Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Can't protect minorities, then quit office: SC tells govts

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court's judicial conscience, pricked heavily by the ugly violence against Christians in Orissa's Kandhmal district last year, appears to be still raw despite peace returning to the area and Christmas and new year celebrations passing off peacefully.
In an unusual outburst, after passing several orders which were being obeyed by the Naveen Patnaik government and the Centre, a Bench comprising Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justices Markandey Katju and P Sathasivam gave a general ultimatum governments -- sectarian violence and persecution of minorities would not be tolerated.
"If your government is unable to protect minorities, then you quit office," said Justice Katju, who for the first time was part of the Bench headed by CJI which had been hearing a petition by Archbishop Raphael Cheenath.
"We can't tolerate persecution of religious minorities. If your government cannot control such incidents, then quit office," came the second salvo from Justice Katju as a shocked senior advocate K K Venugopal, appearing for the Orissa government, said things were peaceful in the area and that the state has implemented earlier orders of the apex court in letter and spirit with cooperation from the Centre.
However, Venugopal tried to wriggle out of the messy situation by shifting the focus towards the Centre by complaining to the court against the latter's decision to withdraw its forces despite the situation still being sensitive in Kandhmal district, which erupted after the killing of Swami Lakshmananand.
Without allowing the matter to veer away from the earlier course, the Bench directed the Union home secretary and the state home secretary to coordinate and resolve the number of troops to be stationed.
At this point, the CJI asked Cheenath's counsel about the infamous gangrape case pertaining to the nun and said he had been flooded with queries from different countries about it.
The counsel, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, told the Bench that the nun, after initial reservations against a probe by the local police, was now cooperating in the investigations and had participated in the test identification parade to nail the culprits.
However, he alleged that the state government was delaying payment of damages to churches which were over 50 years old. He said though the total loss to churches and their properties amounted to nearly Rs 6 crore, the government had agreed to pay a compensation of about Rs 45 lakh.
Reiterating its earlier view, the Bench asked the Naveen Patnaik government to take a generous view while granting compensation and make early payments.

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