The Bombay High Court on Thursday urged the Maharashtra government’s forest department to ensure that no Ganpati idols are immersed in water bodies within Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) during Ganesh Chaturthi. A bench of Justices PB Varale and SM Modak also allowed forest officers the authority to take appropriate action against anyone who violates the State’s orders regarding idol immersion.
The bench ruled, “The State Government’s Forest Department shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any activities in the area of the SGNP for Ganpati idol immersion, and if any such attempt is made by violating provisions of law or defying circulars issued by the State Government or Forest Department, the Forest authorities are free to take appropriate action against the violators, If the Forest Department requests the aid of extra police officers or the deployment of police officers, the superior authority of the police authority must assess the request and make an appropriate decision.”
The Bench ordered an urgent hearing in a public interest lawsuit seeking orders prohibiting people from immersing Ganesh idols in water bodies within the SGNP.
The petitioner addressed the Court after reading news items concerning banners placed by past corporators stating that permission for immersions in the national park’s water body had been granted and that immersions may now take place.
They said that simply reading this news report would give the general man the impression that the forest authorities had granted permission to submerge idols in water bodies inside SGNP.
During the hearing, the bench stated that the news report and the banner cited in it appeared to indicate that permission was granted.
“If you claim there is no permission and someone else says it, then you make a declaration that there is no permission.” According to the news story, there is approval. What is a normal person meant to know? “That is clear evidence that authorization for idol immersions in national parks was requested and granted,” Justice Varale joked.
However, state lawyer Purnima Kantharia stated that the forest department’s authorities are watchful enough to avoid any action that harms the ecosystem and wildlife.
The Court also read the State government’s communications granting authorization to the forest department to build an artificial pond near the national park’s entrance gate and to take follow guidelines issued by the Maharashtra government.
Given the communications, the Court saw no need to hear the petition filed on the basis of fear of news publications.
The Bench, however, underlined that because of the banner, there may be a huge flow of activities for idol immersion, and the state was permitted to deploy more police force to prevent wildlife damage. “If any attempt is made to mislead the people at large by making certain false assertions, the state government shall also take adequate actions to avoid such mischief by resorting to legal remedies,” the Bench noted.
For the petitioners, advocates Shriniwas Patwardhan, SR Nargolkar, Ketan Joshi, Arjun Kadam, and Sudumn Nargolkar appeared.