January 21, 2017

India: Can governments in secular democracy allot land to religious institutions? Supreme Court to address

The Times of India

Can governments in secular democracy allot land to religious institutions? SC to address

Dhananjay Mahapatra | Updated: Jan 21, 2017, 07.13 AM IST

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court decided on Friday to address whether a government in a secular democracy like ours could allot land free of cost to a community for construction of a religious institution like temple, mosque or church.

Dealing with a petition which challenged Tamil Nadu government's decision on September 24, 1986 to allot 0.27 acres of land free of cost in Ullagaram village in Sadiapet taluk near Chennai (then Madras) for construction of a mosque, a bench of Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud said instead of dealing with the issue piecemeal, it would be better to settle the larger issue.

It directed the apex court registry to list for March 20 all similar petitions pending in the SC. "We will work it out for everyone. It will be a better idea to sort out the issue once and for all. We cannot do it piecemeal," the bench said.

The petition by Federation of Chennai Suburban (South) Welfare Assocition had challenged the government order (GO) of September 24, 1986, by which the TN government had accepted the recommendation of the land administration commissioner and directed transfer of 0.27 acres to Muslim Cultural Association of Madipakkam, Chennai, for construction of a mosque without payment of any cost.

It was stipulated that if no such mosque was constructed within two years, the government would retake the land. It was challenged in Madras HC by one D Kannan, who claimed to be president of Hindu Munnani, who alleged that allotment of land free of cost to a particular community, that too for a religious purpose, was against the preamble of the Constitution and sought use of the same land for public purpose.

The HC had allowed transfer of land to the community for construction of mosque taking into consideration that there were more than 100 Muslim families in that area who had to go to a faraway mosque at Alandur to offer prayers.

Other petitions were also filed challenging the allotment of land and the HC finally decided the matter in the community's favour on June 10, 2008. It said, "Merely because the land is allotted for religious purpose, that will not change the secular character of the state and the religious right of each community has to be necessarily recognised in light of freedom guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution."