New Delhi, Jan. 18: The Supreme Court today prohibited all states and Union territories from allowing statues or other structures to be built on roads, pavements or any other public place.
"You cannot allow statues at public places. It is not a private property. Each and every citizen has a right to the place, which cannot be taken away by the government," the court said, asking state chief secretaries and Union territory administrators to ensure compliance.
The bench of Justices R.M. Lodha and S.J. Mukhopadhyaya expressed concern at the way political leaders' statues were being installed, violating citizens' right to free access and movement.
"Instead of glorifying the leaders, why don't you utilise the funds for the uplift of the poor? The funds are meant for the people of India," it told the Kerala government's counsel.
The court order comes against the backdrop of a growing tendency among political parties to engage in one-upmanship over installation of statues of their leaders, with little thought to the expenses involved or inconvenience to the public.
In Uttar Pradesh, the former Mayawati government had drawn criticism by building scores of statues of Dalit icons at huge cost. The Shiv Sena recently created controversy by first erecting a makeshift memorial to Bal Thackeray at Mumbai's Shivaji Park and later unsuccessfully demanding a permanent statue at the site.
The apex court was annoyed when the Kerala counsel claimed that installing statutes was a common practice in several states and could therefore not be faulted.
"If some states are having a bad practice, it does not mean other states should follow.... You can highlight the achievement of your leader but not by obstructing public roads," the court said.
"Public interest must be paramount. That right cannot be taken away by putting up statues, temples, mosques, churches, etc."
The bench was hearing an application by the Centre detailing the steps taken by the states and Union territories in removing unauthorised religious structures in compliance with an apex court order of 2010.
One of the counsels present told the court that only three of 901 unauthorised structures had been removed in Kerala since 2010. The bench was irked when told that the Kerala government had allowed a statue of late Congress leader N. Sundaram Nadar on a traffic island in Kollam district.
"How can you allot it at a traffic island? Have you allotted it on the basis of an official order?" the bench asked the Kerala counsel, who said this was so."Under which statutory provision have you permitted it?" the court asked. "It does not belong to you."
It then passed the following order: "Henceforth, the state government shall not grant any permission for installation of any statue or construction of any structure on public roads, pavements, sideways or any other public utilities. The order shall also apply to all other states and Union territories."
The next hearing is after four weeks.