One of the main reasons why the Calcutta High Court struck down the West Bengal government’s recent order restricting immersion of Durga idols on the eve of Muharram was that the state government could not produce any evidence or past antecedent to substantiate its apprehension that immersions carried out on the same day as Muharram would lead to any untoward situation. The High Court rapped the state government on Thursday for curtailing the right to profess religion and performance of religious duties of one community.
“No case has been made out in course of an argument that there was any past antecedent, which may reasonably lead to the possibility of untoward incidents for which reasonable restriction or prohibition can be made in the interest of maintaining law and order,” the High Court order said.
The petitioners, who had moved the High Court against the state government order, contended that there has been no opposition from the Muslim community on the issue and accused the state government of “creating” a problem where there was none.
Amritlal Dhar, an advocate practising at the High Court and one of the petitioners in the case, had moved the High Court even last year when the state government had issued similar orders restricting immersions on the day of Muharram that coincided with Vijaya Dashami.
Dhar told The Sunday Guardian, “For the past 100 years, there has never been a ban on the immersion procession for Durga Puja even when both Muharram and Vijaya Dashami were on the same day. No-one banned religious processions in an arbitrary manner. The notification issued by the state government was arbitrary and without any reason.”
“Even last year, I had moved the High Court against a similar order when I was barred from immersing the Durga idol I had ‘established’ at my home. Even then, the court had slammed the government. Still, they failed to learn any lesson,” Dhar added.
This time, the court observed: “Neither any case has been made out in course of argument nor any material or any iota of evidence which can be deciphered by the court for coming to the conclusion that there is or there was possibility of any untoward incident or that any such incident was there.”
The court has also asked the government to ensure that immersions are allowed on all days till 12 am and designate separate routes for Tazia (Muharram) processions and those for Durga Puja immersions.
It also asked the state government to ensure that no law and order issues arise in the state.
Following the court’s order on Thursday, the West Bengal government fell back on its earlier stand and has allowed Durga idol immersions on the “contentious” date of 1 October coinciding with Muharram, by seeking prior approval from the respective police authorities to ensure that no law and order problem arises in the state.
However, Partha Ghosh, another petitioner and advocate at the Calcutta High Court, said: “By doing so, the government is ignoring the paragraphs in which the court has clearly said that it is the responsibility of the government to ensure law and order and immersion on all days starting 30 September. All Puja committees that have permission for conducting the Puja, also has permission for immersions; then why the confusion?”