Not much work was done at the charity commissioner’s office in Worli on Friday. This was not because of a strike or something of the sort. It’s just that a Satyanarayan pooja was being conducted within the office with great enthusiasm and, naturally, it kept the staff busy for most part of the day. When this correspondent made an afternoon visit to the office — which is located on the second floor — in connection with a case, he found that most of the staff were not in their seats. All of them had gathered on the ground floor to take part in the pooja. A loudspeaker was blaring bhajans and a purohit was chanting mantras. While many of the female staff were decked up in silk sarees for the occasion, most of the men were in kurtas sporting red tilaks.
SA Ghorpade, an elderly and soft-spoken advocate, normally practises on the appellate side of the Bombay high court. But, he came to the charity commissioner’s office on Friday to help a friend out.
He was standing before assistant commissioner AS Kolhe before whom his client’s matter was listed. Hardly had he started making his submissions, when Ms Kolhe, who is holding quasi-judicial authority, excused herself, stating that she had to go down to the ground floor to attend the pooja. After returning later, she excused herself yet again in the middle of the proceedings, saying that the aarti was about to start.
Ghorpade took the disruptions in his stride, but other litigants could be seen fuming because they had been waiting for over three hours. Strangely, the board on which the day’s cases are listed was not displayed on Friday and litigants had to go from pillar to post to make sure that their matters would be heard.
Many present were shocked that quasi-judicial proceedings and other work in the office took a back seat because of the ritual in the building. The entire place wore a festive look with bright torans adorning the entrances and little electric bulbs brightening the staircase.
A grand lunch was organised in the afternoon. But, even before that prasad was being distributed. An employee, M Ruchira, observed: “This pooja is performed once a year. The public should adjust.”
A lawyer, who did not wish to be identified, said: “It is totally absurd that a pooja was conducted in a government building and that too during office hours; and on top of that, regular work was neglected in the process.”
Exasperated litigants, who had come from the distant suburbs, could be heard venting their ire at the staff. Incidentally, the charity commissioner’s office is under chief minister Prithviraj Chavan.
Activist Bhagwan Raiyani, who had filed a PIL in the Bombay high court against religious rituals being conducted in public places, said: “If a pooja was held in the charity commissioner’s office, it is totally anti-secular.” He said his PIL was still to come up for hearing.