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Supreme Court questions coins with Vaishno Devi image

Thursday, 20 March 2014 - 8:10am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: dna

Do coins with religious symbols embossed on them undermine secular character of Indian constitution?

The Central government claims these are commemorative coins and issued under the Coinage Act. However, the Delhi High Court on Wednesday questioned the government on release of Rs 5 coins with the image of deity Mata Vaishno Devi embossed on the reverse. "How can you do this? How can a state have a religious symbol? State should be completely blind to religion," a bench of Acting Chief Justice B D Ahmed and Justice Sidharth Mridul asked. It directed the Centre to file a status report on a PIL seeking withdrawal of Rs 5 coins that have been in circulation with the image of Mata Vaishno Devi for the past few months.

The court asked the ministry of finance to file a report within three weeks. In November, 2013, the Reserve Bank of India had issued Rs 5 coins to commemorate Silver Jubilee of Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board. The PIL filed by one Nafis Qazi against finance ministry and RBI contended saying, "As India has chosen 'Sarva Dharma Sambhav' Sarva as its way of governance, it is not proper to have figures of mandir or masjid... on any properties of State."

Seeking withdrawal of the coins, the petitioner said, "Secular democratic credentials are damaged when the respondents issue coins/currency notes with such religious symbols."

As per the plea, "the anti-secular action of government in bringing out coins at regular intervals with religious symbols such as figures of deity or temple embossed on them."

"These symbols undermine the secular character, a basic feature of the constitution," the advocate for petitioner submitted.

Meanwhile, additional solicitor general (ASG) Rajeeve Mehra along with advocate Neeraj Chaudhary appearing for Centre told the bench that coins were issued to commemorate the occasion of Silver Jubilee of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board.

The senior law officer said several others coins were issued under the Coinage Act and he will look into the matter and file the report.

The court, however, said there is no need to issue coins to commemorate any occasions. "You need not to put symbol like 100 years of something, 50 years of something," said court posting the matter for April 23.

The plea further mentioned about the coins issued by government in celebration of 1,000 years of the Brihadeeswara temple Thanjavur embossed on it in 2010.

The petitioner sought formulation of a policy whereby symbols of any religion are not made, drawn, embossed or are apparently espoused.

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