A Writ Petition for urgent relief was filed by the petitioner, a Jain Trust seeking the reopening of the Jain Temple to the public during the holy period of ‘Paryushan’. Bombay High Court denied the prayer in light of the broader public interest.
On 11th August 2020, the petitioner filed a Writ Petition seeking urgent relief for reopening the Jain Temples. The petitioner sought the aforesaid relief in light of the holy period ‘Paryushan’ from 15th August 2020 up to 23rd August 2020. In accordance, on 11th August 2020, the Bombay High Court directed the petitioner to submit their representations to the Secretary of Disaster Management. The present order has been passed after taking into consideration the reasoning provided by the Secretary, Disaster Management.
The petitioner submitted that on 30th May 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had issued an order for reopening the places of worship from 8th June 2020. Further, on 4th June 2020, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had published a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on preventive measures to be undertaken to curb the spread of COVID-19 in places of worship. Despite the aforesaid, the Government of Maharashtra has not allowed the public to visit religious places till yet. However, spas, gyms, malls, liquor shops, market complexes, etc. continue to be open to the public.
The Secretary, Disaster Management and Rehabilitation (DMR) have submitted that as on 11th August 2020, the total population affected by COVID-19 in the State of Maharashtra is 5,35,601 and the total number of deaths is 18,306. The Secretary, DMR has also provided a breakdown of these numbers for Mumbai City, MMR Area, and Pune Districts which portray that Maharashtra is one of the most affected states in India. The Secretary, DMR has accepted that the MHA allowed reopening of places of worship from 8th June 2020. However, the States/UTs have been given the liberty to prohibit activities/impose other prohibitions if deemed necessary. The decision to keep the religious places closed for the public is a conscious policy decision taken by the Government after assessing the prevailing situation.
It has also been submitted that the restriction on reopening of places for worship in the state has been followed for all other festivals viz—Gudhi Padwa, Ramadan Eid, Buddha Pournima, Bakari Eid, Dahi Handi, etc. A Writ Petition for yatra to Pandharpur during Ashadi Ekadashi was dismissed by the court on 30th June 2020 keeping in mind the current situation. The Secretary, DMR has submitted that it is impossible to monitor the social distancing conditions in places of worship strictly. A recent example of Tirupati Balaji Temple in Andhra Pradesh where 743 employees tested positive for COVID-19 has been cited by the Secretary, DMR in this regard.
The Respondents expressed concerns that if urgent relief is allowed in the present matter, similar applications will follow. This will further complicate the management of the pandemic.
Although the court agreed with the submissions of the Respondent, it acknowledged the inconvenience caused to the public due to the numerous restrictions imposed in light of the pandemic. The court also expressed that the public must appreciate the measures undertaken by the Centre and State to safeguard public health. It reiterated that the citizens must balance their religious duty with public duty and remarked “God is within us” and “God is everywhere”.
Justice Jamdar and Justice Kathawalla denied the urgent relief sought by the petitioner “with great reluctance”. However, the Bench didn’t dismiss the petition and placed it for direction on 7th September 2020. This was done keeping in mind that the present restrictions are in force only up to 31st August 2020.
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