Shocked that orders defied in broad daylight: Karnataka HC on Shiva statue unveiling at Bengaluru island

Activists claim that over the last two weeks, right wing organisations circulated posters and videos and questioned the stay on the statue, after which the statue was unveiled despite a HC stay

Shocked that orders defied in broad daylight: Karnataka HC on Shiva statue unveiling at Bengaluru island

NH Web Desk

The Karnataka High Court has expressed shock after a statue of Lord Shiva was unveiled in an artificially constructed island in Begur lake in violation of the court's stay order.

A Division Bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice M Nagaprasanna on Wednesday observed that orders of the court were flouted openly in daylight.

"Openly in daylight, orders of the court are defied," the Bench said.

The court proceeded to direct the Police Commissioner of Bengaluru to personally look into the matter and initiate action as per law, Bar & Bench reported.

"A shocking incident of unveiling Shiva Idol installed by BBMP on Begur lake island has been brought to the notice of this court. Our attention is invited to the interim orders dated August 30, 2019, September 17, 2019 and 22 February 2021, which in no uncertain terms prohibit the said activity....We direct the AGA to forward a copy of the memo along with annexures to the Commissioner of Police Bengaluru, who will personally look into the matter and initiate action in accordance with the law," the court ordered.

As per the order dated August 30, 2019, the court had stalled the construction of the statue in the lake island by the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP).

The idol had originally been installed by BBMP, but the creation of the island itself in the lake was held illegal by the court.

The unveiling was carried out by right wing groups.

The Karnataka HC had issued the stay order based on an affidavit filed by Leo Saldanha, Coordinator of the Environment Support Group. This was after he was allowed to be an intervener in a public interest litigation filed by Citizens Action Group (CAG) about the plight of the city’s lakes and stormwater drains.

Advocate SH Prashant, appearing for BBMP, informed the court that the statue had been covered by 11.45 am today. The court, however, termed the incident as "sheer lawlessness".

It proceeded to record that anyone aggrieved by the court's orders must take recourse to legal remedies.

"BBMP says status quo has been restored today by again covering the statue and by removing the flags on the island. If anyone is aggrieved by the orders passed by this court, he has statutory remedies available. Those who are aggrieved by the interim orders of the court could have always challenged them or applied to the court for intervention to the court seeking to modify the orders," the Bench said.

It urged the police to keep constant vigil near the island created in Begur lake where the statue was unveiled.

"If what is stated in the memo is correct, the practice of defying orders of the court in this fashion has to be deprecated by all concerned. We direct the state to ensure that police keep constant vigil near the island created in the Begur lake," it said.

The court was informed of the latest developments by way of a memo filed by Citizens Action Group, which said that on July 31, 2021, a video was published on the Facebook page of one Puneeth Kerehalli with the caption "Hindus Beware Of The Christian Missionary Conspiracy To Remove Shiva Statue – Hindu Organisations Must Come Together".

In the video, Kerehalli was seen pointing to the statue of Shiva stating that he has brought Hindu workers to the location to fight against the interruption against the installation of Shiva statue on Begur lake.

The memo alleged that as per the video, if anyone came in the way of the inauguration of the statute or attempts to remove it or change its location, it will be met with violence.

The memo claimed that the persons featured in the videos referred to above, including Puneeth Kerehalli and others, have committed criminal contempt of Court and offences punishable under Sections 153A, 153B, 295A, 295B, 298, 505(2) read with Sections 34 and 149 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Activists claim that over the last two weeks, pro-Hindutva organisations circulated posters and videos and questioned the stay on the statue. They also propagated a claim that it was due to objections raised by the Christian community.

They say that in gross disregard of the court’s clear directives, local MLA M Krishnappa visited the site and directed BBMP officials to immediately resume work on the lake, as reported in Vijay Karnataka on 17th and 18th June. Then on 31st July 2021, a video was released by Puneeth Kerehalli on Facebook in which a brazen call was made to the wide public to violate the Hon’ble Court’s directions and consecrate the statue.

Various communal statements were also made against the petitioners, in particular Leo Saldanha. This was followed by more videos by others, and posters were also circulated in which serious threats were issued against anyone who came in the way of the Hindutva project.

Posters have also been shared claiming that Hindu organisations had come together to unveil the statue after it was blocked by “Christian missionaries who claimed that water levels in the lake will decrease.” The posters had the logo of Postcard News, whose founder Mahesh Vikram Hegde was arrested in 2018 for spreading fake news about a Jain monk being attacked by a Muslim youth, India Today reported.

Taking serious note of the same, the court directed the state government to file a report of compliance about the action taken by the commissioner of police, as well as action taken of posting requisite police force around the Begur lake.

The report should be submitted by August 17 and the matter will be next heard on August 18, it said.

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