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Calcutta High Court – Right to life includes right to celebrate festivals; allows Ganesh Puja on public land where Durga Puja was allowed

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Kolkata. The right to life under Article 21 of the constitution also includes the right to practice and celebrate festivities and ceremonies irrespective of religion, the Calcutta High Court said on Friday while allowing an organisation to celebrate Ganesh Puja festival on public land.

Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharyya noted that the ADDA (Asansol Durgapur Development Authority) had denied permission to the petitioners stating that the open ground in question could be used only for Government programs and for Durga Puja. This decision was taken by the ADDA in December 2022.

The judge took note of the Court’s earlier decision permitting Durga Puja on government land on stating is a more secular festival than a religious one.

“Isn’t it gender biased against male gods? What is the fault of Lord Ganesha? Durga Puja, you say, is a semi-secular activity. I agree Ganesh Puja would not be so culturally widespread as Durga Puja in the State.”

The bench said the present issue did not relate to rights under Article 25 (right to religion) but to rights under Article 14 (right to equality) and 21 (right to life).

“The right to life, which is vested in every citizen has a right to live with dignity and in proper manner, which includes broadly the right of a person to practice his festivities and ceremonies as well, irrespective of the component of religion therein,” the bench underscored.

The bench even asked what was the similarity between Durga Puja and government functions, since the authorities only allowed these two on the said public ground by virtue of its December 2022 resolution.

“If Durga Puja which is also a festivity of Hindus is allowed on the ground in question, there is no reason why festivity of other religions or the same religion, be it of other idols etc or on other premises, should not be allowed,” the bench observed.

The differentia sought to be projected by ADDA is not intelligible at all to come within a reasonable classification within the contemplation of the body of laws regarding Article 14, the Court made it clear.

“More absurd is the equation of government programs with Durga puja. There is nothing in government programs which could be put on equal footing with the occasion of Durga Puja ceremony, more so, in the present context. If Durga Puja can be allowed at a site along with government programs, then there is no plausible reason as to why other public religious festivities cannot be performed at the said site,” the Court held.

Therefore, it said the decision of the State was absurd and violative of Article 14 and ordered the authorities to permit the petitioners to use the site in question for observing Ganesh Puja from September 18 to September 22.

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