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Last Updated: Friday, 8 June 2007, 17:59 GMT 18:59 UK
Hindu sites 'only for Hinduism'
By Omer Farooq
BBC News, Hyderabad

The government of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh has banned the propagation of other religions in the holy places of Hindus across the state.

The authorities say the move is to ensure that Hindu sentiments in holy places are not offended.

It follows a row over alleged Christian missionary activity around a shrine in the town of Tirumala.

Christian organisations have not reacted, but a Muslim legal expert denounced it as unconstitutional.

The ordinance promulgated by the state Governor, Rameshwar Thakuar, came into effect immediately in Tirumala.

'Vatican for Hindus'

Experts say the move is a major development which will be far reaching.

The ordinance also affects seven areas surrounding Tirumala over an area of more than 10,000 acres affecting 20 Hindu religious places.

It empowers the state government to prohibit the propagation of religion in places of worship or prayer other than the religion traditionally practiced at such places.

In another equally significant move, the state government has accorded special status to the area around Tirumala as a place of religious importance.

The Lord Venkateswhara temple on top of the Tirumala Hills is counted among the richest Hindu temples in the country, visited by 50,000 devotees on a normal day and with an income of millions of dollars a year.

The decision to accord special status to Tirumala and its surrounding hills is being seen as an effort to meet the demands of Hindu organisations that the area become a "Vatican for Hindus".

The ordinance said that there had recently been a number of instances where worship or prayer by non-Hindu religious groups in or near Hindu places of worship hurt sentiments and disturbed the peace and tranquillity of that area.

"While practicing or preaching any religion was a fundamental right of every citizen, propagation of other religion in temple areas could not be allowed," the state Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy said.

The chief minister said that the order will cover the places of worship of all religions.

Anyone violating the law will be punished with imprisonment or a fine.

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