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‘Durga Puja is a secular festival just like a fair, not religious’, says Calcutta High Court rejecting ban on puja on public ground

The court said, "No intelligible or reasonable differentia has been made out by the authorities between a Durga Puja Festival and ordinary fairs or other festivals designated to be held on the Mela Ground."

Calcutta High Court on 25 August said that Durga Puja is not a religious festival, but it is one of the most secular festivals. The statement was made by Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharyya as she issued a directive to Kolkata’s administration to allow a group to celebrate Durga Puja at a designated public space in the city.

The order came after organisers of a Durga Puja moved the High Court after the administration had refused permission to organise Durga Utsab 2023 in the New Town Mela Ground, a public ground used to hold various fairs in New Town. The assertion of the authorities that the petitioners lack the constitutional right to exercise their religion in public spaces such as parks, streets, and footpaths was rejected by the court.

The judgement read, “As is public knowledge, the Durga Puja Festival is not confined merely to the worship or religious offerings component of the incarnation of feminine power but also a melting pot of different cultures. Hence, there is as much an element of ceremony, cultural programmes, festivals and fanfare involved as religious worship.”

It further added, “In such a sense, the Durga Puja Festival is much more secular in nature than a pure religious performance of a particular community and cannot, thus, be narrowed down to being a mere ‘religious offering’ of a particular community.”

The petitioners wanted to organise Durga Utsab 2023 in the New Town Mela Ground which is used to host various fairs. The authorities, however, had refused to let them do so. The petitioners contended that the multiple concerns of the administration were merely poor justifications in order to deny them permission. They used Article 14 of the Indian Constitution as support for their argument that they had an equal right to perform a Durga Puja festival on the public ground.

The key distinguishing factor in the current case, the Bench noted after hearing arguments, is that the location where the petitioners want to hold the Durga Puja Festival is neither a street, a footpath or even a playground, but rather a specific area designated for holding fairs.

The court highlighted, “No intelligible or reasonable differentia has been made out by the authorities between a Durga Puja Festival and ordinary fairs or other festivals designated to be held on the Mela Ground. Both entail huge footfall and gathering of crowds including parking of vehicles of the people who come to visit.”

It disproved the notion that the Kolkata Police would suffer if the Durga Puja was permitted at the location. It maintained that such an allegation is “absolutely baseless” in light of the fact that multiple sizable Durga Pujas held by various organisations near one another are a typical occurrence throughout the entire state.

It further stated that a person’s residence or place of employment elsewhere should not prevent them from arranging a celebration on public property that has been set aside for such purposes.

The court pointed out, “Article 19 of the Constitution guarantees that all citizens have the right to assemble peacefully and without arms and to move freely throughout the territory of India. The specific purpose of such rights shall be frustrated if people are refused permission by public authorities on the ground of their residing elsewhere, unless there is a specific intelligible reason for such discrimination or a policy decision in that regard, also based on intelligible criteria.”

It was also observed that the petitioners had consented to pay all fees associated with holding the proposed festival as permitted by law and process.

The petitioners were represented by attorneys Tarunjyoti Tewari, Sandip Ray, Hiranmoy Debnath, Polly Banerjee, and Paramita Dey whereas the state was represented by solicitors Ratul Biswas and Chandan Kumar Mond.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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OpIndia Staffhttps://www.opindia.com
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