The Kerala High Court on Friday ordered the state government to shut down all religious places and prayer halls running without permission, Live Law reported.

Justice PV Kunhikrishnan also directed the state chief secretary to issue orders to ensure that new religious places and prayer halls are allowed to be set up only in appropriate cases. The court issued the order while turning down a petition to convert a commercial building into a mosque.

Justice Kunhikrishnan noted that there already were 36 mosques within a radius of five kilometres of the building that the petitioners wanted to convert to a place of worship. The judge held that Kerala already has many religious places and their ratio to population was very high.

Citing a study on religious structures in Kerala, the judge also noted that their number was 10 times the number of villages in the state and 3.5 times that of hospitals, Bar and Bench reported.

“We are exhausted with religious places and prayer halls and we are not in a position to allow any new religious places and prayer halls except in the rarest of rare cases,” Kunhikrishnan wrote in his judgement.

In this case, a district collector in Malappuram had denied permission to convert the commercial building into mosque. The petitioner moved the High Court against the decision.

However, the High Court dismissed the petition. The judge noted that existence of other religious places nearby is a sufficient ground to reject a request for change of category of a building or the construction of a new place of worship.