No child below the age of 12 years will be permitted to participate in forming human pyramids during the popular Dahi Handi festival, the Supreme Court directed on Thursday while keeping on hold a Bombay high court order, which barred participation of children under 18.
The apex court also said that state authorities should ensure that the festival be allowed subject to the condition that the organisers follow all guidelines containing safety measures, recommended by Maharashtra State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, are followed.
The Dahi Handi ceremony is held on Janmasthami, the birthday of Lord Krishna, every year. It involves forming a human pyramid and breaking an earthen pot filled with buttermilk which is tied at a height. It is popular in Maharashtra.
While passing the interim order, a bench comprising Chief Justice R M Lodha, justices Kurian Joseph and R F Nariman issued notice to the Maharashtra government and concerned authorities, seeking their replies within eight weeks on a petition challenging the August 11 order of the Bombay high court.
Organisers of the festival had approached the apex court challenging the high court’s order banning participation of children below 18 years in forming human pyramids during the Dahi Handi' festival. The high court had cited fatal accidents during the celebrations and had directed the Maharashtra government to restrict the height of human pyramids to 20 feet.
The court’s directions had come while hearing various public interest litigations including that of a social worker. Issuing various directions to ensure safety of the govindas, the high court had asked the organisers to give due importance to the health and safety of the participants in the festival scheduled on August 18.
The high court had said the organisers have to give an undertaking that they will make available immediate medical help, including ambulances, first aid and other infrastructure necessary to treat injured participants and move them to nearby hospital.
Organisers shall provide helmets and safety belts to govindas and cushion layers at the venue of performance, it had said. The high court had asked the mandals to provide names, addresses, photographs and age proof of govindas participating in the human pyramids to the competent authority. Besides, consent letters of voluntary participation of each govinda has to be submitted by the mandals.
The high court had directed the state government to amend certain sections of the Bombay Police Act and the Maharashtra Police Act, which define “dangerous activities”, to include higher human pyramids which would then invite penal action.
Section 143(B) of the Maharashtra Police Act defines dangerous activities as those where persons bury themselves underground and seal themselves during performances. “The government shall carry out necessary amendment to include such other performances as Dahi Handi in the definition,” the high court had said.