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Orissa riots: SC says it won’t allow persecution of minorities
New Delhi, Jan 5 (IANS):
Published on 6 Jan. 2009 1:27 AM IST
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The Supreme Court Monday asked both the central and Orissa governments to ensure Christians' safety in the state hit by violence against the minority community since the killing of a Hindu leader in August. A bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Justice Markandey Katju and Justice P. Sathasivam also wanted the state government to reconstruct the churches damaged in violence-torn Kandhamal district. "We are not experts on law and order. We do not know how many companies of forces are required. But the state will ensure the minority's safety," observed Justice Katju, speaking for the bench. The observation came after senior counsel K.K. Venugopal, appearing for the Orissa government, objected to the central government's plan to withdraw part of the paramilitary forces from the state. Venugopal contended that the state cannot let the central government withdraw forces at this juncture as the situation was still tense in the district. As Justice Katju asked the state "to ensure Christians' safety", Venugopal objected to the remark saying that the state alone cannot be held responsible for Christians' safety and the responsibility should be cast equally on the central government. Justice Katju then said he meant "both the centre and the state" and asked counsel for the two governments to work out between them the exact requirement of the forces needed for peace in the state. The bench was hearing a petition by Cuttack Archbishop Raphel Cheenath, seeking Christians' safety in Kandhamal district, ravaged by anti-Christian violence following killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his associates Aug 23. At least 38 people were killed and thousands were forced to flee their homes in Kandhamal district, about 200 km from Orissa capital Bhubaneswar, after they were attacked by Hindu mobs who accused Christians of having killed the swami. While Maoists have claimed responsibility for the killings and the Christian organisations have denied any role in the crime, some Hindu organisations have held the minority community responsible for it. During hearing of the petition, the archbishop's counsel Colin Gonsalves alleged that the state government was dilly-dallying in giving appropriate compensation for reconstruction of the churches. He said for the 50- to 60-year-old churches damaged in the violence, the government was now taking the plea that they had been built on the disputed land, thus delaying the compensation. Venugopal, however, explained to the court that churches were indeed built either on government land or the forest land and the state government only wanted that they should not be rebuilt on either of these lands. In October 2008, the state government had told the court that it would take steps to rebuild the damaged churches despite the policy of secularism preventing governments to give any compensation to any place of worship. The bench had then said: "The state will take a generous view of the matter, will identify the damaged churches, assess the extent of the damage and take steps towards rebuilding them." The bench asked two counsels to sort out the matter between themselves.

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