The Karnataka Waqf Board’s opposition to the use of Bengaluru’s Idgah Maidan for Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations reached the Supreme Court today, where two judges disagreed, so a three-judge bench hears now, to potentially end the deadlock by evening . As the festival starts tomorrow, an urgent hearing was requested and granted.
The state government – who can give permission to set up a festival pandals – had argued that it could be heard the day after tomorrow.
“No religious event of any other community has been held in this property,” the board argued. “This property has been declared as Waqf property under the 1954 law,” it added.
“Suddenly in 2022 they say it is disputed land and they want to hold Ganesh Chaturthi festival here,” said Kapil Sibal, the board’s lawyer.
One of the points of the board is that the Hindu festival will be held in a space owned by the Muslim organization “with elections next year”, suggesting political motives. Elections for the city’s municipal corporation – Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike or BBMP – are scheduled for 2023.
Karnataka has seen some communal violence in recent months, even leading to demands that BJP remove Basavaraj Bommai as Chief Minister.
Earlier, before the two-judge bench, the board said permission had not been requested for the festival set-up. “The land title has been in the name of the council since 1881,” emphasized the lawyer. When the bank asked how Independence Day and other celebrations had been held on the ground before, he replied: “It is with permission. Even children are allowed to play… But now the order is for a religious function.”
Attorney General Tushar Mehta appeared before the state government. “The ownership of the land has never been questioned before. This is an open country with no borders,” he said. “Please allow the government to use the land for tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. The state will take care of any threat perception,” he told the court.
The Waqf board said a decision on the matter is urgently needed because “it will become useless if it is not heard today”.
The two judges – Judges Hemant Gupta and Sudhanshu Dhulia – then referred the matter to the Chief Justice, citing a difference of opinion. “Heared the parties at length. Neither the hearing could be concluded nor could an agreement be reached between the bank. Let the case be brought before the CJI,” the bank said.
CJI UU Lalit later mentioned it before a three-judge bench – judges Indira Bannerjee, AS Oka and MM Sunderesh – after asking for some to discuss “with the available judges”.
The council’s plea is actually an appeal against an August 26 order by the Karnataka High Court that allowed the government to make a decision on the use of the land.
While the waqf board urged a Supreme Court hearing, it said “unnecessary tensions will be created” if the matter is not taken up immediately. Sibal argued that the land has been used by Muslims for decades.
Even the Supreme Court initially agreed with the board – a single judge said the land could only be used by the government or municipal bodies as a playground and for Independence Day and Republic Day. The Muslim community could pray there on both Eids, it had said. But on appeal, a larger Supreme Court bench later ruled that the government has the power to grant permissions.
According to news reports, certain Hindu organizations would get permission for Ganesh Chaturthi pandals on Wednesday and Thursday.