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The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed the Gujarat government's appeal challenging the High Court verdict that the state government should pay for the reconstruction and repair of religious structures damaged during the 2002 riots.
A bench comprising of new Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justice P C Pant set aside the Gujarat High Court ruling which had directed the state government to use taxpayers' money to restore and rebuild religious structures, in particular, mosques, that had been damaged in the 2002 riots.
The bench said that the order given by the Gujarat High Court was not tenable in law.
“The protection of property and places of worship is an essential part of secularism. The freedom of the individual in this regard has to be respected and there has to be tolerance for each other,” said the SC.
The apex court based its judgement on the Article 27 of the Constitution, the freedom as to payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion.
Noting the petitioners argument that the damage caused to the religious structures affects the dignity of that particular community, the Court said, "The stand of the State is that keeping in view the concept of secularism and the role of the State, it is inappropriate to direct the State to spend the amount from the exchequer for these purposes. In this context, as stated earlier, Article 27 becomes relevant."
Regarding the restoration of the religious structures, the Court said that the government's 2008-2009 scheme providing for the restoration of commercial, residential and religious structures would apply.
The bench added that the state will give out funds as per the scheme and not based on the HC order which called for assessment of actual cost of restoration and providing of the concerned funds.
Representing Gujarat, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had asserted that taxpayers' money could not be used for restoration or construction of any religious place.
Citing Article 27 of the Constitution, Mehta said there is a specific prohibition against compelling people “to pay any taxes, the proceeds of which are specifically appropriated in payment of expenses for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion or religious denomination”.