The Madras High Court on Friday directed the State government to permit individuals to place idols of Lord Vinayaka in front of their houses after puja on Saturday and then drop them outside temples or immerse them in water bodies and the sea.

Justices M.M. Sundresh and R. Hemalatha held that the ban imposed by the government on accessing beaches to prevent the spread of COVID-19 would not restrict people from performing their religious obligation of disposing of the idols on Vinayaka Chaturthi day.

“The pandemic is likely to spread on two grounds — when more people congregate in a particular place and they stay on the said place thereafter. We are not having such a situation now. We are not allowing groups to undertake the exercise stated supra,” the judges said.

“Secondly, even individual family members, who are to perform the religious obligation, can at best go to the water body, including the sea, drop the idol and come back. Therefore, there is no question of staying back and using the said place,” the Bench said.

It, however, banned immersion at Marina beach from Napier Bridge to Santhome in Chennai since Advocate General Vijay Narayan feared that large number of people might end up congregating on the beach and it would be very difficult for the police to control the crowd.

When advocate G. Karthikeyan, representing Hindu Munnani, said at least two persons would be required to carry an idol on a motorcycle, the judges replied that two people could transport the idol to the waterbodies or sea but only one of them would be allowed to immerse.

They made it clear that permission shall be given to individuals to immerse the idols by following all safety norms such as wearing masks, maintaining physical distance, adhering to the time limit and so on and that police could initiate action for violations.

The Bench also stated that the ban imposed by the State government on processions and immersion of idols by organisations such as Hindu Munnani and Shiv Sena would continue and recorded a submission made on their behalf that they would cooperate with the police.

Earlier, when the A-G told the court that an explicit order allowing individuals to immerse idols might lead to a congregation, the judges asked how come the government had decided to allow devotees to pray in 20,204 small temples that had been opened for public worship now.

“What will you do if 10,000 people congregate in each of those temples on Vinayaka Chaturthi day,” the senior judge in the Bench asked. He said the prohibition on accessing beaches would not apply to performance of a religious obligation under Article 25 of the Constitution.

To this, the A-G replied: “The State has never stood in the way of any religious celebration but this year a peculiar situation had arisen because of which many temples remain closed for nearly five months. We are not going to restrict individuals but some groups may take advantage.”

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