‘Burden of proof on Ashutosh Maharaj’s alleged son’

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Chandigarh: Advocate General of Punjab Atul Nanda concluded his arguments today in the case of the fate of Ashutosh Maharaj’s body in the Punjab & Haryana High Court. He pleaded that, in the case of a writ petition, the onus to establish a case is on the person whose fundamental rights were breached. In the present case, the bona fides of the petitioner are in serious doubt and there seems no reason to entertain such a petition. There is no right vested in him. He further pointed out the relevant part of the single bench judgment where the rule was reversed and the burden of proof was imposed on the Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan from petitioner Dilip Kumar Jha, the alleged son of Maharaj.

The State argued that it was bound by the provisions of the Constitution and Article 25 & 26 bestow upon the people the freedom to practice, profess and propagate their faith. Nanda advanced the contentions of the State that the only limitation on freedom of religion was itself contained under Article 25. The scope for the State and the court to interfere in a matter of religious belief and practice is created when the religious practice crosses the threshold of public order, morality, health or somebody else’s fundamental rights, which is not the case with the faith and practice of the sansthan. Therefore, the AG of Punjab argued, the court did not have jurisdiction to enter into the matter at all.

Citing an old judgment, Nanda said that any interference in the matter of religion should be preceded by an inquiry whether there existed a statute to impose any financial, economic or a secular activity on the group or institution following any particular religious practice. In the absence of law, and when no rider is violated, even courts cannot interfere in the matter of religion. A religious belief or practice can’t be held void by courts since these are beyond judicial scrutiny. Any interference has to strictly be by duly framed legislation. The courts are concerned that no law should be breached and, in this case, none has been, the advocate asserted.

Citing a Supreme Court judgment of a 9-judge bench, Nanda argued that even the apex court had observed that, while dealing with constitutional issues the court should narrow down and stick to the points raised in the writ petition and not cover unnecessary grounds, in the present case all the questions dealt by the single bench in its verdict were not pleaded before the court in the first place. Thus, there was no requirement for the court to have gone into such intricate matters of religion, determination of the status of Maharaj and declaration of his death.

Concluding his arguments, the advocate general pleaded that there arose no occasion to issue any directions to the State and, therefore, the State should be absolved from determining issues beyond its constitutional duties. The judgment has been reserved.

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