Government Funded Visit To Religious Sites Of Only One Religion Questioned By Gujarat High Court

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Gujarat High Court asked the state government of Gujarat to explain why tax payer’s money was being used to organize visits to shrines of only one religion under Pavitra Yatradham Board.

Facts of the Case

A Public Interest Litigation was filed by Mr. Mujahid Nafees a resident of Juhapur under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution challenging the setting up of Pavitra Yatradham Board. Public Interest Litigation mentioned that in 1995 a resolution was passed by Gujarat Government which permitted the state government to form “Pavitra Yatradham Vikas Board”. The main aim of this Board was to provide amenities like lodging and boarding to pilgrims. Chief Minister of the state acted as Board’s Chairman and other ministries were also added in the due course of time. In 1997 after establishing the Board, a list of six religious sites was finalized. These were Ambaji, Dakor, Girnar, Palithana, Somnath and Dwarka for promotion as Pavitra Yatradham. A total of 24 Lakh Rupees were earmarked for their development. The list grew with the passage of time and after more than two decades later list covers 358 places. However, an interesting thing to note in the list was that all the places in the list belonged to only one religion. None of the religious shrines belonging to other religion such as Muslim, Sikh, Jain, Christian, Buddhism, Zoroastrian or other religions made it in the list.

Main grounds on the basis of which Petitioner challenged the constitution of Pavitra Yatradham Board were saying that constitution of the board in itself is “ex facie in contravention of the provisions of Constitution”. Another ground mentioned in PIL was that “action of the government selecting religious sites of only one religion was arbitrary, discriminatory and unconstitutional and therefore the same deserves to be quashed and set aside”.

Moreover, the PIL also stated that a secular state government is expected not to promote and maintain religious sites of a particular community and the taxes and proceeds collected by it from the citizens should not be spent over the promotion and maintenance of religious sites of a particular religion.”

The decision of the Court

Finding Merits in the grounds raised by the Petitioner, the Division Bench of the Gujarat High Court consisting of Chief Justice R Subhash Reddy and Justice V M Pancholi asked the government pleader to look into the matter and get instructions from the government. Thereafter, the case was adjourned till 12th December 2018.

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