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 the 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.
The plea has been filed challenging the Calcutta High Court's order refusing to interfere with the government's decision to grant money to puja committees in the state.
It also said that the high court, while dismissing the writ petition, failed to appreciate that there was "no public purpose" involved in organising Durga Puja, rather it is a "religious programme".
"The statement of the Chief Minister itself shows that there is no public purpose particularly when she has clarified the said grant is being extended to the Puja Organisers on account of gift from state. Since no public purpose would be served by granting money and/or handing out concessions to Durga Puja organisers, the said decision of the state violates the provision of Article 282 of the Constitution and thus, the said decision of granting money to the puja committees is liable to be set aside," the plea said.
The Article 282 of the Constitution deals with the expenditure defrayable by the Union or a State out of its revenues.
The plea said there was no provision of law by which State exchequer could be utilised for giving gift to puja organiser.
It also said the high court failed to appreciate that the State fund which consist payment of various taxes by citizens cannot be utilized for any religious purpose.
"Use of tax-payers money for repair/restructuring/ construction of any religious place offends the sprit and object of Article 27 of the Constitution of India. The Constitution of India prohibits the state from compelling any person to pay any tax, proceeds of which is to be spent for the promotion of any particular religion or religious denomination. Therefore, the decision of the state relating to grant for organizing Durga Puja is unconstitutional and is liable to be set aside," the plea said.
Article 27 says, no person shall be compelled to pay any taxes, the proceeds of which are specifically appropriated in payment of expenses for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion or religions denomination.
The high court had on Wednesday refused to interfere in the state government's decision to give Rs 10,000 each to 28,000 Durga puja committees in the state, and said the legislature is the appropriate forum to decide on such expenditure.
An interim stay granted by the court on disbursal of funds stood vacated as the court disposed of the plea.
On September 10, Mamata Banerjee had declared that Rs 10,000 would be given to each of the 28,000 puja committees across the state --3,000 in the city and 25,000 in the districts, costing the government an amount of Rs 28 crore.