Allowing economic activities, but strange temples closed: SC

The Supreme Court on Friday told the Maharashtra government that the court finds it very strange that the state is allowing activities involving economic interests, but COVID-19 is cited when it comes to opening of temples.

A bench comprising Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian told the state counsel that the Maharashtra government is willing to take the so-called risk where money is involved, but talks about COVID-19 and risks thereof if it involves religion.

The court observation was made during hearing of a matter on keeping the Jain temples open in Maharashtra during the Paryushan period.

The apex court allowed the Jain community temples at Dadar, Byculla, and Chembur in Mumbai to remain open to worshippers on the last two days of Paryushan on August 22 and 23 to allow the devotees to worship the Jain Tirthankaras.

The apex court said that the Centre’s SOP on opening religious places should be followed.

Earlier, Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the Maharashtra government, contended that COVID-19 cases have increased exponentially in the state, and India has crossed many other countries vis-a-vis the number of cases.

The bench said it is not treating this as an adversarial matter, to which Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, said that neither is the central government doing so.

The Chief Justice, citing the Rath Yatra issue, said this is exactly the criticism and the choice we had with the Yatra in Odisha. “We were faced with a difficult choice. But we believed that if social distancing is followed, merely pulling the chariot will not be damaging,” he remarked.

Singhvi insisted that the state government is not against any religion. “I myself am a Jain. But, this is a state matter and we should be allowed to take the decision,” Singhvi contended.

In response, the Chief Justice replied that a blanket prohibition cannot be instituted.

Chief Justice Bobde questioned what was wrong if only five people are congregating at one time. “If that is the case, we don’t mind going beyond the Jain community.”

Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for the petitioners, said that they are seeking visits by only 250 devotees per day for their temples in Mumbai.

Singhvi insisted that the apex court should consider the consequences as the coronavirus cases are rising.

The bench insisted that there is no harm if prescribed Standard Operating Procedures are followed.

The apex court said that the permission given to the Jain temples should not become a precedent for demands for permission to Ganpati festival or any other religious festival coming up in Maharashtra.

The permission for the Ganpati festival will have to be taken on a case-to-case basis by the state disaster management authorities.