HC directs Maha govt to identify plot for Christian cemetery

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Observing that the Maharashtra government had discriminated against the Christian community by cancelling the allotment of a plot of land meant for a cemetery, the Bombay High Court directed the state to identify an alternate plot for the same by Friday.

A bench of Chief Justice Manjula Chellur and Justice M S Sonak reminded the state government that it was bound to implement the constitutional principle of secularism and that it could not discriminate against any citizen on the ground of his faith or religious beliefs.

The bench was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition filed by a Christian charitable institution.

The petitioners had alleged that while a 7,500-sq.mtr plot of land was supposed to be allotted for a Christian cemetery in suburban Goregaon, the authorities had cancelled the allotment without putting forward a valid reason.

As per the plea, the plot was part of a composite land parcel in Goregaon that was to be used as a cemetery (for Christians), burial ground (for Muslims) and crematorium (for Hindus).

The petitioners had contended that while the Hindus and Muslims were given their shares of the plot, the Christians were being discriminated against.

They had also stated that the Christians living on the eastern side of the Western Railway line between Dahisar and Khar did not have any public cemetery in the area.

The petitioners had said the state Urban Development Department (UDD) told them that the said land was reserved for the use of the Dairy Development Board and hence, an alternate plot would be given to them in suburban Andheri.

This Andheri plot, measuring 2,500 sq.mtr, was yet to be handed over to them, the petitioners had said. They had also contended that the plot was not big enough for a public cemetery.

The officers of the Dairy Development Board and UDD, who were present in the court, agreed to identify and allot an alternate plot for the Christian cemetery.

While the bench agreed that the actual handing over of the new plot might take some time, it directed the authorities to identify it and inform the court of the same by Friday.

It also asked the state government to explain as to why the allotment of the Goregaon plot for the Christian cemetery was cancelled and why did it subsequently reduce the size of the plot from 7,500 sq.mtr to 2,500 sq.mtr.

The bench was also irked at the fact that while the allotment for the Christian community was cancelled in Goregaon, adjacent plots were allotted to the Hindus and Muslims.

“Why was the allotment of a plot for a Christian cemetery cancelled just like that, for no apparent reason? This (the petitioners demand) is a genuine demand. We don’t think any authority should be adverse to this,” the bench observed.

“We want the administration to show to the public that it believes in and will implement the principle of secularism. One community cannot be given the upper hand over any other religious community. We believe in the principle of unity in diversity,” Chief Justice Chellur said.

“There cannot be a greater equalising factor than death. Do not discriminate even in death,” the bench said.