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Kolkata: Calcutta High Court has ordered a stay on the disbursement of financial aid to community Durga Puja committees in Bengal that was announced by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

A division bench of acting Chief Justice Debasish Kar Gupta and justice Shampa Sarkar has ordered the injunction today while hearing a public interest litigation.

The stay will be valid till the next hearing on 9 October, unless the HC extends this further or scrapes the state government decision altogether.

The Chief Minister had on 10 September announced that the state government will give Rs 10,000 to each of the 28,000 community Durga Pujas in the state so that they are “not required to beg from outside” the state.

Challenging the decision, RSP leader Ashok Ghosh wrote to the Chief Justice of the HC asking whether the government can spend public money to promote any religion. Does not this amount to a violation of the Constitutional norms?

Taking it to the next level, CPI-M leader and senior advocate, Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, filed a public interest litigation against this on 19 September.

This notwithstanding, the state government on 24 September issued a formal notification and started distributing the aid from 4 October.

During the hearing of the PIL today, advocate general Kishore Dutta pleaded before the division bench maintained that the aid was being given to create awareness for “Safe Drive Safe Life.” The finance department approved the decision and budget was allocated for this, he said.

To this, acting Chief Justice Kar Gupta asked on what basis the recipients are selected and whether there is a guideline as regards distribution and accountability for the aid being given.

On this, the advocate general sought more time to respond. It was then that the division bench asked the state government furnish its reply by 9 October and said that the disbursement of aid should remain suspended till then.

Advocate Shamim Ahmed, who works with advocate Bhattacharya said that they had moved the HC when the state government had announced allowance for Imams in 2012.

“Now, we have approached the court again in view of the aid to Durga Puja committees. Our main plea is, can a government spend public money to promote a religion, whichever it may be,” he said.

Later in the day, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee told reporters that the government has already disbursed the money and wondered how that can be recalled now.

“We respect the court and its order. But how can we take back the aid that has been disbursed already?” she said at Trinamool headquarters in response to queries from journalists.

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