In an interim order today, a Division Bench of Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Arijit Banerjee of Calcutta High Court today directed that 75 per cent of the government grant to each of the community Durga puja committees should be spent in buying masks, sanitisers and face shields while the rest of the sum is to be utilised in improving police-public bonding.

The Division Bench passed these directions inter alia while hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) praying for an order praying of stay of the government grant of Rs 50,000 disbursed to the community Durga puja committees. The court directed that the money given by the state to the Durga Puja committees cannot be used for any other purpose like a soiree or entertainment of the organisers, and purchase bills of the masks and sanitisers have to be submitted to the authorities for audit.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had announced on 24 September that Rs 50,000 grant for each of the 36,946 Durga Puja committees in the state. “Due to the COVID pandemic, it has been a tough time for all of us. We have decided to provide Rs 50,000 grant to each of the Durga Puja committees,” she had said addressing a Durga Puja Coordination meeting. CITU leader Sourav Dutta moved the petition on 9 October before the Division Bench, challenging the grant and other doles such as discounts on application fees for permissions from fire brigade and power distribution companies.

The petitioner claimed that such a grant is against the concept of secularism in India and that it hurts the fundamental rights provided in the Constitution. During arguments, the state government counsel submitted that the grant is for “secular purposes” like buying Covid safety equipment and for public-police bonding. The court directed that 25 per cent of the Rs 50,000 grant to each of the committees will be used for strengthening public-police bonding and inclusion of more women in community policing.

It also said that the rest 75 per cent of the funds have to be utilised for purchase sanitisers, masks and face shields. It directed that bills of such procurement should be submitted to the authorities in respective districts for auditing and a report will have to be submitted by the state government before the court after the Durga Puja vacation, when the matter would be taken up for hearing again.

The court also said that the interim order should be distributed to all Durga Puja committees through leaflets and an affidavit would have to be submitted by the state authorities on compliance. Earlier, the court issued a slew of observations wherein it pointed out that the words of the chief minister when she was announcing the grants for the puja committees did not match the government circulars issued about the disbursal of these funds.

The court was pointing out that the chief minister as the head of the state administration said this financial help was being extended to the puja committees as owing to the pandemic the income from from advertisement and other sources is poor but according to the official notification dated 1 October did not mention financial help but for purchase of masks and sanitisers. It is an offence in the times of pandemic under the Disaster Management Act to step out of doors sans a mask, the court pointed out.

How come funds are allocated for the community puja organisers to buy mask for the people who will visit the pandals without wearing masks, it asked. There should be checks and balances for the distribution of masks and sanitisers by the clubs, the court pointed out. The district magistrate and SDOs should take up the responsibility to do the job, the court stated. At this point, advocate general Kisor Datta submitted that it is not possible for them to do the job.

The backbone of the bureaucrats have been broken by the political parties, the court observed and further stated things would not have come to such a pass had there there been a strong bureaucracy as the former have better judgmental capacity.

Calcutta HC orders SIT to probe illegal sand-mining:

Perturbed with the frequent complaints about illegal sand trafficking, the Calcutta High Court’s Division Bench yesterday stated, “The illegal sand-mining and removal of pebbles and boulders from riverbeds is a widespread malaise all over the state which couldn’t have blossomed into such a massive industry that it is at present without political patronage.”

The CHC’s Division Bench of Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Arijit Banerjee took a serious note of concern and passed an interim order responding to an appeal by ‘All India Anti Corruption Organisation’ – a Delhi based voluntary investigation agency. In last September, the CHC had asked the state to assign an officer to estimate the revenue losses incurred by Bengal due to the alleged unauthorised illegal sand mining and trafficking by some organized groups.

After the state’s official submitted report on the present status, the Bench yesterday passed an interim order where it directed the Director General of Police to ensure that ‘no kind of patronage or other consideration stand in the way of coming down heavily on persons who indulge in this illegal activity.’

Besides, the Bench also asked the Advocate General to ensure that the copy of the order is reached to the office of the DG of police. The Bench suggested: “A broad-based Special Investigation Team may be put up in place by the Court with authority to monitor all rivers and like places in the state to stop illegal mining and removal of sand, boulder or pebble from the riverbeds.” Kishore Mukherjee, lawyer for the petitioner said: “The matter would further be brought forward in the Court 15 days after the Puja vacation.”