HC pulls up authorities for abusing procedure in allowing booking of space for Ramlila, Dussehra Mela

The Delhi High Court on Wednesday pulled up authorities for allowing a Ramlila committee to abuse the procedure of booking space for conducting Ramlila and Dussehra Mela.

The high court noted that the committee initially booked an open space near Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium for 43 days and later reduced the number to 23 days with an ulterior motive to ensure no one else could book the venue for that period.

“Respondent No. 4 (Ramlila committee) has abused the procedure by first booking the venue in question for 43 days, that is, from September 26, 2023 to October 30, 2023, and then has altered the booking period to only 23 days, that is, from October 5 to October 28, 2023, with the ulterior motive of ensuring that no other committee can book the venue for that period,” Justice Subramonium Prasad said.

“Unfortunately, the State has factually approved the procedure and been complicit in this unfair practice,” Prasad said, adding, to make it worse, the authorities also granted concession to the committee for booking.

The high court, which said it cannot be a silent onlooker, noted that the Ramlila and Dussehra Melas have become a commercial and lucrative prospect as they attract a number of people and a number of stalls and rides are booked by the vendors for which the Ramlila committees charge fees.

The high court’s order came on a plea by another Ramlila committee, Dakshini Delhi Dharmik Ramlila Samiti, seeking a direction to the authorities, including the Sports Authority of India, to book the venue.

The Samiti through the petition sought the booking from October 5 to October 27 at tariffs mentioned on the website of SAI of the venue, which is an open space near gate no 2 parking area of Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Lodhi Road.

It also sought a direction to set aside the booking confirmed by the other Ramlila committee on the ground that it was contrary to the procedure laid down by the authorities for booking of the venue.

The high court said the other Ramlila committee stealthily booked the venue at first by advancing the date of booking the venue to 43 days so that no other committee can book it and later shortened the duration.

It appears that the authorities actually aided the committee in ensuring that the petitioner is deprived of the venue, it noted.

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“The procedure adopted by respondent no. 4 for booking the venue, to which respondents no. 1, 2 and 3 are a party, is unfair, and respondents no. 1, 2 and 3 ought not have been a party to this unfair and arbitrary procedure,” the court said.

The court said the prayer made by the petitioner cannot be accepted because the other committee has booked the venue as per procedure, that is, 120 days prior to the date of booking, however, it is not expected from SAI to allow anyone to abuse the procedure established for smooth functioning of the authority.

It said since the activities during the period of Ramlila and Dussehra Mela are no longer merely social but have assumed a commercial colour, this court is of the opinion that the committee should pay the entire amount of Rs 2.25 lakh plus GST @ 18 per cent for each day of the duration for which the venue was booked by it.

The authorities had earlier granted it concession by allowing it to book at the rate of Rs 1.5 lakh per day.

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