The Calcutta High Court has put on hold West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's Durga Puja bounty plan for organizers. Ms Banerjee had planned to give Rs 10,000 to every puja in the state. The petitioner told the court how the state government can use public money for religious purposes.
"It is strange that the state has decided to provide funds for religious purposes of a particular segment of the population. This will run in contradiction with the basic tenements of our constitution, which is secular in nature and character," said the petition filed by United Trades Union Congress, affiliated to Left party RSP.
The Bengal government had set aside Rs 28 crore for the 3000 pujas in state capital Kolkata and 25,000 in the districts.
The High Court, while ordering the state not to give any money to the puja organizers till Tuesday, raised several questions. "What is the purpose of using people's money? Can you use it at all? Is there a guideline for distributing the money? Do you give the same amount of money for every major festival of all religions? "said the court.
The state government tried to justify its decision saying the money would be used to highlight the Chief Minister's 'Safe Drive Save Life' campaign, to which the court said, "Why can't the government itself run this campaign?"
Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh accused Ms Banerjee of appeasement politics. "Giving 'chanda' (contribution) for Durga Puja is appeasement politics. Earlier it was Imam stipend, now Durga Puja dole...The state government is constantly complaining they don't have funds for development, how can they just allot Rs 28 crore for pujas," said Mr Ghosh.
The court order comes two days after Imams held a rally in Kolkata and raised the issue Ms Banerjee puja dole. Pirzada Taha Siddiqui of the Furfura Sharif slammed the Chief Minister saying, he has no problem with Ms Banerjee giving money for pujas but she "must do that for other communities also." Others at the rally said, the funds should be used to repair the bridges and flyovers, which are in bad condition. The state government in the recent past faced public anger after the collapse of the Majherhat Bridge near Behala, which killed three people.