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Delhi defuses Gujarat bomb
- Rare intervention stays demolition

New Delhi, May 4: The Centre today made a rare legal intervention into the affairs of Gujarat to protect the “secular fabric of the nation”, obtaining a stay on a high court ruling that ordered the demolition of all shrines encroaching on public land.

With Vadodara still smouldering in the aftermath of the demolition of a 300-year-old dargah and fearing a flare-up on a wider scale if more shrines are razed, the Union government set in motion what could be described as the strongest pre-emptive action since the Gujarat riots of 2002.

“The (high court) order' would have serious consequences on the law and order situation in the state and this may have repercussions in other states and, consequently, on the secular fabric of the nation as a whole,” the Centre told the apex court.

Taking cognisance on its own of a newspaper report that said a court building was attacked by a mob protesting against the demolition, Gujarat High Court had on Tuesday directed four civic bodies to remove without discrimination all religious shrines obstructing roads.

The four civic bodies are those in Vadodara ' where peace held during the day today, aided by a flag march by the army ' Ahmedabad, Rajkot and Surat. According to a controversial estimate by the Ahmedabad civic body, 1,200 temples and 260 Islamic shrines encroach upon public space in the city alone.

It is unusual for the Centre to intervene in such a case because the Union of India was not a party in the high court proceedings. But the sensitive nature and potential for trouble forced the Centre’s hand, officials said.

Armed with inputs from the ground, the home ministry consulted the law ministry and gave the green signal, following which a special leave petition was filed in the Supreme Court in the latter half of the afternoon session.

Home ministry officials said the decision to move the court was based on Article 355, which imposes a duty on the Centre to protect states from external aggression and internal disturbance.

But the article ' the precursor to the use of Article 356 under which a state government can be dismissed ' was not mentioned in the court petition, perhaps to avoid a political confrontation between the Congress-led Centre and the BJP-ruled Gujarat.

The petition, however, did reflect the spirit of Article 355: “The Union of India is deeply concerned about the safety and security of the citizens of the state of Gujarat and the prevailing law and order situation.”

The Union government submitted that the situation in Gujarat could become “uncontrollable” if the demolition drive is not stopped. It also pointed out that Vadodara is still extremely volatile.

A bench of Justices Ruma Pal and Dalveer Bhandari then stayed the high court order.

Appearing for the Centre, additional solicitor-general Gopal Subramaniam told the bench that the “premature” high court order was passed without appreciating the “severe and grave consequences” within Gujarat and its ramifications outside.

The Centre said the high court order was passed without verifying the contents of the newspaper report on the attack on the Vadodara court building.

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