CHENNAI: The Madras High Court today observed that freedom of religion is a fundamental right which cannot be interfered with but stressed that the Supreme Court guidelines on the sound system used by mosques for giving prayer calls should be followed.
The observations were made by the first bench comprising Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice M Sundar during the hearing of a PIL on the matter.
The public interest litigation alleged rampant seizure of loudspeakers used for 'azaan' or the prayer call by mosques in Pollachi taluk in Coimbatore district by officials without verifying whether the sound levels were within the permissible limits or not.
Petitioner Shaw Nawaz Khan, president of Pollachi "Aikkiya Jamath", sought to forbear the Coimbatore Rural Superintendent of Police and the Additional Superintendent of Police, Pollachi, from confiscating the loudspeakers in the mosques without examining the decibel levels.
When the petition came up, the bench said offering prayers was the fundamental right and it cannot be interfered with.
However, at the same time, it said, the petitioners had to follow the Supreme Court guidelines in operating the sound system.
"There can be no doubt that freedom of religion is a fundamental right. The religious practice that do not contravene the law of the land ought not be interfered," it said.
The bench then directed the petitioner to file an affidavit on seizure details of loudspeakers and posted the petition to September 4 for further hearing.
According to the petitioner, the respondents had called a meeting in which all custodians of the mosques were instructed to give prayer call and use the sound under the prescribed limits as per Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules 2000.
The petitioner submitted that the sound system was inspected by an expert sound engineer in all the mosques of the district and subsequently was adjusted to the permissible level through the sound control equipment.
He contended that said the call for prayers was given from the highest pedestal of the mosques which was 15 metres from the ground level and hence would not violate any noise pollution control rules. This had been endorsed by the sound engineer.
The petitioner further submitted that call for prayer (Azan) is the mandatory practice of Muslims all over the world and this practice came into vogue from the day when Prophet Mohammed commanded his companion Hazrath Bilai to give prayer call from an elevated position.
Noting that it was an essential religious practice, the petitioner said the right to freedom of religion and freedom to manage religious affairs is guaranteed under 25 and 26 of the Constitution.
He claimed that senior police officials had raided the mosques in Pollachi taluk and seized the loudspeakers without any reason and without checking whether the emission of sound was beyond the permissible limits.
The petitioner while referring to the Supreme Court guidelines in the matter said the sound system could be seized and confiscated only if they were found to be creating noise beyond the permissible limits.