Kolkata: The West Bengal government told the Calcutta High Court that it cannot interfere in a legislative decision on granting funds to Durga Puja committees, after a petitioner claimed that it is a violation of the secular structure of the Constitution. The court had extended till Thursday an interim stay on disbursal of Rs 10,000 each to 28,000 puja committees across the state, which was announced by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee last month.
A division bench of Acting Chief Justice Debasish Kar Gupta and Justice Sampa Sarkar also said it would pass an order on maintainability of the PIL challenging disbursal of funds to puja committees on Wednesday. Advocate General Kishore Dutta submitted before the division bench that this is to be used for assisting police under its traffic safety campaign and not for any religious purpose.
Dutta said the funds are to be used for assisting police under 'Safe drive save life' campaign of the state government and also for sanitation and public safety. He said a taxpayer cannot question the modus operandi of expenditure and claimed that this is the prerogative of the legislature. Senior counsel Saktinath Mukherjee, also appearing for the state, submitted that the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) can scrutinise expenditure of a government and by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the Legislature and the court has no role to play at the stage of expenditure.
The Acting Chief Justice asked whether the court will sit mum while public money is being expended and will interfere only after it has been distributed. Appearing for the petitioner, senior counsel Bikash Bhattacharya questioned whether the state government can expend a single paisa for the "purpose of destroying the secular structure of the Constitution." He alleged that it is a dole to puja committees and not for any public purpose.
The AG submitted before the court the finance department's sanction pursuant to which funds were allotted. He said the funds were allotted under a new scheme which will be passed in the next state Budget. The court last week passed an interim stay order directing the West Bengal government to put on hold the distribution of funds to Durga Puja committees till Tuesday.
The interim stay came after advocate Sourabh Dutta filed a PIL challenging the programme. On September 10, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee 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 £2.8 million.