New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday allowed Jain temples at Dadar, Byculla and Chembur in Mumbai to be opened for worshippers for the last two days of the Paryushan festival on August 22 and 23 while observing Centre’s SOP on opening religious places.
The Cheif Justice
A bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde said this concession cannot be applied to any other temple or for Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations which involve large congregations.
“We must make it clear that the order, in this case, does not extend to any other trust or any other temples. Our order is not intended to apply in any other case, particularly which involves large congregations of people which by their very nature cannot be controlled. We accordingly permit the petitioners to perform their prayers at temples of Dadar, Byculla and Chembur for the remaining days of Paryushan,” the bench said in its order.
“We accordingly direct the petitioners to follow the SOP. In addition, petitioners before us have stated that they will comply with the SOP. We are of the view that since the statement of the petitioner is in the form of the undertaking if the petitioners faithfully comply with the undertaking before us, it will not be hazardous for the temples to be opened,” the order said. During the hearing, CJI Bobde also criticised the Maharashtra Government for allowing the opening of malls and other economic activity but not temples.
“I find it very strange that every activity they are allowing involves economic activity. They are willing to take the risk if money is involved but if it is religious then they say it is COVID-19 and we can’t do this,” Justice Bobde observed.
The apex court’s order came on a plea filed by the Shri Parshwatilak Shwetambar Murtipujak Jain Trust seeking permission to keep Jain temples open during the Paryushan festival which begins on August 15.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the Maharashtra Government, opposed the plea and argued that it for the interest of the state which would be great difficulty in managing the situation.
Singhvi cited the COVID-19 figures from Maharashtra and said there are over five lakhs Jains alone in Mumbai and numerous Jain temple.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for the petitioner, assured the court that petitioners will follow all safety measures as regards to COVID-19. If the Centre has allowed the opening of religious places and there is no lockdown today how can the state government deny permission to the community, Dave asked.
“We as a community are willing to extend cooperation with the State then what is this argument of policing. Are they policing establishments like malls and liquor shops and barber shops that are open?” Dave argued when Singhvi spoke about the responsibility of policing to ensure that all the safety measures are followed.
During the hearing, the Chief Justice said that he finds it very strange that every activity Maharashtra is allowing involves economic activity. CJI Bobde asked advocate Dave if they want to hold any congregation.
Dave replied that the trust is saying in its application that at any time only five people to be allowed in the temples and a total of 250 people between the age group of 12-65 in a single day.
“We are not treating this as adversarial litigation. The idea is to help the people of the community and do whatever they believe,” CJI Bobde observed.
The CJI told Singhvi that if the State can obtain the undertaking from the petitioners why can’t the activity be held. If we can ensure that social distancing is maintained, why can’t it be held, Justice Bobde asked.
The bench cited the example of allowing Odisha Rath Yatra and said, “This is exactly the choice we had with Odisha Rath Yatra. We believe that if we can ensure that distancing is maintained and people do not gather then merely putting the Rath is not damaging.”
“If it is the matter of five people at a time in one temple and this format can be replicated in all the places, then we are not opposed to expanding this scope of this to beyond Jain temples – why not Hindu temples, why not Muslim shrines,” the bench added.
Singhvi while asking the court not to allow the request of the trust said if this is allowed, tomorrow there may be a grievance raised that one community is favoured, to which Justice Bobde replied, “Tomorrow there will be allegations that Supreme Court only favoured one community.”
Singhvi proposed that a select number of temples can be allowed with Maharashtra’s support in the enforcement of safety measures but this must not be treated as a precedent.
At the outset, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, told the court that the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare guidelines do not bar religious activities. He said that subject to compliance of the safeguards, religious activities can go on, only not any religious congregation cannot.
The petition of trust has challenged an interim order passed by the Bombay High Court on August 13.
The Maharashtra Government had said that it cannot allow Jain temples to open for the Paryushan festival as it has taken a decision to continue to close all places of worship to avoid the spread of COVID-19. The decision was backed by the Bombay High Court.