In an order issued by Madras High Court, the court ruled that prior permissions from authorities are not required for conducting prayers in one’s own residence.
A petition was filed by a Christian Pastor, from Coimbatore district in Tamil Nadu, against the local Police who restrained him from conducting prayers in his residence ordering that prayers will be allowed only after having a peace talk with Hindu Munnani Party, an organisationwith ultra right wing associations, based in Tamil Nadu. The local police had raised the issue that the pastor did not obtain any prior permission from local authorities before conducting the prayer, also the petitioner did not obtain any prior permission for construction of prayer hall as required under the provisions of the Tamil Nadu District Municipalities Building Rules, 1972. The police also presented before the court the objection raised by Hindu Munnani Party that the prayer meeting had created sound pollution and parking of vehicles on road restricted the free movement of public. The Hindu Munnani Party had also threatened the pastor saying that they would stage a dharna protest if the pastor will not agree to their demands.
Referring to the AdiSaivaSivachariyargalNalaSangam -vs- State of Tamil Nadu case the local police raised the point that though right to freedom of religion and managing religious affairs come under Fundamental Rights of Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution, it is still subject to subject to public order, morality and health, which could enable the state to intervene on a larger public interest.
Whereas the Madras High Court referring to its earlier order [in R.Jeganathan Israel vs. Superintendent of Police] upheld the rights of the petitioner (pastor) by ruling that “the question of requiring the Petitioner to get prior permission from any authority for assembling and conducting any prayers in his dwelling place per se, without causing nuisance or disturbance to others and without causing hindrance to the general public of the locality, does not arise”.
Also Justice JusticeP.D.Audikesavalu quashing the direction given to Christian Pastor said the “order calling the Petitioner to attend the peace talks with the Hindu Munnani Party, who had lodged objections, and restraining the Petitioner from conducting prayers till such peace talks are concluded, which is without any authority of law, cannot be sustained”.
Whilst this being said, the court also added that “the Petitioner is bound to ensure that while conducting such prayers in his residential premises, no hindrance or disturbance is caused to the general public and for that purpose, it is certainly open to the concerned authorities on the basis of subjective satisfaction with concrete evidence to take necessary action under the provisions of the relevant statutes in accordance with law in the event of any nuisance being caused due to noise pollution or for violation of any statutory provisions or for any bonafide reasons”.
This order is something to be looked up to especially in the present socio-political climate where crime minority communities are being denied of their rights and crimes against them are on rise. Though rulings such as these gives some relief still there is much to be questioned like the power to decide whether any activities come under acts which cause nuisance by violating any statutory provisions or for any bonafide reasons are with authorities who might be biased to certain sections or groups in the society.