Apex court suspends Bombay HC order on dahi-handis

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The Supreme Court on Thursday suspended a Bombay High Court order restricting the height of human pyramids to 20 feet and did not bar persons above 12 years of age from participating in the popular dahi-handi festival celebrated on Janmashtami Day.

The suspension of the high court order is in place for this year. The Supreme Court said the suspension is subject to the condition that the State government ensures that the festival organisers comply with the safety guidelines framed by the Maharashtra State Commission for Protection of Child Rights.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha was hearing a petition filed by festival organisers challenging the Bombay High Court order passed on August 11.

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The court directed the Maharashtra government and authorities to file their replies on the petition within eight weeks.

The dahi-handi ceremony is annually held on Janmasthami, the birthday of Lord Krishna. It involves forming a human pyramid and breaking an earthen pot filled with buttermilk tied on a string at the top.

The festival, popular in Maharashtra, sees neck-to-neck competition and heavy wagers. Young children without safety harness are often employed to climb the human pyramid, which can go up to 40 feet. Accidents, often fatal, had led to the Child Rights Commission frame safety guidelines in February 2014.

Non-compliance with these guidelines had led the high court to pass its August 11 order, primarily barring the participation of persons below 18 years of age and capping the height of the pyramid at 20 feet.

“Has anybody bothered to follow the guidelines? That is why the high court has done this,” Justice Rohinton Nariman, on the bench with Justice Kurian Joseph, told the festival organisers and State authorities.

The high court had directed the organisers to provide medical help, helmets and safety belts to Govindas and cushion layers at the performance venues.

Keywords: dahi-handis, Bombay High Court, Gokulashtami, Govinda Sport, Janmashtami

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