MUMBAI: Maharashtra government on Thursday told Bombay high court it cannot allow Jain temples to open for Paryushan festival as it has taken a policy decision to continue to close all places of worship to avoid spread of Covid-19.
It rejected representations by Bhandup resident Ankit Vora and two Jain trusts, who moved high court, to allow temples of Shwetamber Murtipujak Jains to open in Mumbai for the annual Paryushan festival from August 15 to 23. On August 11 a bench of Justices Shahrukh Kathawalla and Madhav Jamdar directed the petitioners to submit representations to the secretary, disaster management, relief and rehabilitation, and the latter to take a decision.
Government pleader Poornima Kantharia submitted the order of secretary Kishore Nimbalkar. In it, he stated that the Centre, while permitting religious places to open, has consistently mentioned that States/Union territories based on their assessment of the situation, may prohibit certain activities outside containment zones or impose restrictions as deemed necessary.
The order stated that as on August 11 there are 5,35,601 Covid-19 cases and over 18,306 deaths in Maharashtra. Out of these, in Mumbai there 1,25,224 cases. “The State government has taken a conscious policy decision to continue to close all places of worship and not to permit any religious congregations without any exception,” it said. It informed that restrictions were imposed and followed for festivals like Gudi Padwa, Ram Navmi, Mahavir Jayanti, Easter, Ashadi Ekadashi, Ramzan Eid, Bakri Eid and Janmashtami. “All the aforementioned religious festivals have been performed by the citizens by staying at home… There is absolutely no reason at all to carve out an exception for the applicants,” it added.
The order also termed as “totally misconceived and misplaced” the petitioners’ contention that if malls, barbershops, saloon, beauty parlours, liquor shops can be operated with certain restrictions, then why not Jain devotees be allowed to visit the temples and perform rituals. It also stated that the aforesaid commercial activities permitted are not on par with religious activities requested by the petitioners. It added the commercial activities were allowed as” due to imposition of lockdown in the entire country, the economy of the country had come to a grinding halt.”
Giving the example of how the opening Tirumala Tirupati Balaji Temple in Andhra Pradesh resulted in its 743 employees testing positive for Covid-19, the order said if temples are allowed to open there is an imminent danger of the spread of coronavirus that may result in loss of life.
It also stated that if the representation is granted there will be similar requests for other religious festivals of different faiths. “As a matter of fact, already the state machinery is overburdened with the situation and minimum that the State can expect from responsible citizens is not to make demands such as the one at hand. Therefore, the State government cannot allow a situation wherein the condition becomes so critical that it goes out of hand,” it said.
The order concluded stating that “taking into consideration the situation and the prevailing circumstances in the State of Maharashtra and more particularly, Mumbai city, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region and Pune region, it is not possible to permit opening of Jain temples” during Paryushan.
The judges adjourned the hearing to September 7 saying everyone must await new guidelines. “Let the new guidelines come. Wait for a few days,” said Justice Kathawalla.