Consider plea to hold prayers at a Parsi temple: HC to Maharashtra govt

The Bombay High Court on Monday directed the Maharashtra government to consider a representation made by the Bombay Parsi Panchayat (BPP) for holding prayers at a temple of the community in Mumbai on September 3, amidst the COVID-19 restrictions.

A bench of Justices RD Dhanuka and MJ Jamdar was hearing a petition filed by BPP trustee Viraf Mehta seeking permission to hold the annual ‘Farvardiyan’ prayers at the Doongerwadi temple at Kemps Corner.

Mehta had sought the permission citing the Supreme Court order allowing the Jain community to open three temples in the city for Paryushan festival.

Mehta’s advocate Prakash Shah told the court the proposed prayers are not part of festivities, but are an annual ritual, whereby members of the community remember and pay respect to the dead.

He also said the BPP would ensure adherence to all safety guidelines including social distancing, hygiene etc.

The plea stated a total of 50 people are expected to offer prayers at the Doongerwadi temple on Thursday between 7 am and 4.30 p.m.

The temple premises would be divided into several pavilions of 1,000 sq ft each, and at a time, not more than 20 people would be allowed per section, it said.

The Maharashtra government submitted that guidelines of the state and the Centre currently didn’t permit any religious festivals, or large gatherings.

Advocate General (AG) Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, however, told the bench that if the BPP agrees to hold a token or representative prayers, whereby just a few people would visit the temple on behalf of the entire community, the state could make a consideration for them.

It is very likely that if the petitioner is granted the permission to hold prayers in the temple in Mumbai, other members of the Parsi community might seek a similar relaxation elsewhere in the state, the AG said.

Union government’s counsel Additional Solicitor General (ASG), Anil Singh, told the court the Centre’s guidelines did not permit any “congregation” for religious festivities.

Both Singh and Kumbhakoni said the petitioner must clarify how many people would attend the prayers and who would take responsibility for implementing the SOPs on safety measures for COVID-19 etc.

The bench directed Mehta to visit the state secretariat, Mantralaya, here this evening and respond to the queries raised by the government.

The bench said Mehta and one more trustee of the BPP must makes a representation with their request for such prayers before secretaries of departments of home and disaster management.

The bench directed the government to inform the court of its decision and the reasons for the same by 11 am on September 2.

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