The Supreme Court on Friday (August 21) gave limited permission to offer prayers at three Jain temples in Mumbai as part of the community’s eight-day Paryushan festival that began August 15.
The three temples — located in Dadar, Byculla and Chembur neighbourhoods — will be opened with strict adherence to social distancing norms on Saturday and Sunday only (August 22, 23). The apex court said that SOPs (standard operating protocols) need to be followed to the hilt, including use of face masks and social distancing.
While passing the order, the court made it amply clear that the interim order could not be viewed as a precedent to allow congregations at other places of worship.
“This (the interim order) is not intended to apply in any other case, particularly for any large congregation. We are referring particularly to the kind of congregations that take place during Ganpati festival in Mumbai and other places,” the court said.
The Shri Parshwatilak Shwetamber Murtipujak Tapagacch Jain Trust had approached the Supreme Court asking for permission to pray at temples during the Paryushan period. The Maharashtra government had challenged the plea, stating that the presence of large crowds in temples will make it difficult to manage the situation during the pandemic.
Speaking for Maharashtra government, lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the state government had cancelled other religious festivals, such as the Pandharpur Wari, in view of the pandemic.
Related news: Supreme Court green lights Rath Yatra amid pandemic
In response, the Chief Justice of India said: “This is a dynamic situation and is fact-intensive. If you can enforce SOP and obtain an undertaking, why shouldn’t the activities be held? This is exactly the choice we had with the Odisha Rath Yatra. If we can ensure social distancing, and people do not gather, then having the rath is not damaging.”
“We were forgiven by Lord Jagannath, we will be forgiven again,” the Chief Justice added.
In June, the Supreme Court said the Rath Yatra in Puri could be conducted in a restricted manner, with curfews and closed entry points. At that time Chief Justice SA Bobde said the court was only considering the Rath Yatra in Puri and nowhere else in the state.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, representing the Jain trust in the top court, said his clients would follow SOPs and that the permission sought was only for temples in Mumbai.
In response, the Maharashtra government said: “If this prayer is allowed, tomorrow there may be a grievance raised that one community is favoured”.
The top court poked fun at itself, saying: “Tomorrow there will be allegations that Supreme Court only favoured one community”.
Maharashtra is the worst-affected state in the country due to Covid-19 with over 6.43 lakh cases so far, of which over 21,300 are deaths and nearly 1.63 lakh are active cases.
Meanwhile, in Karnataka, devotees break open temple doors
Devotees forcefully opened the metal door of a temple in Dotihal village of Koppal district during an annual puja. Fifty people have been arrested and charged with rioting for not following the restrictions that were put in place in view of the Covid lockdown.
G Sangeetha, Superintendent of Police (SP) for the district, told NDTV that the tehsildar had given permission for the puja to be held inside the temple and with a limited number of people.
As the crowd grew in numbers, the temple doors were shut. Those outside became agitated and broke open the metal grill to force the temple chariot out.