Mumbai- Four law students from prestigious institutions such as MNLU, Mumbai, GLC, and NIRMA Law School have approached the Bombay High Court challenging the Maharashtra government's decision to declare a public holiday on Monday, January 22 to mark the inauguration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.
The petitioners—Shivangi Agarwal, Satyajeet Salve, Vedant Agrawal, and Khushi Bangia—filed their application with the High Court registrar, seeking the constitution of a special bench for an urgent hearing. A special bench, comprising Justices GS Kulkarni and Neela Gokhale, has been appointed to hear the petition on January 21.
The students argue that the government's notification, issued on January 19, to declare a public holiday is a violation of the Constitution as it entails expenditure from the government exchequer for religious purposes. They underscore that such decisions should not be arbitrary and cannot solely serve political interests.
They have sought quashing of the notification issued by the Maharashtra government.
"Any policy regarding declaration of public holidays cannot be at the whims and fancies of the political party in power. Holiday can be declared perhaps to commemorate a patriotic personality or historic figure but not to celebrate consecration of Ram lalla to appease a particular section of the society or religious community", the petition said.
The petitioners express concerns about the potential impact of public holidays on education, finances, and governance. They argue that without proper legislation or secular guidelines guiding such declarations, appeasing a majority community for political purposes undermines the secular fabric of India.
Moreover, the petitioners challenge the validity of a 1968 notification from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, which empowers states to declare public holidays under the Negotiable Instruments Act. This legal move seeks to address the broader constitutional and legal aspects of the Maharashtra government's decision.
This is not an isolated incident; the Lawyers Collective has also raised similar objections. The Indian Lawyers Association (ILA) has expressed dissent in an open letter to the Bar Council of India and the AP High Court Advocates Association, condemning recent actions that undermine the secular nature of the judiciary. Specifically, the ILA voiced discontent over the nationwide court holiday request on January 22 by the Chairman of the Bar Council of India and condemned a religious ritual conducted within court premises by an advocates association.
As the legal battle unfolds, criticism mounts from civil society, particularly against the decisions to grant holidays on January 22, with premier medical institutions like AIIMS and Ram Manohar Lohia hospitals planning to remain closed either for half a day or the entire day. States including Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Odisha, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Tripura, and Madhya Pradesh have declared half-day holidays to facilitate celebrations in light of the Pran Pratishtha Ceremony in Ayodhya on Monday. In line with this, several BJP-ruled states have also issued orders for the closure of meat and liquor shops for the day. Meanwhile, Ambedkarites are urging people to celebrate the occasion by taking a pledge on the consecration day, committing to Baba Saheb's 22 vows. The developments indicate a growing tension between religious events and the principles of secularism in public affairs.