The Calcutta High Court is set to give its order tomorrow on the maintainability of the public interest litigation (PIL) that has challenged Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's grant for Durga puja organisers. If the court decides it is maintainable, the case will be slotted for further hearing. If not, the matter ends there unless a higher court is approached.
From 11 this morning till 3.30 pm, the court of Chief Justice Debashish Kar Gupta and Justice Shampa Sarkar heard heated arguments between the petitioner's lawyer, Bikash Bhattacharya, and Advocate General Kishore Dutta and barrister Shakti Nath Mukherjee.
The state argued that the order to grant Rs 10,000 each to 28,000 Durga puja committees in Bengal by the Mamata Banerjee-government was an executive order.
"We are answerable only to the CAG and the legislature," Mr Mukherjee said.
The bench said it was not trying to interfere in legislative business or government policy but asked what's the point of giving oxygen to a patient after he is dead?
The court wants to plug loopholes in the implementation of the scheme, the bench said.
The state lawyers insisted the state was not answerable to court, that the court has no jurisdiction.
Mr Bhattacharya, however, cited Supreme Court and High Court orders and claimed if the issue is the misuse of funds from the exchequer, "the court can rise".
It was pointed out that when the state government announced a stipend for imam in 2013, a division bench of the Calcutta high court scrapped it as unconstitutional and the state did not challenge that order.
It was also pointed out that in the last week of September, the finance department had first issued a notification stating, reportedly, that the 'Durga puja dole" was for "community policing".
Mr Bhattacharya said that was unconstitutional as the government already had an expense head called community policing and the budget for that was fixed at Rs 1 crore. But puja budget is Rs 28 crore. So the finance department created an entire new expense head for it -- donation to puja committees.
Even the state's lawyer, Mr Mukherjee's appearance in court became a matter of debate. He reportedly first said he was appearing for the Kolkata police commissioner. Mr Bhattacharya said his appointment was another instance of misuse of public exchequer as the advocate general was present.
The advocate general, Mr Kishore Dutta, then said, "Mr Mukherjee is leading me for the state."