A curse against civic sense is a lot of pavement shrines that are prominently visible in the street corners and just on the pavements, in various towns and cities of the country. Prayers, ceremonies and rituals follow, off and on resulting in pedestrians compelled to walk on the busy thorough fares, risking themselves into traffic hazards. Though appears to be a devotional service on the surface level, these Lilliputian temples are absolutely illegal and unsociable. It is a tragic irony that the Municipal Corporations and other local administrative bodies do not seem to have been concerned about the ridiculous display of religious fanaticism and a perversion of misplaced devotion.
Thanks to the alertness and agility of the Supreme Court that has ordered the State Governments to give a detailed report in a couple of weeks about the steps taken by them to remove these traffic impediments. Also questioned them why haven’t they removed these petty shrines, despite the judgment of the Supreme Court of India order to that effect, roughly ten years ago. Is it because of their fanciful thinking that the orders of judiciary need not be heeded to, in matters of religiosity? However, the Court has mandated that if the compliance report is not submitted within the stipulated time, the Chief Secretaries have to appear in person.
It may be recalled that as early as 2009, the Court has decreed to remove these pavement shrines. In the absence of any such action from the States, a Public Interest Litigation has been filed against the Government of Chhattisgarh. A Bench consisting of Justice Gopala Gowda and Justice Arun Misra have proposed to call the Chief Secretaries to submit their reply in person. But on the request of Advocates General of various States, the Bench has informed that it will keep the case pending for two weeks.
Much earlier than this, in 2006 itself, the Gujarat High Court in Ahmedabad has ordered to remove the pedestrian temples. A few Hindu organizations pleaded that such a serious action may infuriate the devotees to take an agitational opposition. The Gujarat High Court then rescinded the earlier order of demolition. There upon, quite a number of social service organizations went to the Supreme Court against the withdrawal order of the Gujarat High Court.
The social service units have reasonably submitted in their revision petition that these illegal shrines may cause traffic congestion, vehicular accidents and the net result would be detrimental to the public. The Supreme Court, after a serious consideration decreed on July 26, 2008 that on no account the temples should be built on the roads and public streets. The Government should take stringent action if anybody violates this order. Not only the person who built the minor shrine in public places, but also the official who permitted it should be subjected to legal action. The Solicitor General requested for an interim period to think in terms of a co-ordination of the Central Government with all the States of India to arrive at a decision. The Court has permitted it but the issue was not taken up for months together.
When the matter was brought to the Supreme Court again in September 29, 2009, it decreed that all the State Governments should forthwith demolish these temples. But still nothing happened in all these six years. It is in this context, a few days back, the Supreme Court has given an ultimatum to the State Governments, that if the order is not implemented, the Chief Secretaries should come in person to the Supreme Court and explain the reason why they have not obeyed the order.
The fact remains that of all the States of India, in Tamil Nadu only, there are 77,450 illegal shrines, in Rajasthan 58,253 and in Gujarat 15,000 pathway temples. It is in Arunachal Pradesh, no such temple on the pavements and hence it was pointed out appreciatively as a civilized State by the Judge. The lackadaisical approach of the State Governments is highly deplorable in an issue of public interest and that too after a judgment from the highest judiciary.
It has to be seen, however how far various State Governments are going to positively respond to the directive of the Supreme Court. It is a mystery that in such a crucial issue even the news media, who are otherwise vociferous, in many issues maintains a conspicuous silence.
In respect of State of Tamil Nadu, the prevalence of the highest number of pathway temples is a national shame; How can the Government of Tamil Nadu be inactive and indifferent to the judgment of the Supreme Court when the ruling party bears the name of Anna, a rationalist and staking claim of the legacy of his mentor Periyar E.V.Ramasamy, a global rationalist revolutionary.
However, the Dravidar Kazhagam has promptly written to the Chief Secretary and Director General of the Police, Government of Tamil Nadu and also the Commissioner, Hindu Religious and Charity Endowments Department to be alert and activate the matter as per the judgment of the Supreme Court.