Even as the BJP-led state government confirmed to the Bombay High Court Thursday that rules relating to noise pollution had to be followed during festivals, the BJP office in Mumbai, calling itself the “world’s largest political party”, sought to be made party to a PIL against noise pollution. The Mumbai BJP said a March order of the HC on the PIL affected their “right to profess religion”.
Hearing the public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Dr Mahesh Bedekar, who runs a hospital in Thane, the court of Justices A S Oka and Revati Mohite Dere had in March said festivals could not take away the citizens’ fundamental right to silence. The PIL had raised the issue of noise pollution during festivals and erection of pandals by the organisers.
The court had earlier cited an apex court judgment explaining that the fundamental right under Article 25 did not extend to practise or profess religion to worshiping at any and every public place.
The application filed on behalf of the BJP by Sunil Rane, general secretary of the Mumbai unit, meanwhile, reads, “We organise and celebrate festivals at several places in Mumbai by construction of pandal but the same is done with reasonable care without infringing the rights of other citizens. However, pursuant to the orders passed by the court our rights to profess religion is affected.” According to BJP’s advocate Girish Kulkarni, they represent around 400 mandals that hold various festivals.
Stating that it has a locus standi on the matter, the Mumbai BJP office has stated in its application that it is one of the two major parties in the Indian political system, and also the “world’s largest political party in terms of primary membership, making it concerned for interest of public at large”.
“The applicants being world largest political party can reach out to public at large thereby any policy of the court can be discussed with the citizens of India residing in Mumbai in order to curb the illegal construction of pandals. It’s pertinent to note that in the Indian culture there was a time where there used to be a festival every day of the year 365 festivals in a year, because a festival is a tool to bring life to a state of exuberance and enthusiasm but in the few decades poverty has come in our country and we are not able to celebrate every day (SIC),” the application reads.
“People are satisfied if they just get some simple food to eat. So all the festivals fell away and only thirty to forty festivals remain. We are not even able (to) celebrate those now because we have to go to office or do something else daily. So people usually celebrate only around eight to ten festivals annually. However by current way of celebrating festivals all types of people great or small meet at the same level. It creates a feeling of equality and increases harmony as well as integrity,” it adds.
The court had earlier directed demolition of temporary booths, platforms erected on public streets, which didn’t have requisite permission. In March, the same bench with Justices A S Oka and A S Gadkari had pointed that illegal platforms raised during festivals like Ganesh Utsav, Navratri and Dahi Handi could not be erected in localities having a large population and heavy traffic, or near public transport stands, hospitals and education institutions.
On Thursday, after the party office moved the application, the High Court asked, “Is it your stand that roads and footpaths should be allowed to be obstructed during festivals?” While Kulkarni’s response was in the negative, the court noted: “Standards of noise are laid down. Rules don’t allow that noise levels can be extended during a particular time.”
With Kulkarni agreeing to what it said, the High Court recorded his statement. “The applicant clearly states that they intend to assist the court in ensuring that orders are followed by state government and the municipal corporation.”
The bench then questioned the government’s stand on implementation of rules during festivals. “Rules have to be followed,” agreed Advocate General Anil Singh. He informed the court of a high-level committee of all state secretaries convened to probe the matter. Singh also informed that the chief secretary and urban development department had ensured the procedure was in place and all municipal commissioners had been asked to take stringent action on complaints pertaining to breach of noise pollution rules. This was in response to the bench’s query if earlier orders were followed to create a redressal mechanism.
Amicus curiae (friend of the court) Sanjay Gorwadkar pointed out here that municipal commissioners could not be given such an authority. “This power was vested in either the district magistrate or commissioner of police,” he corrected. The state government then sought more time for compliance. The bench pulled up the state government on delay in redressal, saying the first meeting on the issue itself took three moths after the High Court order.
“We are only asking for implementation of noise pollution rules. If you are not serious about implementation of orders then challenge it. We expected some compliance,” said the bench. With the state government asking more time to respond, citing they had some misunderstanding comprehending the order, the court granted them a week’s space to place further affidavits.
The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), who is a party to the PIL, reported to the court that it had conducted noise-mapping of the state and found the noise level was more than the prescribed standard at almost all places.
Upset overt the findings, the bench said, “Cursory glance of the MCPB report shows that the government needs to take serious steps to implement noise pollution rules. Since the report has been submitted by its statutory body, its contents should not be disputed.”
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