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Calcutta High Court stays Bengal government’s order on Durga Puja grants

Calcutta High Court on Friday ordered an interim stay on the West Bengal government’s decision to pay a grant of Rs 10,000 to each of the 28,000 Durga Puja committees in the state.

The bench of acting chief justice Debasish Kar Gupta and justice Shampa Sarkar ordered the stay till October 9, by when the state government will have to file an affidavit clarifying points raised by the court.

The court was acting on a public interest litigation filed by advocate Dyutiman Chatterjee and Sourav Gupta, a civilian.

On September 10, chief minister Mamata Banerjee had announced that 28,000 puja committees in the state, of which 3,000 are in Kolkata, would be given a one-time grant of Rs 10,000 each. The step would cost the public exchequer Rs 28 crore.

“The decision of the state government is unconstitutional since we live in a secular state and it cannot patronise a religious festival in this manner,” said Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, the counsel for the petitioners and former Kolkata mayor.

“The government argued that the donation was given to promote the state’s campaign for safe driving that carries the slogan ‘Safe drive, save life’. The court was not satisfied with the reply and sought an affidavit from the state government,” he added.

Advocate general Kishore Dutta was present on behalf of the state. He did not respond to telephone calls or text messages.

Reacting to the court order, the chief minister said, “We have full respect for the court. But we have already given the money (to Puja committees). How will we take the money back?”

The BJP’s state unit welcomed the order, claiming that the state was indulging in “dole politics” to win Hindu votes ahead of Lok Sabha polls. “We welcome the court order. What the state government is doing is nothing but dole politics. Earlier also, with an eye on Muslim votes the government had announced allowances for Imams. Now, this has been done to pacify Hindus… we all must remember that India is a secular country and we cant preach such kind of politics,” BJP state president Dilip Ghosh said.

Md Salim, CPI(M) politburo member and Lok Sabha MP, said, “This was an unprecedented violation of the Constitution by the state government, since a state cannot spend public money for any religious festival…”

First Published: Oct 05, 2018 22:56 IST

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