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Allahabad High Court dismisses PIL challenging UP expenditure on Ram Navami

The Allahabad High Court has dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) saying if the State spends some money from taxes/ revenue collected from citizens and appropriates some amount for providing conveniences or facilities to any religious denomination, it will not be violative of Article 27 of the Constitution of India.

The Division Bench of Justice Devendra Kumar Upadhyaya and Justice Om Prakash Shukla passed this order while hearing a PIL filed by Moti Lal Yadav.

The PIL petition has been filed by a practicing lawyer of the Court praying for quashing of a Government Order/Letter dated 10.03.2023 issued by the Principal Secretary of the State Government in the department of Tourism which is addressed to all Divisional Commissioners and District Magistrates in Uttar Pradesh.

The petitioner argued that the State Government issued instructions to organize celebrations of Ram Navami in temples and to provide financial aid at block, tehsil and district level. According to him, the said order further contains a direction to pujaris at temples to perform religious practices to reduce negative energy in society.

The submission further is that on the one hand, the impugned Order/letter provides financial aid for performing religious activities in temples during Navratri, however, on the other hand, the State has not made any provision for Muslims during Ramzan which, this year, starts simultaneously with start of Ram Navami and accordingly, in the views of the petitioner, such action on the part of the State is discriminatory.

Moti Lal Yadav, the petitioner-in-person, further argued that Articles 25, 26, 27 and 28 of the Constitution of India protect every citizen of India from being compelled to pay any tax and prohibits State participation of any religious authority.

It has also been argued that Part – III and Part – IV of the Constitution of India cast a duty on the State Government to provide protection to every citizen while he follows/ propagates his religion. However, the Constitution does not make any provision for the State to propagate any particular religious activity.

Yadav also submitted that the impugned Government Order/Letter is beyond the administrative authority/functions of the State in terms of provisions contained in List II and List III of Schedule VII of the Constitution of India and that the State cannot take shelter in ‘residuary power’ clause as the same is available only with the Parliament and not with State Legislature.

It has been further argued that the Parliament has consciously included the word ‘Secular’ in the Preamble of the Constitution of India and as such, as per the Scheme of the Constitution of India, neither the State Government nor the Central Government can be permitted to propagate any religious activity, however, protection of religious activities of the people is moral and constitutional obligation of the State.

The petitioner has further emphasized that the impugned Government Order/Letter has clearly violated Article 27 of the Constitution of India which enunciates Right of Freedom as to payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion and forbids the State from compelling any person to pay any taxes, proceeds of which are specially used in payment of expenses for the promotion or maintenance of any religion or religious denomination.

On the basis of the aforesaid submissions and arguments made by the petitioner, it has been urged that the impugned Government Order/Letter being violative of the Constitutional Scheme, specifically Article 27 of the Constitution of India deserves to be quashed.

On the other hand, Amitabh Rai, counsel representing the State respondents, has submitted that the instant PIL is highly misconceived for the reason that by issuing the impugned Government Order/ Letter, the State Government is not seeking to propagate any religious activity.

His submission is that it is the responsibility of the State to protect the cultural ethos of society and on account of various cultural activities on the occasion of festivals a large number of tourists and devotees gather and participate which ultimately augments the State-revenue.

It has also been stated by Rai that various cultural heritages have been included in the list of Cultural Heritage maintained by United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and such list maintained by UNESCO contains Yoga, chanting of Vedic Mantras, Durga Puja, Kumbh Mela, Ramlila, Sankirtana, Garba, Buddhist Chanting and Kalbelia.

He has further submitted that the amount of Rs 1,00,000 per district under the impugned Government Order/Letter, is to be paid not to the priests of the temples, but to the artists/performers through District Tourist and Culture Council.

In substance, submission of the State Counsel is that the impugned Government Order has been misread and misconstrued by the petitioner as the same does not contain any direction or instruction to promote any religious activity or propagate any religion. He, thus, submits that the Public Interest Litigation is liable to be dismissed at its threshold.

The Court observed: “We need to clearly draw a distinction between a “religious activity” leading to maintaining or propagating a particular religion or religious denomination and a “secular activity” undertaken by the State to provide for certain conveniences at religious gatherings.”

As observed above, what is prohibited for the State is indulgence in religious activity or the activities amounting to propagation of any religion or religious denomination and not a secular activity. When we examine the impugned Government Order/Letter dated 10.03.2023 issued by the State Government in the Department of Culture what we find is that the provision for spending Rs 1,00,000 per district has been made not for any religious activity or for promotion of any religion or religious denomination; rather, the said amount has been provided for being paid honorarium to the performers/Artists who will be performing during the programmes through the District Tourist and Culture Council, as mentioned in the impugned Government Order/Letter.

It is also to be clearly noted that the State by issuing the impugned Government Order/Letter has not entrusted the said amount to anyone related to religious activity, such as, priest of a temple or anyone related with management of a temple. The amount of Rs 1,00,000/- has rather been entrusted with the District Tourist and Culture Council, that too, not to be appropriated for any religious activity, but to pay honorarium to the performers/Artists.

We also notice that one of the purposes for which the Government Order dated 10.03.2023 has been issued is to publicize different development works and development of basic amenities by the Tourist Department and other departments of the State Government at the temples. It is common knowledge that on the occasion of Navratri Puja/Shri Ram Navami, large number of gathering at temples take place and if the State is making a provision for putting up hoardings or adopting other publicity modes in print media for publicizing its developmental works, in our considered opinion, such an act of the State Government does not amount to propagation of any religion or religious denomination.

“We are of the unambiguous opinion that payment of honorarium by the State to the Artists/Performers at the programmes, though organized at the site of the temples or Melas during Shri Ram Navami, does not amount to indulgence of the State in propagation of any religion or religious denomination. It is a simple secular activity of the State while it indulges in publicizing the developmental works undertaken by the State.

Thus, if the State spends some money out of the taxes/revenue collected by it from the citizens and appropriates some amount for providing some conveniences or facilities to any religious denomination it will not be violative of Article 27 of the Constitution of India. While observing this, we have to always keep in mind that there exists a clear line of distinction between a secular activity and religious activity which may be undertaken by the State, like providing conveniences and facilities and indulgence of a State in maintenance and propagation of religion or religious denomination.

“For the reasons aforesaid, we find that the petitioner in this case has completely misread the provisions of Government Order/Letter dated 10.03.2023. We are, thus, not persuaded to interfere in the PIL,” the Court further observed while dismissing the PIL.

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