Consider opening places of worship for all faiths: HC to Maharashtra govt

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The Bombay high court (HC) on Tuesday said the Maharashtra government should consider allowing people of all faiths to visit their respective places of worship, especially when a gathering of 20-30 people was being allowed to attend weddings and funerals amid the raging coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak in the state, which is the worst affected as far as the contagion is concerned.

“All religions should be allowed to some extent … If you allow people to gather for weddings and funerals, why not allow them in temples?” asked the two-member HC division bench, comprising Justices SJ Kathawalla and Madhav Jamdar.

The bench suggested that in order to ensure that no crowd gathers at the shrines at any point of time, the state government could fix certain time slots and the number of persons to be allowed to enter a temple within the stipulated timeframe.

It recommended that the public might be allowed if they follow the standard operating procedures (SOPs) laid down by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), including maintaining social distancing norms etc.

The bench was hearing a petition filed by Ankit Vora (30), a Bhandup resident, seeking direction to the state authorities to permit opening of Jain temples for the annual holy festival of Paryushana, which will be held between August 15 and 23.

He also sought permission for allowing members of Shwetamber Murtipujak Jain community to perform religious functions and worship during this festive season in Jain temples.

Vora contended that the Central government has permitted the opening of places of worship, subject to following maintaining social distancing, and, as a result, the state government should also allow religious shrines in Maharashtra to open and come out with necessary guidelines to that effect.

Prafulla Shah, who represented Vora, submitted that offering prayers at places of worship were more necessary amid the Covid-19 pandemic, when the public is striving for mental peace.

Shah complained that places of worship were ordered to remain closed when liquor shops are allowed to do business.

State government pleader Purnima Kantharia responded to the petition pointing out that the authorities have been indiscriminate in opening places of worship to all faiths.

Additional solicitor-general (ASG) Anil Singh responded to the petition pointing out that the Central government has permitted the opening of places of worship outside Covid-19 containment zones and on July 29 issued separate guidelines for such places.

“Now, there is no restriction on visiting places of worship outside containment zones,” Singh said. But there can be no gatherings at the shrines, he said.

The offering of common prayers, religious functions, and ceremonies, touching of idols, etc. is prohibited under the guidelines, he added.

Singh, however, suggested that the state government should take a call on the issue. He supported the court’s suggestion that the petitioner should be asked to submit representations to the state government, which, in turn, should be directed to decide the matter expeditiously.

HC accepted the suggestion and directed the petitioner to submit representations to the secretary, disaster management department, Maharashtra.

The bench will hear the case next on Thursday (August 13).

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