MUMBAI: Bombay high court on Wednesday allowed a restricted number of Parsis to offer the annual Farvardegan prayers for the dead on Thursday at Doongerwadi, Malabar Hill.
A bench of Justice Ramesh Dhanuka and Justice Madhav Jamdar, hearing a petition by Bombay Parsi Panchayat filed through a trustee Viraf Mehta, recorded its undertaking that not more than 200 community members would be allowed by appointment in batches of 6 for 30 minute prayers in each of 5 pavillions from 7am to 4.30pm. Community members above 65 years and below 10 years will not be allowed.
The judges also noted that BPP would ensure social distancing and safety norms including the Centre’s August 29 standard operating procedure on opening places of worship and State’s August 30 guidelines will be followed.
On August 31 the judges had directed the state government to treat BPP’s petition as a representation. They directed Amitabh Gupta, principal secretary (home department) and Kishor Nimbalkar, secretary, Disaster Management Department, to give a hearing to BPP and submit their decision with reasons to the court on September 2.
Advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni informed that the representation was rejected. He said at the hearing, BPP’s three representatives declined a suggestion for holding prayers in a symbolic manner like in the case of Muharram and insisted on holding it only in prescribed manner and method. “They flatly refused. We are worried about the spread of the virus ,” he said, adding that the two-member panel was told over 200 senior citizens will come to offer prayers. Additional solicitor general Anil Singh joined forces with the AG.”We are concerned about the health of people in the State,” he added.
But BPP’s advocate Prakash Shah said unlike Muharrum or Ganeshotsav which is a celebration by a community, here those who want will voluntarily come and offer prayers for the dead. The judges then pointed out that BPP additional affidavit takes care of the State and Centre’s concerns.
After a short break, the AG returned to question the number of persons who will attend. “There won’t be 30 persons in an hour and more than 200 persons a day. Six persons per pavillion. Two priests will be there,” said Shah. Justice Jamdar remarked,”This is reasonable. The pavillions are 600-800 feet.” The ASG said,”We cannot have objection for prayers. Only thing it has to be regulated.”
The AG also sought clarity on the number of entrances and whether community members would enter and leave together resulting in crowding “There should be no congregation. Bahut din se mile, gale mile should not be done,” he added. Shah said people come to Doongerwadi which is also called the Tower of Silence to “drop (sic) the dead.” “It is human tendency. You are meeting after so many days . Kab aaye? Gale mile. You hug each other.” Shah said there is only one entrance from Kemps Corner and there is a waiting area on the premises. “We’ll give appointment every hour. They will come in batches at the allocated time,” he added.
The AG also sought an undertaking from a person who can be held responsible for a breach of the order.”Let the sword of contempt hang on his head. He must personally stand and monitor,” he added. Mehta stepped forward.”There’ll be no hugging and meeting. We’ll ensure social distancing is maintained. Absolute safety will be our priority,” he assured.
The judges noted that Supreme Court while allowing three Jain temples to open for two special days of Paryushan and the Bombay High Court allowing a Mohurrum procession from Bhendi Bazaar had made it clear that it is not a precedent. Recording the BPP’s undertakings, the judges disposed of the petition.