Maharashtra govt refuses to reopen temples in view of Covid-19 pandemic

Mumbai. Maharashtra government has refused to reopen places of worship, which have been shut since end-March in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, the Bombay high court (HC) was informed on Thursday.

Government pleader Purnima Kantharia informed the two-member HC division bench, comprising Justices SJ Kathawalla and Madhav Jamdar, that Kishore Nimbalkar, secretary, disaster management department (DMD), Maharashtra, has rejected the representations of two petitioners before the court — Bhandup resident Ankit Jain and a Jain temple trust — because of administrative and logistical constraints.

On Tuesday, the bench had acted on the petitions and directed Nimbalkar to consider their representations to allow all Jain temples across the state to open at least for the upcoming nine-day holy festival of Paryushan, which is starting from Saturday (August 15), while enforcing the state government’s restrictions and conditions.

However, Nimbalkar said that the request could not be acceded to in light of the prevailing situation in Maharashtra, which is the worst affected state in the country as far as the pandemic is concerned.

He cited facts and figures to bolster his argument.

He stated that Maharashtra had reported 5.35 lakh Covid-19 cases and 18,306 deaths until Tuesday.

He argued that the administrative machinery has been overburdened and it would not be possible to monitor strict compliance of the precautionary measures and any breach could deepen the healthcare crisis precipitated by the viral outbreak.

The lawyers for the petitioners pleaded with the court to consider allowing Jains to visit their temples at least on the last day of Paryushan, which is considered to be the most auspicious day.

However, the bench refused to consider the request.

“This is a very sensitive issue. We will have to be very careful,” it said.

The judges clarified that they ensured that the petitioners had the opportunity to make a representation and also heard what the state authorities had to stay.

However, the bench expressed its inability to accede to the request of the petitioners even for the limited relief, as it would open floodgates of petitions seeking similar exemption.

Earlier, Vora and the Jain temple trust had approached HC seeking direction to the authorities to permit opening of Jain temples for their annual holy festival of Paryushana, and had also sought permission for allowing members of Shwetamber Murtipujak Jain community to perform religious functions and worship during this period in Jain temples.

Vora had contended that the Central government had permitted the opening of places of worship, subject to maintaining social distancing norms, and as a result, the state government should also allow religious shrines in Maharashtra to open and come out necessary guidelines to that effect.

Additional solicitor-general (ASG) Anil Singh had stated that though the Central government had permitted opening places of worship outside Covid-19 containment zones amid easing of lockdown restrictions, it had issued separate guidelines on July 29 for them.

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