A bench of honourable Justice N Nagaresh, on April 9, 2021, emphasized that no religious community has been given any right to conduct pilgrimage inside the reserved forest lands.
The petition was filed based on a clash between the Neyyatinkar Latin Diocese (a Christian denomination), the forest and people of the tribal community and environmentalists, on conducting pilgrimage by the diocese and its members at parts of the Bonacurd forest area, which was part of the reserved forest.
The Petitioner in the first plea belonged to a Tribal community. The second Petitioner and Environmentalist sought that Paruthippally Reserve Forest/Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary and adjoining areas must be notified under Section 3 of the Forest Rights Act 2006. The provision secures rights for forest-dwelling scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers (forest rights).
Two petitions were filed against the pilgrimage centre, of which one was filed by the Bonacurd pilgrimage centre’s rector, Vithura, where the Bonacurd Kurishumala was present.
He prayed that the centre had customary rights to perform the rites at Kurishumala. He added that there was no objection when the crosses were reinstalled or when prayers were offered at the Amalobhavala Matha Latin catholic church at Bonacurd, Tea estate.
The other Petitioner stated that the area was known for the pilgrimage centre from 1957 when the Christian believers installed the cross.
It was also added that the Hindus also offered their prayers at different places in the Mayor division of the Kanthalloor range. They also emphasized that many other communities also have their worship place there and denying them would violate their right under article 25 of the constitution.
The Respondents’ petitions were charged against the rector and other believers who enriched the Bonacard and installed the crosses. They stated that the Bonacard forest area had been a notified wildlife sanctuary in Peppara wildlife sanctuary under Article 18 of Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and this was declared reserved during the time of Diwan of Travancore. They added that the miscreants started crossing, changing the name of the ‘Karichatti Motta’ forest area into ‘Kurishumala’.
The Petitioner argued that action must be taken against them. The installation and pilgrimage would cause issues for the tribal.
The court observed that the place called ‘Kurishumala’ was in an area away from the disputed area (i.e., the part of the reserved forest). It was also observed that the 14 crosses were erected, installed between the church and Karichatti Motta hilltop. Moreover, there was no issue regarding the five crosses issued within the forest land with the altaara (altar).
The question of Hindus offering their prayer, as the bench referred to the ruling judgment regarding the people’s entry to Sree Agastyar temple at Agastyakootam peak, was denied. As the court made this reference, it ruled that no community had the right to conduct pilgrimage in a reserved forest area. The court also asked the Petitioner to pursue the matter with Government authorities and other proceedings as they claim to have permission regarding the forest land installation.
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