SC disallows Ganesha Chaturthi celebrations at Bengaluru Eidgah maidan

The Karnataka government had allowed two-day celebrations on Ganesha Chaturthi at the maidan, but the Supreme Court has ordered status quo in the case.
The Eidgah maidan at Chamrajapet in central Bengaluru
The Eidgah maidan at Chamrajapet in central Bengaluru

The Supreme Court on Tuesday, August 30, ordered status quo at the Eidgah maidan in Bengaluru’s Chamarajpet for two days, which means that the apex court has not allowed Ganesha Chaturthi celebrations at the contested ground. The bench of Justice Indira Banerjee, Justice Abhay Oka and Justice MM Sundresh was hearing petitions challenging the Karnataka High Court's verdict permitting the use of Bengaluru’s Eidgah Maidan for Ganesha Chaturthi celebrations. Right-wing groups who came under a banner called the Chamarajpet Okoota Samiti had demanded that they should be allowed to celebrate Ganesha Chaturthi at the ground that was traditionally used by Muslims to offer Eid prayers. 

In its order, the Supreme Court told the government to hold the Ganesha puja ‘at some other place,’ and asked petitioners to approach the High Court over the dispute of who owns the land. The ground in question is located in Chamarajpet in Central Bengaluru and has a Qibla or a wall. Muslims offer Eid prayers here. The Karnataka government had allowed two-day celebrations on Ganesha Chaturthi, which falls on August 31, at the maidan.

The site has been mired in controversy, following demands by right-wing organisations to hoist the national flag in the maidan. The Karnataka Wakf board has maintained that the 2.5-acre land belongs to them while the city corporation or BBMP recently said it is revenue land. The national flag was ultimately hoisted on Independence Day after a single judge bench ruled that the site can be used for Independence Day and Republic Day celebrations apart from holding Eid-ul-Fitr and Bakrid prayers.

The arguments in court

Representing the Waqf Board, senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Dushyant Dave submitted that for the past 200 years, the ground has been declared as a Waqf property. Nobody challenged that notification which classified this as Waqf property, they said. They added that Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution expressly protect the right of religious minorities to possess their properties. The petitioner counsels said that the row over the ground is political, and opposed the celebration of any other religious festivals, barring Eid and Ramzan, on the ground.

Appearing for the Karnataka government, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi said that the Eidgah maidan was not used for any other religious purposes, but that does not mean that the land will not be used in future for other religious purposes. He added that the land is mentioned as a playground in the records of the Revenue Department and in BBMP records. Rohatgi said that since neither the Bengaluru civic body nor the Waqf can prove ownership, the land belongs to the state. “One should be broad-minded...what is going to happen if Ganesha Chaturthi is allowed for two days,” he submitted to the court. 

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta asked the Supreme Court to allow Ganesha Chaturthi celebrations for two days under government supervision, and said that after that, the land will be vacated. At this juncture, senior advocate Dushyant Dave quipped in court that even the then Uttar Pradesh government had said the Babri Masjid would not be demolished. 

Earlier, a two-judge bench of Justices Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia had begun hearing the petitions, but the bench said that it is referring the case to the Chief Justice of India, as there was a difference of opinion between the two judges. The case was then mentioned before Chief Justice of India UU Lalit, who then set up a three-judge bench to hear the same. The petitioners had called for an urgent hearing, after being told that the Karnataka government had allowed two-day celebrations — on Wednesday, August 31, which is when Ganesha Chaturthi is celebrated, and Thursday, September 1. 

The top court was hearing an appeal filed by the Karnataka Waqf Board challenging the order of a division bench of the Karnataka High Court which on August 26 permitted the Karnataka government to take a call to permit the celebrations of the festival on the ground.  

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