The Supreme Court on October 12, 2018, has refused to stay the West Bengal Government’s decision to grant Rs.10,000 each to around 28,000 Durga puja celebration committees in the state.
A Bench of Justices Madan Lokur and Deepak Gupta, however, issued a notice to the West Bengal Government on a plea filed by two residents of the State challenging the Mamata Banerjee government's decision.
The matter came up before the apex court after the Calcutta High Court had refused to interfere with the Mamta Banerjee governments’ decision to provide grant for Durga Puja celebrations.
The counsel for the petitioners submitted that there is no guideline for spending of Rs. 28 crores earmarked by the government for Puja celebrations. The Government’s decision was challenged in the Calcutta High Court contending that public funding of a religious festival was against the principles of secularism.
“Use of tax-payers’ money for repair/restructuring/construction of any ‘religious place’ offends the spirit and object of Article 27 of the Constitution of India. The Constitution of India prohibits the state from compelling any person to pay any tax, proceeds of which is to be spent for the promotion of any particular religion or religious denomination. Therefore, the decision of the state relating to grant for organizing Durga Puja is unconstitutional and is liable to be set aside,” argued the petitioners before the Calcutta High Court.
The Calcutta High Court Division Bench comprising of Acting Chief Justice Debasish Kar Gupta and Justice Sampa Sarkar said that the Legislature is the appropriate forum to decide on expenditure by the state government. Stating that the court does not want to interfere in the government’s decision to disburse funds to Durga Puja committees at this stage, the Bench, however, said that the court can interfere at a later stage when the scope arises.
The Calcutta High Court decision was challenged before the apex court on the ground that “the High Court failed to appreciate that there is no public purpose involved in organizing Durga Puja rather it is religious programme”.