It may come as a relief to those frustrated with roadblocks caused in the name of religion. The Mumbai High Court, on Wednesday, has ruled that you don’t have the right to worship idols in public places while issuing stricter norms for temporary pandals for festivals like Dahi Handi, Navratri and Ganeshotsav that take over Mumbai’s roads and footpaths.
“No citizen has a fundamental right to worship God at a public place, unless that place is of particular significance for the religion concerned,” the division bench of justice Abhay Oka and justice Revati Mohite-Dere said, as reported by the HT.
So what are our rights when it comes to expressing religion?
During pandal season, citizens can walk on the roads, while temporary pandals on footpaths in good condition can be considered by municipal commissioners. To prevent illegal pandals, Mumbai High Court asked district collectors to put together teams to visit visit municipal areas a week before a festival to alert the civic chief. Since any matter of religion can get ugly, local police stations have been asked to protect civic staff making this visits.
The PIL that made it possible
All this happened after a PIL (public interest litigation) by a Dr Mahesh Bedekar, complaining about the rules and regulations were not followed while festivals such as Ganeshotsav, Navratri and Dahi Handi were being organised in the Thane. Bedekar, who runs a hospital in Thane, had filed an FIR on the menace caused by festivals such as Ganeshotsav, Navratri and Janmahotsav. He said no action by authorities, even if after citizens complained about the violations.
The PIL had previously led to the court preventing municipal commissioners from granting permissions to pandals and other religious structures if they obstructed traffic or footpath movement. The bench, comprising justice Abhay Oka and justice Revati Mohite-Dere, criticised the state government for “complete failure” to comply with the directions issued by the court earlier. It directed state chief secretary to furnish the names and designations of officers responsible for breach of its March 13 order for curbing noise pollution during festivals.
The bench was miffed that the State government had not complied with its directions, particularly for setting up of a complaints redressal mechanism. The court also noted that it was only after a lapse of two months that the order was communicated to the concerned departments. The bench also asked for ensuring that its guidelines regarding the Noise Pollution Rules (2000) and Supreme Court’s orders are implemented.