Places of worship in Maharashtra, which have been shut since April, will reopen on Monday, with Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Saturday asking people to “strictly follow rules” and ensure discipline. The reopening of places of worship has been a point of contention, with the Opposition as well as the Maharashtra Governor targeting the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government for keeping places of worship shut, despite Central guidelines of June 8 allowing them to be reopened.
The state government has over the past few months been firm on not reopening places of worship, fearing that large gatherings, especially during the festival season, could turn into Covid super-spreaders.
“Although all places of worship were closed during this period, God has been taking care of us in the form of doctors, nurses and ward boys… Now the government has decided to open all places of worship, including temples, on the eve of Padva tomorrow. But everyone has to strictly follow rules and ensure discipline. The key is to avoid crowds in prayer halls and protect yourself and others,” Thackeray said.
A political tussle
While the state government is yet to release a detailed SOP on the reopening, officials said masks will be compulsory and trustees of places of worship have been told to regulate crowds.
The Centre had in its June 8 un-lockdown plan said religious places across the country could reopen, but the Thackeray-led Maharashtra government had, in view of the surging Covid cases, said they would remain shut.
The government’s decision had led to protests by the BJP and the All India Majlis-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM), with the former holding a state-wide agitation on August 29 to press for the reopening of temples in the state.
The delay had also led to a faceoff between the state government and Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, who in October wrote a letter to the CM demanding the immediate re-opening of places of worship and mockingly asking Thackeray if he had turned “secular”.
The Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court has over last four months passed orders granting partial relief across religions.
While the Supreme Court allowed the opening of three Jain temples in Mumbai during ‘Paryushan’ period in August, the High Court granted partial concessions for Muharram Taziya processions, Dussehra processions by the Sikh community in Nanded, and the opening of two Jain temples during Diwali, among others.
On Saturday, criticising the government for its delay in reopening temples in the state, BJP MLA Ram Kadam said, “We had been asking the state to reopen mandirs as per rules. They have been forced to do this after criticism that they faced from various quarters across the country for the delay.”
The government has, however, defended its decision to not open places of worship until now, saying it was done to safeguard against a possible second wave.
“This decision (to reopen) has been taken considering the reduction in number of cases. Had these places been opened during the festive season, there was fear of overcrowding, which could have sparked off a second wave of infection like what is being witnessed in Europe,” said Irrigation Minister Jayant Patil.x
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