Mamata Banerjee

Democracy at stake: as the religious politics takes power

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India is a secular country, as enshrined in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution. But with the actions of the state there had been case of misconduct while performance of the duties and responsibility due to which there is discrimination and partiality on the basis of religion, causing a huge outbreak. Following are the details of one such instance.

The Facts about the case:

There are around 3000 pujo organisers in Kolkata and about 25,000 across the state. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, speaking at a coordination meeting at Kolkata’s Netaji Indoor Stadium as on the 10th of September 2018 offered gift in the form of waiver of licence fee to the 28,000 Durga Pujo Committees across the state.

With the gift of waiver of licence fee, the CM also allotted a grant of Rs.10, 000 for each of the 28,000 committees across the state. The waiver and the grant come at a time when the state is facing a debt- burden.

The grant of Rs.28 Crore would be spending as financial assistance to the pujo committees. The CM mentioned the grant as a “gift” aimed at “community development”. The CM describes the pujo as their pride and on the banks of the river Thames, there had been an exhibition on there pujo, Pujo is now Biswa Mela.

As reportedly, amongst other gifts, pujo committees will be exempted from paying any fee or taxes to various public department. The distribution of the gift would be through the governmental departments including culture & welfare, and tourism department.

As per Article 27 of the Indian Constitution, 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 religious denomination.

The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filled by Sourav Gupta and Advocate Dyutiman Banerjee. The division Bench of the High Court, under the guidance of Chief Justice Debasish Kar Gupta and Justice Shampa Sarkar, stayed the decision of the government for grant of the gifts.
The former mayor of Kolkata and Counsel for petitioners Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya expressed his views “the decision of the state government is unconstitutional since we live in a Secular State and it cannot patronise a religious festival in this manner”

But the government stated in their argument that they have already distributed the funds after the announcement in September end. Also government had argued that the donation was given to promote the state’s campaign for safe driving that carries the slogan ‘safe drive, save life’. The court wasn’t satisfied and finds the reply to be baseless. Thus the court sought an affidavit for the state government.

The Supreme Court on the 12th of October issued a notice to the government bases on a plea challenging its decision to grant Rs.10, 000 each to the 28,000 Durga Pujo committees in the state.

The Opposition:

The opposition parties of the state, like the BJP accused the government for “dole politics” as to pacify the Hindu voters, as the upcoming Lok Sabha elections of 2019. The opposition blames the current government of playing dirty games and as for the upcoming elections the government is using the religious bases for the discrimination and vote bank, as earlier also, with the aim on Muslim voters, the government had granted allowances for Imams; the CPI (M) also slammed the TMC- led government, stating that they have grossly “violated” the constitution, as it is not allowed to spend public money on any religious festival.
There is Financial Side to this situation as the State of West Bengal has a total debt burden of Rs. 3.64 Lakh Crore. With the upcoming grant of gift by the government, the burden is projected to be Rs. 3.94 Lakh Crore during the current fiscal year. The state government has been pressing the issue of a waiver of the debt at the centre for some time.
The Supreme Court has refused to stop the grant given by the West Bengal government but has sought a detailed response along with an affidavit from the State government within the next six weeks.

Priyam Kamra
Student Reporter, INBA

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