The Calcutta High Court Friday ordered an interim stay on the West Bengal government’s decision to provide a grant of Rs 10,000 each to 28,000 Durga Puja committees across the state.
Hearing a public interest litigation, acting chief justice Debasish Kar Gupta ordered the interim stay, effective till October 9.
Counsel for the petitioners and former Kolkata Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya said, “The government pleader argued that the donation was given to promote the state’s ‘Safe Drive, Save Life’. However, the court was not satisfied with the argument and hence sought an affidavit from the state government, seeking explanations on certain questions.”
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had on September 10 announced that 28,000 Puja committees — including 3,000 in Kolkata — will be given a one-time grant of Rs 10,000 each, which would cost the state government Rs 28 crore.
On Friday, the high court raised questions on whether there is any guideline or check valve for making such donations. According to Bhattacharya, the court also questioned if the state government made similar donations for festivals of other religions.
The high court also asked if there is a provision for the return of unutilised funds if the aim of ‘Safe Drive, Save Life’ is not fulfilled by some committees.
State BJP chief Dilip Ghosh said the state government was indulging in vote bank politics by providing such grants. “We welcome the order. The state government wanted to buy votes through this. Such an initiative is illegal. We do not support providing grants to either puja committees or imams,” Ghosh said.
CPM MP Mohammad Salim said, “This was an unprecedented violation of the Indian Constitution by the state government, since the state cannot spend public money on any religious festival.”
TMC leaders were not available for comment.