The Bombay High Court on Wednesday permitted dining halls attached to Jain temples to open for five hours each day during the annual nine-day fast for Ayambil Oli Tap, saying it does not see any problem if a limited number of persons are allowed to eat there without congregating.
While granting permission, a division bench of Justices S J Kathawalla and V G Bisht said even Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that the lockdown imposed amid the Covid-19 pandemic was over.
“But the virus (coronavirus) continues. Now we have to leave it to the public. How long can we continue this lockdown?” the court said.
The court permitted the dining halls, which are spread over 1,000 sq ft and more, to remain open for six hours (10 am to 4 pm) for serving food (10 am to 3 pm) and one hour for cleaning thereafter.
A total of 40 persons will be allowed to eat inside these halls every hour and in five hours, not more than 200 people can be fed each day, the court said.
“We, however, clarify that the Jain temples would not be open and nobody would be given access to the same. Only the dining hall shall remain open,” the court said.
The bench was hearing an application filed by Shree Atma Kamal Labdhi Suriswarji Jain Gyan Mandire Trust seeking permission to open dining halls attached to Jain temples in the city during the nine-day fast, which is scheduled to begin on October 23.
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The trust moved the high court after the Maharashtra government permitted hotels, food courts, restaurants and bars to operate with 50 per cent capacity.
The trust’s advocate Prafulla Shah told the court that boiled food of a particular kind is consumed by devotees during the Ayambil Oli once a day and is cooked without any spices.
Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni opposed the application and said if permission is granted to one community, then other communities would also seek similar reliefs.
Kumbhakoni said the state cannot permit the same keeping in mind safety and health of citizens.
The court, however, noted that the state government was concerned about the health and safety of people only on paper and said the state’s standard operating procedure for local trains and other public places is not being followed.
Pointing to photographs of crowded local trains, Justice Kathawalla said, “This is what is happening in our state. What health concerns are we talking about? When someone asks for permission for some religious festival, then you (state government) will say no.”
“What is wrong if 40 persons are fed in a hall spreading over 1,000 square feet each hour? We don’t see any problem. These religious practices have been followed since time immemorial and we do not see any issue in putting a stop to it now,” the court said.
“We are conscious of the fact that the state government, keeping in view the general interest of the members of public, has started the process of unlocking and we are sure that the government will, at the appropriate stage, also open up the doors of places of worship,” the court said.
“However, since the state government has now allowed restaurants and bars to commence their business with 50 per cent capacity, we are of the view that not allowing devotees of the Jain community to perform the ritual of Ayambil Oli Tap by not congregating would amount to grave discrimination,” the court said.