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UP law panel submits draft Bill on regulating construction of religious structures on public land

The Uttar Pradesh State Law Commission has submitted a report to Chief Minister Yogi Aditynath recommending a law against the acquisition of public land and construction of religious structures that impede public safety and road planning, among other things.

The commission also submitted a draft Bill — the Regulation of Public Religious Structures (on Public Places) Draft Bill — along with the report, recommending a maximum of three years of imprisonment, a fine, or both for those who grab public land after constructing a religious structure.

The law panel submitted the report and the draft Bill to Adityanath on Friday, about a week after the state government announced that religious structures, irrespective of faith, built on public roads after January 1, 2011, would be removed within six months as per an Allahabad High Court order. The state administration also directed all district magistrates to submit reports within two months detailing the actions taken.

On Friday, the State Law Commission chairman, Justice (retired) Aditya Nath Mittal, and the panel’s secretary, Sapna Tripathi, met Adityanath and submitted the report and the draft Bill.

The commission said the report was prepared after a careful study of the judgments passed by the Supreme Court and different High Courts on the matter. The commission, which started the process of preparing the report around a year back, also studied the rules and policies formulated by different state governments, including the administrations of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Andra Pradesh, Sikkim, Uttarakhand and Bihar. Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh already have a law on the matter.

The commission found that the problem of grabbing public land after the construction of a religious structure could not be sorted out merely by issuing government orders, and concluded that a law was needed, said Sapna Tripathi.

According to the draft Bill, no person can construct a public religious structure without furnishing a declaration to the district collector, and also cannot convert a private place into a public religious structure before furnishing the declaration.  The commission said the temporary use of a place for religious purposes during festivals such as Holi and Moharram would be allowed. The commission also made a policy for retaining, regularising, relocating and removing unauthorised public religious structures.

According to the report, the Act would not apply to public religious structures falling under the financial control or administrative control of either the state administration or the Centre; structures established, run, managed and maintained under a central Act or a state law; and those of ancient origin or heritage.

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In the report, the commission defined the role of government officials and said the final decision would rest with the district collector.

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