The Calcutta High Court on Friday ordered an interim stay on Mamata Banerjee government’s decision to provide a grant of Rs 10,000 to each of 28,000 Durga Puja committees across the state.
Hearing a public interest litigation, jointly filed by advocate Dyutiman Chatterjee and a citizen named Sourav Gupta, 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.”
On September 10, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had announced that 28,000 puja committees including 3000 in Kolkata, will be provided with a one-time grant of Rs 10,000 each, which will cost the state government Rs 28 crore.
On Friday, the high court raised questions whether the state government can misuse or whether there is any guideline or check valve for making such donations. According to Bhattacharya, the court also questioned whether the state government made similar donations for festivals of other religions.
The high court also wondered whether there is a provision for return of unutilised funds if the aim of ‘Safe drive, save life’ campaign is not fulfilled.
The high court order came a day after hundreds of clerics and Muslim youth led by the All Bengal Minority Youth Federation (ABMYF) demanded a hike in the monthly stipends given to imams.
Welcoming the high court order, West Bengal BJP President Dilip Ghosh said the state government was indulging in vote bank politics by providing grants to puja committees. “We welcome the move. The state government wanted to buy votes through this. Such an initiative is illegal. The government indulged in communal and vote bank politics. We do not support providing grants to either Puja Committees and or Imams,” Ghosh said.
CPM MP Mohammad Salim said, “This was an unprecedented violation of Indian Constitution by state government, since state cannot spend public money behind any religious festival. Previously, the state government diverted sport development funds by giving similar donations to clubs. Now they are trying to keep the clubs under their control through these Puja donations. So the high court’s directive is a welcome decision.
TMC leaders were not available for comments on the high court order.