The Gujarat High Court has pointed out the fallacy in State Government’s approach towards religious sentiments. It asserted that the choice of public health is mandatory over religion. The state must be cautious while considering requests and must not indulge in appeasing religious heads.
Brief Facts of the Case
The annual Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra has been in contentions amid the lockdown. Lakhs of devotees attend the event over a walk of 16- 18 kilometres. In the month of June, the Court passed an interim order cancelling the procession in all parts of Gujarat. Further, the Court directed the State Authorities to file an affidavit for the same.
Meanwhile, the Court had to address two petitions seeking restrictions on the procession. Hence, the Court disposed of the petitions while expressing disappointment over the State Government’s affidavit.
The Court noted the passive and yielding approach of the State Government. The secular state must ensure good health even if it hurts the religious expressions. If it gives up on popular sentiment, it will lose the fight against COVID- 19. It would be devasting to conduct a major public gathering after the existing loss of lives in the state.
Moreover, the siding of government may prove fatal, as an incorrect notion runs in the minds of the public. It must realize that in the absence of an effective vaccine, social distancing is the only solution. Hence, it is paramount to list priorities for effective decision making. Gujarat is a land of festivals and it is sad to see it not being celebrated. However, it must prioritize the safety and health of the people.
The Court also remarked that it is not the time for negotiation and persuasion. The government should not follow a policy of appeasement. It asserted:
“If the government remains nonchalant on the issue of religious gatherings, it will have a serious impact on how masses take the pandemic. They too may become relax and easy-going, while indulging in gatherings and flouting the social distancing norms.”
Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice J. B. Pardiwala pronounced the oral judgement. They decided on the petitions seeking restrictions on proposed Jagannath Rath Yatra. They remarked that permitting religious processions is under the domain of the State Authorities. The State must consider prevailing situations and not religious sentiments during the assessment.
They also quoted the lines of Former Chief Justice of the State of California, U.S.A.- “The judiciary must not take on the colouration of whatever may be popular at the moment. We are the guardian of rights and we have to tell people things they often do not like to hear.”
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