The Delhi High Court on Monday asked the Centre, Delhi government and Election Commission (EC) to respond to a petition seeking derecognition of the Aam Aadmi Party for organising Ganesh Chaturthi using public money.
A Bench of Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Amit Bansal posted the petition filed by advocate M.L. Sharma for further hearing on November 18.
"Is there any article in the Constitution which prohibits the State…," the Bench asked Mr. Sharma during the hearing.
Mr. Sharma argued that "any funding to any religious purpose and organising any religious function is contra to the Constitution". He said "any funding to temple, mosque, 'Maulvi', 'Pujari', religious persons/ trust and religious function by the state is unconstitutional". He stressed that the Ganesh Puja organised by the Delhi government on September 10 was unconstitutional. Senior advocate Rahul Mehra, representing the Delhi government, opposed the plea saying it was a totally motivated and mischievous petition, coloured as public interest litigation (PIL).
"An attempt is being made through this petition that some kind of communal disharmony should be instigated," Mr. Mehra said adding that the government facilitating religious celebrations is not new and it is done every time during the Kumbh Mela and Amarnath Yatra,
"It is the solemn duty of the State and the Union to ensure that people who have certain faith, their public health is looked into," Mr. Mehra said adding, "it has nothing to do with exchequer money. No one is being forced to telecast anything. No subsidy given to anyone of any kind".
The senior advocate said Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal merely requested the media to cover the celebration for citizens' participation from their residences.
"We may perhaps be the only State in the country which has banned Ganesh Chaturthi at a mass scale so that the third wave does not come. That was why the Ganesh Puja was organised…so that people may celebrate it at their homes," Mr. Mehra argued.
"It's a laudable objective. We are trying to build a kind of culture in our society where spirituality comes first. Where all religions are kept at par. There is absolutely nothing which is unconstitutional here," he added.
However, the petition queried whether releasing money from the state treasury for organising religious worship for "vested interest" attract sections 408 (criminal breach of trust) and 420 (cheating) of the Indian Penal Code.
It said India is a secular country and no government can be seen indulging in religious activities by using public money.
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