EVEN A year after the Bombay High Court’s directive, the state government is yet to issue guidelines to set a cap on the height of the human pyramid for Dahi Handi on Gokulashtami festival, to be celebrated on September 3 this year. Swati Patil — chief of NGO Utkarsha Mahila Samajik Sanstha — on Monday wrote to the government, warning that the NGO would move court if even a single “govinda” loses his life or sustains serious injuries.
In August 2017, a bench headed by Justice Bhushan Gavai had passed a judgment on a plea filed by Patil seeking directions to the government to impose conditions on mandals organising Dahi Handis across the state. Patil in her plea had highlighted the number of participants dying, especially minors, owing to the height of handis.
In her letter to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Cultural Affairs Minister Vinod Tawde, Patil has requested them to follow the HC order. “The government is not only defying the orders of the HC but also seems to be evading the implementation of the court orders… The state not framing guidelines will give a free hand to organisers to compete with each other by forming the tallest pyramid. This puts many young lives at risk,” Patil told The Indian Express.
“Last year, my organisation had observed that many organisers were flouting rules by not giving safety belts or head gears to the govindas. In Thane and Mumbai, over 200 govindas had received minor injuries, while over 35 of them were admitted to civic and government hospitals with serious injuries. However, we suspect the number to be more as many were rushed to private hospitals.”
“Last year, we also found at least 10 children below the age of 14 in Mumbai and Thane, had participated in a human pyramid. It is the responsibility of the state government to ensure that organising mandals or groups do not allow govindas below the age of 14,” she added.
In August 2014, the HC had directed the state government to ensure that the height of human pyramids was restricted to 20 feet and the minimum age of govindas was set at 18. Two organisations had then moved the Supreme Court and temporarily got a stay on the order. Later, the SC rejected their petitions and upheld the HC order.
In 2016, the government had approached the SC, seeking modification of the conditions. This special leave petition was referred back to the HC on August 1, 2017, directing it to consider the matter afresh. However, observing that it would amount to encroaching on legislative powers if it interfered in deciding the height restrictions on human pyramids for Dahi Handi, the HC on August 7, 2017 had refused to issue any directives, thereby vacating restrictions imposed by its 2014 order. The HC had then directed the government to regulate the height and ensure that organisers and govindas follow safety rules.
Kamlesh Bhoir, secretary of Dahi Handi Samanvay Samiti, an umbrella body of around 900 Dahi Handi mandals, said: “The court’s order refers to the age limit for govindas participating in the Dahi Handi. We have restricted the age limit to 14 years and above. No limitation has been set on the height of human pyramid and the HC has not even set a timeline for the government to come out with guidelines. People are unnecessarily spoiling the spirit of the festival.” Despite attempts, Tawde was unavailable for comment.