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(Source: The Financial Express)

Public places cannot be encroached for offering prayers: Madras High Court

Making it clear that public places cannot be encroached upon for offering prayers, the Madras High Court today ordered the removal of illegal encroachments at Nungambakkam area by some people belonging to a particular religion.

Directing the police and corporation officials to get rid of the makeshift shamiana erected on a pavement to offer prayers, the court said people have the right to pray but cannot create “nuisance” for others.

Counsel for the petitioner, who filed the PIL, submitted that though the building was completely sealed by authorities, some people encroached the pavement opposite to it by putting a makesift shamiana and conducting prayers.

A division bench of Justice N Kirubakaran and Justice Krishnan Ramasamy had earlier directed the Chennai Corporation Commissioner Karthikeyan and Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) Member Secretary Rajesh Lakhoni to appear and explain steps taken on the unauthorised constructions. As per the direction both were present.

“Everybody has got right to conduct prayer as per law in the places of worship or in the residence, but not in the public place causing nuisance to the general public.”

“Therefore, it is the duty of the police officials and the corporation authorities to remove such encroachments in accordance with law,” the bench said.

“The commissioner of police is directed to enquire and identify the persons who are responsible for such encroachment on the pavement opposite to the subject property in this writ petition and file a report before this court,” it said.

The bench, which directed authorities to identify the people who put up the makeshift shamiana, posted the matter for further hearing to August 3.

Referring to inaction of the officials despite various orders on illegal constructions and encroachments, the bench said, “Unless the court orders are implemented properly, people will lose faith in the system which is not good for democracy.”

It directed Lakhoni and Karthikeyan to take inventory of the number of orders passed against them and those complied with.

It also asked them to give appropriate directions to their subordinates to implement the orders which were pending and file a report at the next hearing.

“Further, they are directed to devise a mechanism fixing step by step responsibility on the officials and unless such a responsibility is fixed, no one is going to comply with the court orders,” it said.

When Karthikeyan pointed out that property tax was not revised by the Corporation for several years, the bench suo motu impleaded secretary, municipal administration and water supply department.

It directed the secretary to take a decision on the proposal submitted by the commissioner within two weeks and report to the court at the next hearing.

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