The Orissa High Court on Friday dismissed a petition filed by a puja committee and others against the government’s decision to restrict the maximum height of Durga idols to four feet in the state, observing that the matter cannot be singled out as an “essential” aspect of a tradition or practice without which the festival itself may not have significance.
A division bench headed by Chief Justice S Muralidhar said the petitioners were not able to convince the court that if the height of the idol is restricted to four feet, then “somehow the sanctity of the occasion, the devotion and fervour associated with the festival, and the religious sentiments of the people would be interfered with in a manner contrary to tradition”. The observations by the bench came on the petition filed by the Balubazar Puja Committee in Cuttack and three of its office bearers against the government’s order.
It also said none of the other Durga Puja committees had found the restriction to be hurtful of public sentiment or interfering with their celebrations. The Odisha government had on August 9 directed the puja organisers to ensure that the height of Durga idols would be less than four feet in light of the threat to health and safety of people due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Appearing for the petitioners, senior advocate Pitambar Acharya had argued there was no justification in the state government’s restriction on the height of Durga idols as this had “no nexus to the danger posed by the pandemic”. The high court had on Thursday completed hearing on the petition and reserved its verdict.
“Durga Puja festival itself is a combination of several elements of celebration, and the idol is but one important component. In respect of these many elements, there has had to be some amount of restriction on the scale and size, the bench said. It also said relaxing the restriction for just one Durga Puja committee would trigger similar demands all over, making it difficult for the government to strictly enforce the measures when the state is still in the grip of Covid-19.
The height of Durga idols “cannot be singled out as an essential aspect of a tradition or practice without which the festival itself may not have significance”, the court said. “These may be matters of perception, but will have to be balanced against several countervailing interests and factors, which concern the health and safety of the public at large,” it added.