The Maharashtra government Thursday told the Bombay High Court that it cannot allow Jain temples in Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) and Pune to open for Paryushan from August 15 to 23. “If temples are allowed to open, there is an imminent danger of coronavirus that may result in loss of life,” the state government said.
The state’s response came after the high court Tuesday directed it to consider representations from the Jain community seeking permission to visit Jain temples during the eight-day Paryushan festival and submit its decision to the court by August 13.
On Thursday, a Division Bench of Justices S J Kathawalla and Madhav Jamdar was hearing two petitions filed by Ankit Vora and Shree Trustee Atma Kamal Labdhisurishwarji Jain Gyanmandir Trust. The petitioners sought a direction to the state government to allow the members of the community to visit Jain temples to perform prayers, more particularly during Paryushan.
The petitioners stated that if malls and marketplaces, barber shops, spas, saloons, beauty parlours and liquor shops could be operated with restrictions, then why couldn’t the community offer prayers at its temples while observing social distancing norms. The petitioners, through their advocates Prakash Shah, Jas Sanghvi and Prafulla Shah, claimed that not allowing the opening of religious places is “arbitrary, illegal and unreasonable”.
Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh had Tuesday said the Centre has permitted the opening of places of worship outside Covid-19 containment zones and issued separate guidelines for such places.
On Thursday, Government Pleader Purnima H Kantharia informed the court that the state government has refused to allow the petitioner’s demand in view of existing Covid-19 guidelines.
Kantharia submitted the August-12 order by the Secretary of State Disaster Management, Relief and Rehabilitation department, which stated, “If temples are allowed to be opened for performing religious activities, there is an imminent danger of spreading the virus, which may be life-threatening and may even result into loss of life of the entire family. Allowing the claim of applicants by imposing conditions is not a practical feasible option.”
The August-12 decision further stated, “At this juncture, it further ought to be appreciated that the state government has in the foresight ensuing religious festivals such as Anant Chaturdashi, Navratri etc. In case, if the prayer made in representation is granted, certainly there will be similar requests coming for allowing to celebrate these festivals and such other numerous religious festivals of various religions, castes and communities, which will ultimately result in spreading of the virus quickly and will open floodgates of coronavirus patients.”
The state government said that its machinery is overburdened and it can expect from the responsible citizens not to make such demands and, therefore, it cannot allow the situation to become “so critical that it goes out of hand”.
In view of this, the state said, “In view of Covid-19 situation, more particularly in Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) and Pune, it is just not possible to accede to requests made in representation to permit opening of Jain temples between August 15 and 23 and the same is rejected.
After hearing submissions and perusing the state’s order, the court reluctantly refused to grant urgent relief to petitioners and said it will keep the matter pending and pass order next month when the state government would come up with new Covid- 19 guidelines. The court noted,”It is the duty of every right-thinking person at this stage to balance their religious duties with public duty, and their responsibility towards the rest of mankind.”
The bench led by Justice Kathawalla said, “Let us wait for a few days. God is within us and God is everywhere. This is a sensitive issue. We have ensured that you get a hearing and get a say from the government. We have the highest regards for every community in the nation.”
The court refused to pass any opinion on the merits of the case and posted further hearing on September 7 for passing further orders.