The right to life under Article 21 of the constitution also encompasses the rights to practise 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 territory.
The single-judge Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharyya observed that the Asansol Durgapur Development Authority (ADDA) had denied permission to the petitioners, stating that the open ground in issue could only be used for government programmes and Durga Puja. In December 2022, the ADDA reached this conclusion.
The judge took note of the Court’s earlier decision allowing Durga Puja on government land on the grounds that it is more of a secular celebration than a religious one.
“Is there a prejudice against masculine deities? What does Lord Ganesha do wrong? You assert that Durga Puja is a semisecular celebration. I concur that Ganesh Puja would not be as culturally pervasive as Durga Puja in the state.”
The court stated that the current issue did not pertain to rights under Article 25 (right to religion), but rather to rights under Articles 14 (right to equality) and 21 (right to life).
“The right to life, which is vested in every citizen, includes the right to live with dignity and in a proper manner, which broadly includes the right of a person to practise his festivities and ceremonies,” the court emphasised.
The bench even asked what was the similarity between Durga Puja and government functions, since the authorities only permitted these two on the said public ground by virtue of its December 2022 resolution.
“If Durga Puja, which is also a Hindu celebration, is permitted on the disputed property, there is no reason why celebrations of other religions or the same religion, be it of other idols etc. or on other premises, should not be permitted,” the bench remarked.
The Court made it plain that the distinctions attempted to be projected by ADDA are incomprehensible from the perspective of Article 14’s body of law as a reasonable classification.
“The comparison of government programmes to Durga puja is even more preposterous. Even more so in the present context, there is nothing in government programmes that could be compared to the Durga Puja ceremony. If Durga Puja can be permitted alongside government programmes at a particular location, then there is no plausible reason why other public religious celebrations cannot be conducted at the same location, the court ruled.
In light of this, it deemed the State’s decision to be preposterous and in violation of Article 14 and ordered the authorities to allow the petitioners to use the contested site from September 18 to September 22 in order to observe Ganesh Puja.