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The Delhi High Court has directed GNCTD, to seek instructions from the Department of Women and Child Development of the Delhi government and inform as to whether it would be willing to take over management and running of the Adhyatmik Vishwa Vidyalaya. The ashram is founded by one Virendra Dixit, a self styled spiritual guru, who is a proclaimed offender and is absconding. The ashram allegedly houses over 162 female inmates in animal like conditions.
"This is a very serious matter. The ashram is run by some baba. The inmates are living in jail like conditions with iron gates and padlocks. The toilets do not have doors. This is absolutely shocking. It has to be set right", a Division Bench comprising Acting Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Navin Chawla remarked orally.
The Delhi High Court was of the prima facie view that the institution ought to taken over by the Delhi Government and remarked, "Where is the question of this institution being allowed to function on its own?"
Upon the counsel for the respondent contending that all the inmates are living at the ashram out of their own free will, the court remarked "You cannot take these things on face face value. Is it that a normal human rational mind would stay in such circumstances? It doesn't stand to reason that someone in his or her own mind would voluntarily stay in such conditions"
The Delhi High Court also noted the observations of the medical report submitted by doctors of AIIMS and IHBAS which said that the inmates upon being asked their reason for residing in the Ashram mechanically parroted the same line - that the world was in grave peril and that they have gathered together to save it.
“All were mechanically parroting the same line; only shows indoctrination”
The Respondent argued that these were the religious beliefs of the inmates, which they should be allowed to practice, to which the bench said "Please continue your religious and spiritual activities. But if even one of these inmates are subject to inhuman conditions or indignities, then we cannot over look it."
The Bench was also of the prima facie view that the ashram is functioning in violation of the Women's and Children's Institutions (Licensing) Act, 1956 and the Rules framed thereunder. The act requires all institutions housing women and children to procure a license from the government. Since the ashram did not have a license and as per the report submitted by Advocate Nandita Rao, was being run in contravention of the provisions of the act, the Delhi High Court was of the prima facie view that the management of the institution should be taken over by the Delhi government.
The counsel appearing for the absconding Mr. Virendra Dixit however, vehemently objected to the same and claimed that the rights of the ashram are protected under Article 25 and 26 of the Constitution, as it is a religious institution and any such take over by the State would result in violation of fundamental rights.
The Delhi High Court being of the prima facie view that even minority religious institutions would be bound by the provisions of the Women's and Children's Institutions (Licensing) Act, 1956 and the Rules framed thereunder, remarked:
"We are clear in our mind that no minority institution gets a license to conduct its affairs so as to violate fundamental rights of an individual, particularly right to life and personal liberty guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution. It is on the State to ensure that infraction of such rights is prevented and remedied."
The Delhi High Court further clarified that "Even if the Government of NCT, Delhi were to take over and appoint an administrative authority, the freedom of the inmates to exercise their religious and spiritual rights would not intracted"
The matter is now listed on April 25, for further hearing and passing of necessary orders.
Case Title: DUMPALA MEENAVATHI AND ANR. v. UNION OF INDIA AND ORS. along with FOUNDATION FOR SOCIAL EMPOWERMENT v. UNION OF INDIA AND ORS.
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