Children below the age of 14 years cannot participate in the Dahi Handi festival, the Maharashtra government on Monday said in the Bombay high court, which accepted the statement, but refused to impose any restriction on the height of human pyramid formations.
A division bench of Justices B R Gavai and M S Karnik said it was not for the high court to impose restrictions on the age of the participants, famously known as 'govindas', in the festival and the height of pyramids.
"Imposing age and height restrictions is out of our purview. This falls exclusively in the domain of the state legislature.
"If we enter the arena of the state legislature then we would be encroaching. It is for the state legislature to decide and pass an enactment on the restrictions if required," Justice Gavai said.
"We accept the statement made by the state government that it would ensure children below 14 years of age would not participate in the Dahi Handi festival," the judge said.
Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the state government, told the court that according to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, children below 14 years of age would not be allowed to participate in the festival since the government had in August last year declared Dahi Handi as an adventure sport.
The high court was hearing two petitions filed by city residents, raising concern over the participation of minors in the festival and lack of safety measures due to which several accidents have occurred.
Dahi Handi, a festival marking the birth of Lord Krishna, will be celebrated next week. The festivities involve forming a human pyramid and breaking an earthen pitcher filled with buttermilk which is tied to a rope at a height.
In 2014, the high court had passed an order saying children below the age of 18 years could not participate in the festival, and had also imposed a height restriction of 20 feet for the pyramids.
The state government had then appealed in the Supreme Court which on August 1 this year referred the matter back to the high court directing it to hear the petitions afresh.
"While the concerns raised by the petitioners are laudable, we feel that most of the directions issued by the high court in its 2014 order pertaining to safety and remedial measures have been accepted by the state government," Justice Gavai noted.
The court referred to an affidavit filed by the state government in the apex court giving an assurance that all precautionary and remedial measures would be taken to prevent accidents and to provide immediate medical attention in case any accident.
"The state government has taken a decision that the organisers of Dahi Handi festival would provide helmets, safety belts and cushion layer and also ensure that medical aid and ambulance are available at the spot," the court said.
"A local monitoring body comprising officials from the local police station, ward office and elected representatives shall also be present at the venue. Adequate police force will also be deployed," the court said, referring to the state affidavit.
To an argument made by the petitioners that Lord Krishna used to form only a 10-foot high pyramid, Justice Gavai said, "We do not even know if Lord Krishna existed."
"Accidents can happen anywhere and at anytime. People die while taking selfies...while playing cricket...while exercising...so many accidents occur in toilets. This does not mean the high court can go on banning everything," he said.
The court can interfere only when a particular law is violative of provisions of the Constitution, he said.