A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court on the 21st August decided to allow entry into Jain Temples during the Paryushan festival. It was subject to the Standard Operating Procedure rules in light of COVID-19.
Brief facts of the case
The petition arose from an appeal against a Bombay High Court order. The appeal was filed by a trust named the Shri Parshwatilak Shwetambar Murtipujak Jain Trust.
The plea asserted how this festival is essential to the Jain community asking the followers to abstain from taking part in it is “arbitrary unreasonable and without basis.”
They had moved to the Apex Court after the Bombay HC refused to permit the Jain community from gathering in temples during their Paryushan festival to offer prayers. This was done keeping in mind the importance of social distancing during the pandemic. The HC had opined that it is the “duty of every right-thinking person” to balance their religious belief and their responsibility towards the public at large. They asked the people to give public health paramount importance while agreeing with the public health officials.
Sr. Adv. Dushyant Dave represented the Trust. He argued that they are seeking permission for a congregation of only 250 people per day. He added that the State is not interfering with malls, saloons, liquor shops. Hence it is unreasonable to impose such restrictions on the places of worship and not permit the congregation from gathering.
Sr. Adv. Manu Singhvi represented the State. He mentioned how there had been an exponential increase in the number of coronavirus cases, and it would not be prudent to allow such a gathering. He argued how permitting the Trust would lead to opening a floodgate. To support this, he mentioned that Ganesh Chaturthi is around the corner and it is the biggest festival in Maharashtra. He contended that if Jains are allowed, there would be other communities using this instance and asking for the same.
The three-judge bench headed by CJI SA Bobde observed that such a blanket ban on the religious congregation is not possible. They have allowed before the conduction of Jagannath Rath Yatra in the State of Odisha. But, it was still subject to strict guidelines issued and rules made by the State Government in light of the pandemic.
In response to Sr. Adv. Singhvi’s contention about opening floodgate the CJI stated that if only 5 people are gathering at a time, it doesn’t mind going beyond the community.
The Court clarified that this present order doesn’t set a precedent, referring to the upcoming Ganesh Chaturthi. They stated that this Order is only meant from the present appellant Trust and does not extend to any such Trust or temple or congregation. He added that the others would be subject to the State Government.
The Bench comprised of the CJI, Justice Bopanna, and Justice Ramasubramaniun. They allowed the congregation of devotees. But, it would be subject to Standard Operating Procedure. They also added that this order is limited to this prayer and does not extend to other such congregations.
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