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Dahi Handi festival: Children under 14 years of age not allowed to participate, says Bombay HC

Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Monday accepted Maharashtra government's statement that it would not allow children below the age of 14 years to participate in the 'Dahi Handi' festival.

A division bench of Justices BR Gavai and MS Karnik, however, refused to impose restrictions on the height of human pyramid formations during the festival.

 Dahi Handi festival: Children under 14 years of age not allowed to participate, says Bombay HC

Human pyramid during Dahi Handi festival. AFP

"It is not for the high court to impose restrictions on the age of the participants and height of the pyramids as this falls exclusively in the domain of the state legislature," 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 as per the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, children below 14 years of age will not be allowed to participate in the festival since the government had in August 2016 declared 'Dahi Handi' as an adventure sport.

The court was on Monday hearing two petitions filed by city residents, raising concerns over the participation of minors in the festival and lack of safety measures, due to which several untoward incidents occur.

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 cannot 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 1 August, 2017 referred the matter back to the Bombay 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 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 in violation of provisions of the Constitution, he said.

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Updated Date: Aug 07, 2017 17:35:54 IST