The Calcutta High Court has directed the community Durga Puja organisers in West Bengal to spend 75 percent of the Rs 50,000 grant given by the West Bengal government on the procurement of COVID protection equipment and the rest on strengthening public-police bonding.

A division bench comprising Justices Sanjib Banerjee and Arijit Banerjee directed that the money given by the state to the Durga Puja committees cannot be used for any other purpose, and purchase bills have to be submitted to the authorities for audit.

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Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had announced on September 24 the Rs 50,000 grant for each of the 36,946 Durga Puja committees in the state.

Centre of Indian Trade Unions leader Sourav Dutta moved the petition on October 9 before the Division Bench, challenging the grant and other doles such as discounts on application fees for permissions from fire brigade and power distribution companies. The petitioner claimed that such a grant is against the concept of secularism in India and that it hurts the fundamental rights provided in the Constitution.

During arguments, the state government told the court that the grant is for “secular purposes” like buying COVID safety equipment and for public-police bonding.

The court directed that 25 percent of the Rs 50,000 grant to each of the committees will be used for strengthening public-police bonding and inclusion of more women in community policing. It also said that the rest 75 percent of the funds have to be utilised for purchase sanitisers, masks, and face shields.

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The court directed that bills of such procurement should be submitted to the authorities in respective districts for auditing and a report will have to be submitted by the state government before the court after the Durga Puja vacation when the matter would be taken up for hearing again.

The judges also said that the interim order should be distributed to all Durga Puja committees through leaflets and an affidavit would have to be submitted by the state authorities on compliance.