relief Committee of Gujarat (IRCG) sought to counter Mehta by telling the court that the Gujarat government was spending the exchequers money on Somnath and Ambaji temples in the state.
The court inquired whether religious places damaged during earthquakes or tsunami were compensated for their restoration. Mehta told the court that the Gujarat government did not pay for the repair and restoration of religious places damaged during the 2001 Bhuj earthquake.
The court inquired that when houses damaged or destroyed during natural calamities were compensated for their repair and restoration why could not there be relief for religious places which suffered the fury of the natural calamities.
Mehta told the court that what was paid for the repair of the damaged houses during earthquakes was not by way compensation but ex-gratia.
The court was hearing a petition by the Gujarat government challenging a high court order directing it to compensate for damage caused to religious structures during the 2002 Gujarat riots.
The court asked Mehta to give details of the number of religions shrines that were damaged during the 2002 communal riots and the amount of money that would be required for their repair and restoration.
Mehta told the court that after the high court ordered compensation for the religious places damaged during the riots, a Sikh organisation moved the court seeking compensation for their shrines damaged during the riots.
He told the court that most religious places suffered minor damages.
The court would next hear the matter July 30.