The Ministry of Human Resource Development has washed its hand of the mandatory recitation of Sanskrit and Hindi hymns during the morning assembly of Kendriya Vidyalayas (KV) across the country, saying the Sangathan was an autonomous body headed by the Board of Governors.

Admitting that the Union HRD Minister was Chairman of the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS) and it functioned under its aegis, the Ministry has said that it has nothing to do with the contentious practice of mandatory recitation of Sanskrit ‘shlokas’ and Hindi prayers based on Hindu religion in the morning prayers.

The Union HRD Ministry’s response came in an affidavit filed in the court to a notice issued to it on January 10, 2018 on a petition seeking discontinuation of mandatory morning prayers at Kendriya Vidyalayas that begin and end with Sanskrit ‘shlokas’ and Hindi prayers based on Hindu religion.

Describing it a “serious constitutional issue,” Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman and Justice Navin Sinha had on January 10 said the issue involved a constitutional question and needs to be examined.

The court had asked for the Centre’s response in two weeks to the petition that had contended that the prayer was unconstitutional as it promotes a particular religion.

Having distanced itself from the issue and saying that it was not involved in the day-to-day functioning of the Sangathan, the Ministry has, however, sought the dismissal of the plea since KVS has not been made a party in the petition and needs to be junked solely on the ground of “mis-joinder of necessary parties.

Petitioner Veenayak Shah from Sidhi in Madhya Pradesh had said that the compulsory recitation of ‘shlokas’ and prayers invoking God impede nurturing of reasoning and scientific temper among impressionable young minds.

The mandatory recitation of the prayer by children belonging to minority communities as well as atheist, agnostics, sceptics, rationalists and others, the PIL had said, was “constitutionally impermissible”.

A perusal of the prayer, the PIL petitioner had said, shows it is based on Hindu religion and is very different both in substance and form from prayers of other religions, including that of people with non-religious orientations.

The petitioner said compulsory recitation of ‘shlokas’ rooted in Hindu religion and prayer in morning assembly was contrary to Articles 28(1), 19(1)(a) and 25(1) of the Indian Constitution.

Article 28(1) says: “No religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of state funds.” Article 19(1)(a) says: “All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression.”

Shah had contended that the common prayer is a “religious instruction” within the meaning of Article 28 of the Constitution and should be prohibited.

The petitioner had challenged Article 92 of the “Revised Education Code of Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan” that governs the Kendriya Vidyalayas in India.

The matter is likely to come up for hearing on September 10.