The Bombay High Court on Tuesday allowed only two Jain temples to reopen for devotees with strict conditions, including limited entry on the number of people and following Covid-19 safety protocols during Diwali. The two temples are owned by trusts at Dadar and Byculla. The court, however, refused to allow 100 other Jain temples to reopen and said since it was not a PIL, other trusts would have to approach separately.
A division bench of Justice S J Kathawalla and Justice Abhay Ahuja passed the order on application by Shri Atma Kamal Labdi Surishwarji Jain Gyan Mandir Trust and Sheth Motisha Religious and Charitable Trust to their pending pleas.
On November 5, the High Court had directed the state disaster management department to decide on a representation by two Jain temple trusts for reopening temples during the five days of Diwali from Dhanteras to Bhau Beej, and the same was rejected by the government.
On Tuesday, advocate Prafulla Shah for the trusts submitted that as the five-day period of Diwali was auspicious and important for Jains, they should be permitted to visit the temples between November 13 and 17 from 6 am to 1 pm and 6 pm to 9 pm.
Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, representing the state government, opposed the plea and said the petitioner’s claim that the five days were important only for the Jain community was not proper as the festival was also important for Hindus and, hence, petitioners could not be granted relief.
Kumbhakoni further opposed the prayer to permit 102 temples to reopen stating that the petition was not a PIL and, hence, the two trusts cannot seek relief on behalf of the entire community. He sought the plea to be dismissed and said it was up to the HC to grant permission for opening only those temples run by petitioner trusts.
After hearing submissions, the bench passed the order for reopening two temples only, while stating that there cannot be more than eight persons at a time for 15 minutes in the temple hall.
“We are also conscious of the fact that under Article 25 of the Constitution of India, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of practice and propagation of religion… We also reiterate that the court has no intention to interfere with the government policies or to run the government.”
The bench added, “We are sure that the government will at the appropriate stage also open up doors of temples/places of worship for members of the public.”
The court also stated, “We make it clear that this order shall be restricted to two temples and cannot be used as a precedent by other persons to seek permission to hold any festivals/festivities that would involve, by their nature, congregation of people.”
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