Photo by BL SONI
Photo by BL SONI

Mumbai: Ganesh Chaturthi, the festival that marks the birth of Lord Ganesha, is celebrated all over India but the festivities in Maharashtra, especially Mumbai, are on a grand scale.

The preparations to welcome the elephant-headed god, starts more than a month prior to the festival. The city welcomes Ganesha with noisy dhols that make sounds much higher than the permissible limits. The last day’s procession, also witnesses a total traffic jam as crores of people get onto the streets to bid goodbye to the god.

Even though the 11 days of celebrations give joy to the public it also leaves them in a fix as every lane has a pandal, adding to the chaos. There are thousands of such “sarvajanik” pandals that are installed in every nook and corner of the city. Rather, one can see atleast three such pandals within a distance of half a kilometer and to no surprise, these pandals are usually out up amidst “public roads.” This “nusiance” of pandals causes great inconvenience to the general public and walking on the road becomes a task.

Over the past several decades, Mumbaikars have got used to illegal pandals. However, a detailed judgment passed by a division bench of Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Amjad Sayed of the Bombay High Court, has put a ban on such illegal pandals. The judgement was passed in August last year wherein Justice Oka had said that the pandals that obstruct the free movement of pedestrians and also smooth transport of vehicles, cannot be permitted.

Justice Oka had also held, “No citizen has a fundamental right to worship God at a public place, unless that place is of particular significance for the religion concerned.”

In pursuance to the ruling, the civic body is all set to implement the directives of the HC. The earnest effort of the civic body can be seen from the fact that till date only 85 pandals out of the total 1,312 applications, are being permitted. While a total of 1,153 applications for putting up pandals are still awaiting the civic body’s nod, at least 74 pleas have been turned down.

The civic body has come up with a policy wherein it intends to grant permissions to such applications within two days. The civic body has constituted teams consisting of senior police official and civic official of each area which visits the place where a pandal is to be put after which measurements are taken and after they are satisfied, permission is granted to the organisers.

Assistant Municipal Commissioner Vishwas Mote is looking into the compliance of HC orders in Parel area which is a prime spot as several famous mandals like the Lalbaugcha Raja, Ganesh Galli etc. are located here.

While speaking with the Free Press Journal, he said, “We are ensuring that the HC’s ruling is strictly adhered to. We have asked organisers of all the mandals not to dig roads and rather use the metal plates to install their pandals. Lalbaugcha Raja mandal, has accepted our contention and they have used the suggestion.”

“Since all organisers cannot afford the metal plate system, we have asked them to pay an amount as a security deposit and only then they are allowed to dig roads. Apart from this, we have asked them to ensure that they reinstate the roads and fill up the holes at their own cost and if they fail to do so, we will impose a penalty of Rs. 2000 for each hole,” Mote added.

Mote also said that the civic officials would be conducting surprise visits to each and every pandal to inspect if the organisers have complied with the HC ruling. Meanwhile, the famous Lalbaugcha Raja mandal has made an attempt to comply with the HC’s order by keeping a 15-20 feet wide lane vacant for the local public to walk.

Bala Kambli, president of the mandal said, “Since thousands of devotees come to our mandal daily, we make use of the footpath and allow the devotees to form qeues on the footpaths itself. The HC order says that no footpaths can be blocked so in order to comply with it, we have left a separate lane vacant for the locals to walk and carry on their routine chores.”

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