The Calcutta High Court on 27th July pulled up the West Bengal state administration over a petition filed by a citizen against continuous drum beating till late at night by “local political goons” on account of Muharram celebrations.
Directions were issued by a division bench of Chief Justice TS Sivagnanam and Justice Hiranmay Bhattacharya to the West Bengal Police and the State Pollution Control Board to regulate the instances of public nuisance caused by incidents like non-stop drum beating and open-air kitchens in residential areas.
The petition had alleged that there was continuous beating of drums till late at night by local ‘goons’ on the pretext of the Muharram festival. The petitioner had also said that whenever she approached police, she was turned away, advising her to put cotton on ears and come with a court order.
While delivering the order, the High Court cited the Church of God (Full Gospel) India case. It said that the practice of religion under Article 25(1) of the Constitution was not an absolute right. It further stated that provisions of Article 25 are subject to 19(1). “On proper construction, it cannot be said that a citizen should be coerced to hear something he doesn’t like or require”, the bench observed.
CJ: provisions of article 25 are subject to 19(1)(a). On proper construction, it cannot be said that a citizen should be coerced to hear something he does t like or require #Muharram2023 #CalcuttaHighCourt
— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) July 27, 2023
The High Court said that the unabated beating of drums is impermissible in light of the rules and directions of the SC. “It is the duty of the WB PCB to issue public notices prior to any religious festival or rally to sensitize the citizens about rules which prohibit indiscriminate noise pollution”, the court said.
Referring to the petitioner’s complaints, the court rendered continuous drum-beating as illegal and contrary to relevant rules. It directed the police to immediately issue public notice regulating the timing for the beating of drums.
The court further said that the beating of drums may be part of the festival on 29th July, but it can’t go on continuously for days, and violates rules and the directions of the Supreme Court.
The court also issued directions to the TMC govt to immediately issue a notice stating that organized groups which want to perform prayers, including drum beating, must obtain the necessary permission. “Such permission to be granted fit identified group and the location should also be fixed. Apart from that the time limit has to be mentioned.”
While reprimanding the West Bengal Pollution Control Board, the HC said that despite there being powerful pollution laws, there is no implementation. The high court made a significant observation saying that if the officials try to use their powers and implement the laws, they will be assaulted by mobs. “Your officer cannot implement…he will be beaten if he goes there (amidst the crowd),” the bench said.
The Calcutta HC on 21st July had allowed the restoration of a plea challenging the activities of drum-beating and public slaughtering of animals during Muharram. The petitioner told the court that the Park Street Police Station in Kolkata had ignored the complaints of noise pollution allegedly telling the complainants to “put cotton in your ears”.
The petitioner further submitted that while requesting the Lalbazar control room to put a stop to the drum beating, she was told to bring the court order to complain as there is “no specific order for drumming”. She also informed the court that open-air cooking was also happening in her area in Kolkata every day.
Pulling up the state police over the same, the court said, “It is not clear why the police have permitted open-air kitchens, especially when petitioner alleges nuisance to her family and neighbourhood. This also has to be regulated by the police.”
During the course of the hearing, the government submitted that in a meeting earlier this month, it was decided to allow drum beating from 6 am to 10 pm. The bench directed that the timings be regulated and drum-beating not be permitted before 8 am. “There will be school-going children, exams are there, old and ill people”, the HC observed. The HC said that the drum-beating shouldn’t happen after 7 pm.
Citing the Supreme Court’s observations from the case of Church of God (Full Gospel) India, the court said that SC held that no religion prescribes that prayer should be performed by disturbing the peace of others.
“SC further pointed out that in civilized society, in the name of religion activities which disturb children or elderly people, or others, cannot be permitted. SC has pointed out that it cannot be said that religious leaders had desires amplifiers and loudspeakers as a means of propagating religion”, the court observed.
The HC towards the conclusion of its order said that no religious tenet permits such activities.