Can’t reopen temples amid Covid-19 pandemic: State to HC

The Maharashtra government has refused to reopen places of worship – closed owing to the Covid-19 pandemic – the Bombay high court (HC) was informed on Thursday.

Government pleader Purnima Kantharia informed the bench of justice SJ Kathawalla and justice Madhav Jamdar that Kishore Nimbalkar, the secretary of the disaster management department, has rejected the representations of two petitioners – Bhandup resident Ankit Vora and a Jain temple trust – who had requested the court to direct the state over the reopening of Jain temples on the occasion of the community’s nine-day Paryushan festival, which starts on Sunday. The two petitioners had also sought permissions for allowing members of the Shwetamber Murtipujak Jain community to perform religious functions and worship during the nine-day festive period in Jain temples.

Vora contended that the central government had permitted the opening up of places of worship – by ensuring physical distancing norms are followed –and therefore, the state government should also allow religious shrines in Maharashtra to open up and come out with the necessary guidelines for the purpose.

Additional solicitor general Anil Singh had then supported Vora’s claim by pointing out that the central government had permitted the opening of places of worship outside containment zones and had issued separate guidelines on July 29.

Acting on the petitions by Vora and the trust, the bench had on Tuesday directed the secretary to consider their representations, with restrictions and conditions as may be imposed by the government.

Nimbalkar has, however, said that the request cannot be acceded to in view of the prevailing situation in Maharashtra, which is the worst-affected state owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. In support of his claim, he has cited that until Tuesday, Maharashtra had recorded a total of 5.35 lakh Covid-19 cases, including 18,306 deaths.

The secretary has also claimed that the administrative machinery has already been stressed and overburdened, and it will be impossible to monitor strict compliance of the conditions to curtail the spread of the virus, which will result in the irreversible spread of Covid-19.

After his decision was communicated to the court, the lawyers for both the petitioners requested the court to consider allowing Jains to visit their temples only on the last day – considered to be the most auspicious of the nine days of Paryushan.

The bench refused to consider the request. “This is a very sensitive issue. We will have to be very careful,” said the bench.

The judges clarified that they had ensured that the petitioners had the opportunity to make a representation and get the state authorities decided on it. The bench said that it cannot accede to the request of the petitioners even for the limited relief, as it will open floodgates of petitions seeking similar relief.

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