New Delhi (ILNS): The Calcutta High Court has upheld the state government’s notification which provided for disbursement of Rs 50,000 to each of the organising committees for Durga Puja in the state. The court, however, made it clear that 75 percent of the funds should be used for the procurement of masks, hand sanitizers, face shields etc for use in and around the puja pandals. The rest (25 percent) should be used “for the purpose of programmes that strengthen the bond between police authorities and citizens…”
The court also made it clear that these government funds are “not meant for the augmentation of resources to conduct puja activities or for any musical soiree or for entertainment…” The court also made it clear that all invoices of purchase made with that money will have to be submitted to the authorities for audit.
The bench of Justices Sanjib Banerjee and Arijit Banerjee, gave these directions while hearing a petition challenging the government’s decision of allocating funds. The government grants have been made to 34,000 sets of organisers of Durga Puja in the state, including 3,000 within the jurisdiction of the Kolkata Police.
On October 9, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) leader Sourav Dutta had challenged the Government’s decisions in the High Court. It was contended on behalf of the petitioner that the provision for the grant was not included in the budget and, as such, it has to be seen as a grant under Article 282 of the Constitution.
The fundamental premise on which the Government decision is attacked is that it runs counter to the basic feature of secularism as enshrined in the Constitution, said the petition.
The total cost to the exchequer is to the tune of Rs170 crore and according to the state the disbursement was commenced after the publication of a notification of October 1, 2020 issued by the Home and Hill Affairs Department of the State. The state has further maintained that in the budget papers for the financial year 2020-21, there is a head of expenses on account of police in the State.
The Court order said:
“Prima facie, there is some substance in the State’s submission that once the grant has been made on the basis of a budgetary allocation therefore, the Court should be slow to interfere in the matter. It is also, prima facie, accepted that since Durga Puja may be the biggest festival in the State, irrespective of such festival being connected with a religious occasion, the festivities can be the springboard for promoting socially relevant programmes and there may not be any religious flavour to such secular programmes being pursued.”
The court said that leaflets and handbills or notices incorporating the order as described by the court should immediately be prepared by the police authorities for circulation to all puja organisers who have received the disbursements,.
On September 24, Mamata Banerjee had announced the grant and other incentives for the Durga puja organisers.
Read the order here;Sourav-Dutta-v-The-State-of-West-Bengal-Ors-