New Delhi: The Supreme Court Friday refused to stay the West Bengal government’s decision to grant Rs 28 crore to 28,000 ‘Durga puja’ committees in the state.A bench comprising Justices M B Lokur and Deepak Gupta agreed however to examine the issue whether a state, by exercising its discretionary powers, can grant money to ‘puja’ committees or clubs for religious activities. It issued a notice to the Mamta Banerjee government and sought its reply within six weeks.
“Issue notice. The counsel for the West Bengal government accepts notice. The reply be filed in six weeks and in the meantime, there will be no stay”, the bench said, adding that the grant of money be distributed through state police to ‘puja’ committees. Seeking a stay on the government’s decision, the counsel for petitioner Sourav Dutta said it was against the principle of secularism, which is the basic structure of Constitution and the action of the government was “alarming” and may encourage communal passion.
At the outset, the bench asked senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the state government, as to how can the government grant such kind of gifts. Sibal said the state government has not given the money directly to the puja committees and the same has been distributed through police as “grants to community policing puja organisers”.
He also referred to the notification of the state government by which Rs 10,000 each has to be given to ‘puja’ committees and said, “the money has been given through cheques and moreover, we (state) will file a counter affidavit (reply) to the petition”. The counsel for the petitioner alleged that the state government has doled out the money without any guidelines and Rs 28 crore has been given from the state exchequer without any norm.
The top court was hearing a petition filed by advocate Sourav Dutta, challenging the Mamata Banerjee government’s decision to dole out Rs 28 crore to ‘puja’ committees in the state for Durga Puja celebrations.