Kerala High Court using the verses of Quran refused to grant a petition seeking to convert a commercial building in to a prayer hall for Muslims. The court observed that the very Quran that the petitioner relied upon does not mention anywhere the need for a Mosque in every nook and cranny or the necessity of it adjacent to the household of every Muslim.
The area where the petitioner sought to build a Mosque already contains 36 Muslim prayer halls within 5 km vicinity. Hence the Bench of Justice PV Kunhikrishnan noted “But we are exhausted with religious places and prayer halls and we are not in a position to allow any new religious places and prayer halls except in the rarest of rare cases”.
The court took notice of the Census 2011 which highlighted that Kerala had 10 times higher number of religious structures than the total number of Villages in Kerala and 3.5 times higher than the number of hospitals in Kerala. Alarmed at the situation, it remarked ”that if further religious places are allowed, citizens will be left with no place to reside.”
The court dismissed the Article 26(a) of the Constitution that gives the right to establish religious institutions, religious places and prayer halls stating that the right cannot be misused.
The petitioner in the case in question is Noorul Islam Samskarika Sangam that claimed to be a Philanthropist Society had submitted an application for change in the occupancy of the building for using the building as a Muslim place of worship. However, the District Collector dismissed the application. Feeling aggrieved the petitioner approached High Court.
Feeling let down by the district court the petitioner approached High Court.
Advocate P. Samsudin appeared for the petitioner whereas Advocate Deepa Narayanan, Senior Government Pleader, appeared for the official respondents. Advocate A.K.Haridas appeared for the private respondent, a Christian lady.
At the start the Court did not outright dismiss the arguments. It conceded that there was no prohibition in obtaining a change of occupancy of an existing building from one group to another. But for the following arguments the court perused the order and statements of the district collector that said:
- The petitioner had submitted an application for changing the ownership of the property on an undertaking that, it will be used only for commercial purpose.
- It was also stated that the Perinthalmanna Sub Collector reported that there are about 36 Muslim prayer places within 5-kilometer radius from the petitioner’s commercial building.
- The number of Hindu and Christian families residing in the area was more than the Muslim families residing and therefore if a Muslim prayer hall is approved after changing the occupancy from commercial to religious purpose, there will be communal disharmony.
The Court was also convinced that the facts presented by district collector was on the Police report, Intelligence report and other ground realities, therefore decided not to interfere with the earlier order.
Finally the court also observed doubtful conduct of the petitioner in submitting the application for the change of occupancy.
“…it is clear that after filing the affidavit before the Panchayat on 7.3.2018 by the erstwhile owners that the building will be used only for commercial purpose, the Panchayat issued the occupancy certificate as directed by this Court in Ext.P6 judgment and property tax was also accepted. After filing the affidavit before the Panchayat on 7.3.2018, the erstwhile owners transferred the property to the petitioner-society on 28.4.2018. That means even before completing two months after the affidavit was filed by the erstwhile owners before the Panchayat, the property was transferred and an application was filed by the petitioner-Society to change the occupancy from commercial to religious purpose.”, the Court observed.
The court put the final nail in the coffin for the petitioner by stating that the sheer futility of constructing a Mosque in a place there is already an excess of Mosques and those serious about prayers can avail the modern transportation systems to get to a place of worship.
God is there everywhere. If the Muslim community want to conduct their ‘prayers’ in the mosque itself, they can go to the nearest mosque instead of constructing a new prayer hall near to their residence. As I observed earlier, in the Modern Era, almost all the citizens have vehicles. Cycles are also available for transportation. Public transportation facility and private transportation facility are also available.”, the Court held.
“For conducting ‘prayers’ to the Muslim community members, prayer hall is not necessary within 10 metres or 100 meters from their residence. They can travel to the mosque for prayers if they are real devotees and the followers of prophet.”, the Court added further.
The Court has directed the Chief Secretary of State of Kerala and the State Police Chief to be vigilant towards such illegal constructions and functioning of any religious body. It has mandated that every application must follow the Manual of Guidelines especially the distance to the nearest similar religious place/prayer hall criteria before applying for religious places and prayer halls in the future.