The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the Bombay High Court order imposing height restrictions on human pyramids formed during the dahi handi festivities in Mumbai, and banning youngsters below 18 years from participating.
The SC decision capping the height of human pyramids at 20 feet was met with disappointment among organisers of the festival, and is being seen as a setback to a festive tradition.
The SC order came in response to a plea by the Maharashtra government seeking a clarification on an earlier decision, which had stayed operation of the high court verdict given in August 2014. The state had then challenged the High Court order, which had initially suspended the HC order and later dismissed the petition challenging it.
The Maharashtra government had taken a stand that since the apex court had not expressed any opinion on restrictions imposed by the high court on the height of human pyramids, it was not bound by its earlier order.
Following the apex court’s verdict on Wednesday, organisers of dahi handi events and political parties backing the festival through funds and political might termed it an ‘unfortunate decision’ and said it would dampen the spirit of the festival.
The BJP, following up on the issue keenly, said the festival will be celebrated without violating the SC order.
“The state government will again put forth organisers’ view before the SC during the next hearing in October. However, the then Congress-NCP alliance government failed to present the case properly before the Bombay High Court, which resulted in the HC imposing restrictions on the festival,” said Ashish Shelar, president of the Mumbai unit of the BJP, who organises the dahi handi tournament Jod Ke Tod.
Shelar said the BJP government accorded the dahi handi festival the status of an adventure sport in December 2014 after it came to power in the state.
The Shiv Sena’s response on Wednesday was that the apex court should take into account people’s faith.
“This is not just a festival but also about people’s faith. We respect the court and their decisions but they should not interfere in issues related to faith. The SC should not put obstacles in such festivals. The Union and state governments are elected by people to take decisions for them. Many soldiers are killed at the border everyday. So shall we stop fighting at the border?” asked Sena leader Sanjay Raut, adding that the festival promotes national integrity.
Raut said the organisers do take precautions for the safety of the children participating in the festival. “Now, the state should issue an ordinance to ensure that the festival is celebrated without dampening its spirit,” he added.
Bala Nandgaonkar, MNS leader, said the SC order will ruin the festival. “The Supreme Court should respect people’s feelings. Putting restrictions on the height of the pyramids and on the age of participants will result in ruining the festival. There is no point of having a dahi handi pyramid of 20 feet,” said Nandgaonkar.
“It is not that we don’t care about the youth who participate in the festival. If the state prepares some guidelines for the festival, we will abide by them. It is a sport and people get injured in all sports, including cricket, kabbadi and other games currently being played at the Rio Olympics. But it doesn’t mean we should stop playing the sport,” he added.
Former MP and president of the Mumbai unit of the Congress Sanjay Nirupam demanded that the state government file a review petition in the Supreme Court. “The state government should take a leaf from the Tamil Nadu government, which challenged the ban on Jallikattu by the apex court. Subsequently, the ban was withdrawn,” Nirupam said.
NCP leader Sachin Ahir, who organises a dahi handi event in Worli, said the state government should issue guidelines as per the SC order, so that organisers follow it and do not face any action for violation.