Land belonging to religious bodies not exempted from acquisition for public welfare works

Allahabad High Court: While deciding a matter concerning acquisition of land of church by government the Divisional Bench of V.K. Shukla and Mahesh Chandra Tripathi, JJ. held that land belonging to religious bodies can be acquired by the government if the purpose for which it is acquired is a public purpose.

In the present case the petitioner, Bishop of the Church contented that Section 3 of the Place of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 prohibits conversion of a place of worship of any religious denomination, in view of which the said acquisition by NHAI (National Highway Authority Of India) for extending of 4 lane road to 6 lane highway, should be annulled. The Court relying on case of Yusuf Ajij Shaikh v. Special Land Acquisition Officer, 1994 SCC OnLine Bom 246 : 1995(1) MhLJ 483, held that the intent of legislators in the said Act was to prevent the conversion by persons of the place of worship of one community or section to religious place of worship of some other community or section. Hence the said acquisition which is for public purpose cannot be annulled according to the provision of said Act. The petitioner also contended that such acquisition is violative of Article 25 (right to freedom of religion) and Article 26 (freedom to manage religious affairs).

The Court did away with said contention by relying on the case of Mohammad Ali Khan v. The Special Land Acquisition Officer, Lucknow Nagar Mahapalika Lucknow, AIR 1978 (All) 280, where it was held by the Supreme Court that Article 25 is a personal right which has to be exercised by the individual. It has no nexus with the place or territory where it has to be exercised. The Court observed that Article 26 guarantees inter alia the right to own and acquire movable and immovable property for managing religious affairs. This right, however, cannot take away the right of the State to compulsorily acquire property in accordance with the provisions of Article 31(2). [Church Of North India Trust Association v. Union Of India, 2016 SCC OnLine All 1185, decided on 19/12/2016]

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