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Mamata’s puja dole: Court says money to be used on sanitisers, masks

The Calcutta High Court on Friday threw a spanner in West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s bid to woo Durga Puja organising committees by giving cash dole of Rs 50,000 to each committee.

Hearing a petition challenging the government’s decision, a Division Bench of Sanjib Banerjee and Arijit Banerjee said in an interim order that the money could be spent only to promote better bonding between the police and the public and for preventing the spread of coronavirus.

The Bench said that while 25 per cent of Rs 50,000 grant should be spent for better police-public coordination and bonding, the remaining 75 per cent must be used for supplying sanitisers and masks to the people queuing up for watching the puja.

The court also directed that the state government must collect from the puja committees a detailed report regarding how they spent the Rs 50,000 assistance from the government and submit the report to the court.

On the question whether money from the exchequer could be spent for religious festivities, the government counsel told the court that police were giving funds to puja committees to help them control the crowd in a better way and to promote the motto of “safe drive save life”.

In response, the Bench remarked that the Chief Minister did not seem to have objectives such as crowd control and safe driving in mind when she made the announcement regarding giving Rs 50,000 to every puja committee in the state.

Rather, the Chief Minister, while making the announcement, said that the money was being given to the puja committees in view of fund crunch they might be facing owing to the pandemic, the Bench observed.

Last month, in a meeting of Durga Puja organising committees held at Netaji Indoor Stadium here, Banerjee had announced Rs 50,000 – a one hundred per cent jump over the Rs 25,000 given last year – as dole for the puja committees. She said 37,000 puja committees across the state would benefit from the step.