The Maharashtra government has directed all municipal corporations in the state, including the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), to stop using municipal funds for religious ceremonies, festivals and functions. In a communication to municipal commissioners across the state last week, the government cited a Bombay High Court order dating back to September, which said municipal corporations should ensure that their funds are not used for religious ceremonies, festivals and functions.
“The PMC has received the state government order but there is no clarity on its implementation. We will seek legal opinion before taking a decision on spending funds on religious festivals,” said a civic officer. The PMC has been organising religious functions such as Ganesh festival. In a writ petition, Pradeep Jangam, a resident of Bhayandar, had pointed out that the Mira Bhayandar Municipal Corporation had sanctioned funds for organising various festivals such as Ganeshotsav, Navratra, Eid-ul-Zuha, Eid-ul-Fitr, Kartik Purnima, Chhat Puja and Gudi Padwa, among others.
In its order, the high court had stated that “municipal corporations must bear in mind that secularism is part of the basic structure of the Constitution and municipal funds are primarily required to be spent on providing civic amenities to the citizens.”
The court said that it was not the municipal corporation’s duty to provide amenities and facilities, at its own cost, to celebrate religious and other festivals. The HC, however, added that it was the duty of the municipal corporation to make arrangements for the collection, removal, treatment and disposal of sewage and garbage generated by such festivals.
The High Court said that the civic body has to provide public bathrooms, water urinals and similar conveniences at a public place if a large number of residents gather to celebrate religious festivals. But if such functions are held without permission of the competent authority, the municipal corporation has to “remove obstructions and projections” in streets and public places, said the court.
The court also said that if festivals or ceremonies held at public places, such as immersion of Ganesh idols, was likely to endanger the safety of people, the municipal corporation has to take steps to prevent that. The municipal corporation will be well within its powers to make arrangements for the collection of idols and immersion at proper places, said the court.
But, the court specified, “by no stretch of imagination can the action of the municipal corporation — of providing amenities … for religious or other functions of organisations or religious organisations — be said to be within the provisions of the law”.