The Supreme Court has approved a conditional increase in land to be made available for the construction of the Ravidas temple in Delhi that it ordered demolished in August, leading to protests and the arrest of Dalit leader Chandrashekhar Azad. The temple will now be constructed on 400 square metres of land on the understanding the land will not be used for commercial purposes and no parking will be allowed. Last week the court accepted a proposal by the centre to hand over 200 square metres of forest land in a south Delhi neighbourhood where the temple once stood.
The court has asked for a panel to be formed, within six weeks, to oversee the construction of the temple. However, the centre has objected to members of the Ravidas Samaroh Samiti, against whom criminal cases are pending, be included in the panel.
A two-member bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra also directed the release of all arrested persons, on personal bond, saying "there has to be peace".
The temple had been demolished after the top court said a "serious breach" had been committed by the Ravidas Samaroh Samiti by not vacating the area in which it had been built, which is forest land, as per earlier orders. The demolition led to protests by Dalits with Bhim Army chief Chandrashekar Azad and 90 others being arrested.
Earlier this month the Supreme Court said it was open to rebuilding the temple.
"We respect the sentiments of everyone... better land, better location and better way. Find out a solution and come back to us. We will pass orders," the court told all petitioners, asking them to convene a meeting with the Attorney General to discuss possible solutions.
The demolition of the temple provoked fierce criticism from opposition parties, with Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati alleging the incident reflected a "casteist mentality" and the Congress criticising it as an "insult to the voice of Dalits".
"This insult to the voice of Dalits is intolerable. This is an emotive issue. Their voices must be respected," Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra tweeted in Hindi after their arrest, hitting out at the centre.
Delhi's ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had demanded Prime Minister Narendra Modi's intervention in ensuring the land be given back to the Ravidas community to rebuild the place of worship.
Ravidas was one of the key faces of the bhakti movement between the 15th and the 16th centuries. Hymns written by him are included in the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs. He is considered as the founder of 21st-century Ravidassia religion.
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