Justifying its decision to allocate Rs 100 crore for the proposed Bal Thackeray memorial, the Maharashtra government on Thursday told the Bombay High Court it was within its discretion to allot land or money for a monument for a prominent person and it cannot be questioned in court.
The government made the submission before a division bench of Chief Justice N H Patil and Justice N M Jamdar which was hearing two petitions challenging the state's decision to convert the mayor's bungalow in central Mumbai into a memorial for Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray.
The petitions were filed by activist Bhagwanji Rayani and NGO Jan Mukti Morcha in April 2017 when the government had proposed to set up the memorial.
When the petitions came up for hearing on Thursday, petitioners' advocates Pradeep Havnur and Uday Warunjikar sought to amend the pleas so as to also challenge the decision of the BJP-led government to allocate Rs 100 crore for the memorial. The decision was taken earlier this week.
Havnur argued that the amount could be used for other important issues facing the state, while Warunjikar claimed the entire machinery was being mobilised for a private individual.
Senior counsel Milind Sathe, appearing for the government, opposed the petitions, saying it was the state's discretion how much land or money should be allotted for a memorial.
"Whether a person deserves a memorial or statue is up to the state government. Such state actions cannot be questioned in a court of law," Sathe maintained.
The bench, while agreeing to this, however, said the court could question the manner in which a decision has been taken.
It allowed the petitioners to amend their pleas to challenge the Rs 100-crore allocation and directed the government and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to file their affidavits by February 12.
The court also issued a notice to a government trust, 'Balasaheb Thackeray Rashtriya Smarak Samiti', set up in September 2016 to carry out work for the memorial, seeking its reply on the issue.
The petitioners also raised objections to the setting up of the trust and said of its 11 members, six are private persons.
"The six permanent members include Uddhav Thackeray (Shiv Sena chief) and (his son) Aaditya Thackeray. If it is a government trust, how can private persons be made permanent members?" Warunjikar asked.
The petitions also challenged a recent amendment to a provision in the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act by which the civic body chief was permitted to lease any immovable property, owned by the BMC, to any person at a nominal rate of Re 1 per year.