The BJP government in Karnataka this week passed a bill to protect religious structures in the state, hoping to mollify those who protested against the demolition of a temple in Mysuru district. The move comes despite orders by the Supreme Court sanctioning demolitions of religious structures illegally built in public places.
The demolition in the Mysuru district earlier this month followed the letter of the law - the Supreme Court orders from 2009 that no religious structure should be allowed to illegally occupy public land. The Karnataka High Court had also reminded the state government to move ahead with clearing the structures. But when officials went ahead and brought the temple down, the BJP state government was faced with angry protests from the right wing and criticism from the opposition.
And following this, a bill to prevent such demolitions was tabled in the assembly and quickly passed.
Advocate BT Ventkatesh told NDTV the law went against what the top Court had said, "The law that has been passed by the Karnataka government is contrary to the decision of the Supreme Court." We are all aware that the Supreme Court has been insisting for compliance from all the states for quite some time. The incident in Mysuru was in compliance with the same. The present law brought into force by all the parties participating in it demonstrates it is less to do with law and more to do with political expediency. It is virtually in contempt of the directives of the Supreme Court. I feel this present law that has been passed does not stand the test as it is against the very construct of the law."
The BJP had been stung by the protests and insists the new law is legitimate. BJP leader and former minister Arvind Limbavali described his party as pro-Hindu and said discussions should have been held with the people. "The Supreme Court has said the emotion of the people should be given priority - on that basis we discussed. And also, the Supreme Court said if the temple or religious centre can be shifted if it is an obstacle," he said.
Mr Limbavali further said the officers who gave the orders for demolition were not at fault. "Of course, we are not blaming the officers. They are doing their duty as per the direction of the court orders. But they should have discussed with the people.
Although we are a pro-Hindu party, people have protested against us. It is a coincidence that as we brought the bill, the incidents took place."
The Karnataka Congress had criticised the demolition but no party has objected to the bill itself.
Former chief minister, Siddaramaiah, told NDTV, "Now, this is a Hindu sentiment if the temples are destroyed, or of the Muslims or Christians. So, we have to understand the sentiments of the people. So ultimately, any law we pass, it has to be in the interest of the public. So, they have brought the amendment nullifying the orders of the Supreme Court. We have supported it."
The KPCC chief, DL Shivakumar described the bill as a "drama". He said, "The state government is acting to the tune of their political agenda. They are not respecting the law of this country. Before taking any action on the Supreme Court judgment, they should have taken the public and political parties into confidence." He said the demolition would not have been done without clearance. "Now because they have lost their face, without the permission of the Chief Minister, no chief secretary can order to implement the Supreme Court order. After the hue and cry from public and political parties, now they are doing drama. This bill is just a drama. All Kannadigas, Hindu sentiments have been hurt. All sentiments have been hurt. They are trying to cover it with this Bill, " he said.