Madras HC permits individuals to celebrate Ganesh festival amid government’s ban on public celebrations

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In a decisive ruling, the Madras High Court has given permission to only individuals and their families to install Ganesha idols and immerse them in nearby water bodies to celebrate Vinayaka Chaturthi. The festival falls on August 22, Saturday.

Chennai: The Madras High Court on Friday (August 21, 2020) gave permission to individuals and their families to install Ganesha idols and immerse them in nearby water bodies to celebrate Vinayaka Chaturthi.  The immersion of idols in large public spaces such as the Marina beach remains prohibited, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The festival falls on August 22, Saturday.

A division bench of Justice MM Sundresh and R Hemalatha emphasised that the Tamil Nadu’s government’s ban on public celebrations, processions, installation of idols in public will be in force. The Court also clarified that no organisation would be able to carry out celebration activities and processions. 

The court provided this relaxation for individuals and their families, after the state government told the court that it was not possible to relax the ban on public celebrations of the festival, which include installing idols in public places and taking them on processions. 

The bench also recorded the undertaking by Hindu Munnani outfit, which stated that they would not undertake any processions and would cooperate with the state authorities. 

On Thursday, the court had sought the government’s stance if any relaxation could be provided in the interest of the artisans who would suffer huge losses and livelihood issues due to the complete ban. The order was passed on a batch of PILs challenging the prohibition of public celebration of the festival. 

This issue had also taken a political turn and had brought NDA allies – the AIADMK (state ruling party) and the BJP (central ruling party) on a collision path.

The state government’s decision to permit opening of liquor shops in Chennai city (from August 18), while not permitting installing of Ganesha idols, taking them on processions, immersion rituals had irked the BJP state leadership. BJP leaders had questioned the Tamil Nadu government, asking them to take a cue from the neighboring Karnataka government that has permitted the festival to be celebrated amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision to prohibit the celebrations touched a raw nerve with Hindu groups in the state, which had planned on celebrating the festival in a big manner. The Hindu Munnani group had stated that they would celebrate the festival across the state by installing about 1.5 lakh idols. The state BJP too said that their stance would be the same as that of the Hindu Munnani.

On August 13, the Tamil Nadu government had issued guidelines stating that, in view of the COVID-19 situation, they were prohibiting putting up of Ganesh idols, celebrations in public, carrying them around the city in processions and also immersing them in water bodies.

The government instructed the public to follow physical distancing and mask-wearing norms while stepping out to buy essentials and other items for the festivals. The government urged people to celebrate the festival at their respective homes. 

The government statement added that, places of worship that earn less than Rs10,000 per annum have been permitted to remain open across the the state, mentioning that they can carry on with festive traditions, in accordance with the stated norms. 

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