The Bombay High Court on Monday directed the state government to consider and decide a representation made by the Bombay Parsi Panchayat (BPP) seeking permission to hold prayer meetings on September 3 on Farvardegan at the Doongerwadi, Malabar hill by following Covid-19 lockdown protocols.
A division bench of Justices R D Dhanuka and Madhav J Jamdar was hearing a plea filed by Viraf Mehta, trustee of BPP, through advocate Prakash Shah seeking permission to hold annual prayers at Doongerwadi in Mumbai.
Shah referred to the Supreme Court order that allowed opening of three Jain temples in Mumbai for the Paryushan period and said similarly, Parsis in Mumbai should be allowed to hold annual prayers for the dead on September 3.
He submitted that the Doongerwadi is a large 55-acre area and nearly 500 persons will be attending prayers in batches between 7 am and 4 30 pm on Thursday with due physical distancing and hygiene norms. There will be five open pavilions of each around 1,000 square feet and only 20 persons will be allowed at a time for 30-minute prayers.
Shah said that the prayers are not part of festivities, but are annual rituals and members of the community pay respect to the dead and BPP is an owner of the Doongerwadi land, which houses the tower of silence.
Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni for the state government submitted that existing guidelines of state and central government did not permit any religious functions or large congregations. However, he said that if the BPP agrees to hold representative prayers having a few people visiting the premises on behalf of the entire community, the state can have a ‘favourable approach’.
“It is very likely that if the petitioner is granted permission to hold prayers in the temple in Mumbai, other members of the Parsi community across the state might seek a similar relaxation,” he said.
When the state government said that the petitioner was required to give ‘commitment’ that community members would not seek similar relief in other parts of the state, Shah said that BPP represents the Parsi community in Mumbai and it can only give assurance for the city.
Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh for the central government said that Centre’s guidelines did not permit religious functions and congregations while allowing opening of religious places of worship with protocols. Singh and Kumbhakoni said that the petitioner was required to clarify as to how many persons would attend the prayers and who would take responsibility for implementing the SOP on safety measures for Covid-19. Singh also said that there will be restrictions on persons above 60 years and children below 6 years of age from attending prayers.
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