Bombay HC Allows Parsi Community to Perform Rituals on Annual Prayer Day Amidst COVID-19

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A Writ Petition was filed by the Bombay Parsi Panchayat to open places of worship for followers of the Parsi Religion or allow them to perform rituals on annual prayer day. The Court permitted the latter and disposed of the petition.

Background

The Bombay Parsi Panchayat filed a Writ Petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India. The petitioner sought opening of the Fire Temple, Doongerwadi (Tower of Silence), and other places of worship of the Parsi community along with permission to visit them. Alternatively, the petitioner requested the opening of Doongerwadi or Tower of Silence to offer prayers on the annual prayer day on 3rd September 2020.

Petitioner’s Prayers

  • To permit the opening of the Fire Temples, Doongerwadi, and other places of worship and permit the followers of Parsi religion to visit.
  • To allow the opening of Doongerwadi during the annual prayer day for offering prayers on 3rd September 2020.

Petitioner’s Submissions

At the outset, the petitioner submitted an additional affidavit laying out that no Parsis that died due to COVID-19 were allowed at Doongerwadi. Instead, they have been cremated at the Worli prayer hall. The property at Doongerwadi is spread across fifty-five acres. Furthermore, it is isolated, and nobody except the members of the Parsi community is allowed. The petitioner further submitted that not more than six persons from the community and two priests at a time in each of the five pavilions measuring 600-800 sq. ft. would be permitted between 7 am and 4.30 pm. It has also been clarified that no religious functions or congregations like the ones during Ganeshotsav or Navratri will take place.

Further, before allowing any person to enter, their temperature will be recorded using a contactless temperature gun. Sanitizers will be sprayed on the hand of each worshiper while entering the premises. In addition, proper sanitization of the pavilion would be undertaken, and worshipers will be allowed at an interval of 15-20 minutes. Further, not more than 200 persons shall visit the Tower of Silence throughout the day. The petitioner further assured the Court of adhering to the guidelines/SOPs issued by the central and state governments. It was also clarified that the worshipers would be given a slot based on which prayers will be conducted to prevent crowding and adhere to the norms mentioned above.

Court’s Observations

The Court accepted the undertakings put forth by the petitioner regarding the provision of assistance to the law enforcement agencies and the traffic department. The Court highlighted that the present decision had been taken solely based on the assurances given and the circumstances of the matter. The Court directed that the decision passed in the present case must not be used as a precedent in any other matter.

Court’s Decision

In light of the above mentioned observations, the Court allowed the petitioner to perform prayers on 3rd September 2020 between 7 am and 4.30 pm. The Court also directed that the petitioners must follow the guidelines issued by the Central and the State Government dated 4th June 2020 and 31st August 2020. No person below ten years of age and above 65 years of age shall be allowed as a part of the prayer processions at Doongerwadi. Further, after the prayers are offered, the sanitisation of the entire premises shall be undertaken at the cost of the petitioner.


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