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The Kerala High Court  has held that the Sabarimala temple and its surroundings cannot be turned into a protest venue and banned all demonstrations in the areas.

The court said this Tuesday when a bench consisting of justices P R Ramachandra Menon and N Anil Kumar considered a batch of petitions on the ongoing tussle over the temple. The court also set aside the ‘unilateral’ restrictions imposed by police on the devotees in temple complex and appointed a three-member team as its observers there during the ongoing festival season.

The court also modified the restrictions imposed on chanting Ayyappa mantra as well as a ban imposed on halting at the complex. It said that women, children and the physically challenged can halt at the complex.

The hill shrine had been witnessing protests by devotees and right wing groups against the government’s decision to implement the September 28 Supreme Court verdict, permitting women of all age groups to pray at the temple.

Tension, frequent protests and restrictions imposed by police at the complex and surroundings had kept pilgrims away from Sabarimala, but their numbers have slowly picked up.

The Advocate General on Tuesday handed over a sealed cover to the court on the proposed modalities to ensure smooth and safe pilgrimage for women of the prohibited age group.

The court said retired high court judges P R Raman and Siri Jagan and senior IPS officer A Hemachandran would be its observers at complex during the season.The court made it clear that prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CrPC shall prevail at Sabarimala.

It came down heavily on an IPS officer for his ‘excesses’ on devotees, including obstructing a High Court judge during his pilgrimage to the hill shrine recently. The Court observed that the broad mindedness of the judge who was “insulted” should not be construed as a weakness.

It was only due to the request of the judge that action was not initiated against the officer, the court said.The Chief Justice was also aware of the incident, it said. The officer has since been transferred. The court observed that some IPS officers were crossing their limits and bringing a bad reputation to the police.However, it expressed faith in police and hoped that the force would discharge their duties more efficiently.

Though the apex court has decreed that women all ages can pray at the temple, not a single female devoptee has been able to go anywhere near the temple.

 –India Legal Bureau

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