The Bombay High Court has directed the forest department of the Maharashtra government to ensure that immersion of Ganpati idols does not take place in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP). A bench of Justices PB Varale and SM Modak also granted liberty to the forest officials to take appropriate steps against persons who may flout the directions issued by the State with regards to immersion of idols.
The bench directed “The Forest Department of the state Government shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any activities in the area of the SGNP for immersion of the idols and if any such attempt is made by committing the breach of provisions of law or flouting circulars issued by the State Government or Forest Department, the Forest authorities are at liberty to take appropriate steps against the violators. If a request is made by the Forest Department to the Police department for assistance of additional police force or deployment of the police force, the superior authority of the police authority to consider that request and take an appropriate decision by yourself.”
The Bench was hearing public interest litigation filed by NGO Mumbai March through advocates SS Patwardhan, SR Nargolkar, Sudyumn Nargolkar, Arjun Kadam and Ketan Joshi. The petition pointed to a news article which claimed that idols could be immersed at SGNP.
They claimed that plain reading of this news item would give an impression to the common man that permission is granted by the forest authorities to immerse idols in water bodies located inside SGNP. The petition sought directions to restrain individuals from immersing Ganesh idols in water bodies located within SGNP.
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Government pleader Purnima Kantharia, appearing for the Maharastra government, pointed out that the petition failed to show documents about what permission was granted. She, however, submitted that the authorities of the forest dept are vigilant enough to prevent any activity causing damage to ecology and wildlife.
After hearing this, Justice Varale said, “If you are saying that there is no permission, and someone has on his own said this, then you make a statement that there is no permission. The news article shows there is permission. What is an ordinary man supposed to know? That is a straight indication that permission was sought, and it was granted for idol immersion in a national park.”
The Court asked Kantharia to make a statement explicitly that neither written permission nor oral assurance was given for immersion. However, she expressed her inability to make such a statement, so the court stated it would pass an order recording that the news article cannot be construed as permission.
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The court took note of communications of the state government granting permission to the forest department to install an artificial pond near the entrance gate of the national park and took all possible steps to follow guidelines issued by the Maharashtra government.
In view of the communications, the Court found no reason to entertain the petition filed on apprehension of news articles.
The Bench, however, clarified that in view of the banner, there may be a large flow of activities for idol immersion, and to prevent damage to wildlife, the state was permitted to deploy additional police force. “In case, if any attempt is made to mislead public at large, by making certain untrue statements, the state govt shall also take appropriate steps to prevent such mischief, by taking recourse to provisions of law”, the Bench added.