The SC was quick to clarify that it was a one-off relaxation and would not apply to the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. “This order is not intended to be used as a precedent by other persons to seek permission to hold any festival/festivities which would involve, by their very nature, congregation of people, such as ‘Ganesh festival’,” a bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde, Justice A S Bopanna and Justice V Ramasubramanian said.
Appearing for a Jain religious trust, senior advocate Dushyant Dave submitted that the temple administrations would allow only five devotees at a time and a maximum of 250 people a day. “When the Maharashtra government could allow opening of malls and liquor vends, leading to huge congregations, can they cite Covid-19 to disallow five devotees at a time to enter Jain temples to seek spiritual solace from Tirthankars and get relief from anxiety caused by the pandemic?” he asked.
SC raps state for winking at commerce, blinking at faith
The SC on Friday allowed three Jain temples to open for Paryushan Parv on Saturday and Sunday as the temples had undertaken to follow all safety protocols.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta said the Centre on June 4 issued standard operating procedures for opening of temples for prayers. “Whatever activity is permitted as per the SOPs can go on subject to the restrictions indicated therein,” he said.
The Maharashtra government, through senior advocate A M Singhvi, opposed permission for opening Jain temples to devotees and said given the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the state, it would be difficult to deny others if they sought to open their places of worship.
“We find it very strange,” the SC said. “They (Maharashtra) are allowing every economic activity. They are willing to take risks if money is involved. But if it is a religious activity, they cite Covid-19. We can allow the Jain temples to open for two days of Paryushan Parv with restrictions.”
The solicitor general’s comment that “money can’t be given priority over worship” drew a sharp reaction from Singhvi, who asked: “Is that meant for me or the TV channels?” He said the state had not permitted congregations during Eid, Janmashtami, Gudi Padwa, Ramnavami, Mahavir Jayanti, Nag Panchmi and Dahi Handi. “The state government has applied the restrictions uniformly to all communities and all religions and nothing should be done to upset the balance,” he said.
The bench said: “We are of the view that a small reprieve can be granted to the petitioners, without making it a precedent. After all, the petitioners are not seeking to hold any festivities in congregation. The petitioners want by way of an interim measure opening of three temples, one each in Byculla, Dadar and Chembur in Mumbai. They have undertaken to restrict the entry of devotees only to five persons at any given time subject to a maximum of 250 devotees on a single day.
“Therefore, considering the peculiar facts and circumstances, the prayer made by the petitioners is allowed to the limited extent of permitting them to open the three temples on August 22 and 23 for devotees to perform rituals connected with Paryushan.”