No congregations but citizens must get to practice faith: Supreme Court

The top court allowed a plea to open three Jain temples in Mumbai to devotees during the ongoing Paryushan festival, rejecting the Maharashtra government’s argument that such a decision would upset the steps being taken by the state to tackle the ...

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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday observed that there was no reason to disallow citizens to practice their faith with appropriate social distancing when all sorts of commercial activities were permitted. It, however, said congregational gatherings, such as during the Ganesh Chaturthi festival in Mumbai, ought to be shunned because of the prevailing pandemic situation.

The top court allowed a plea to open three Jain temples in Mumbai to devotees during the ongoing Paryushan festival, rejecting the Maharashtra government’s argument that such a decision would upset the steps being taken by the state to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We find it strange that every activity that is being allowed involves commercial interests. They are willing to take the risk when money is involved, but when it comes to religion, they say that there is Covid,” a three-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde said.


“The idea is to allow the people of a community to follow what they believe in,” the CJI observed.

The bench clarified that this decision would not be treated as a precedent to be followed by adherents of other faiths to move courts for relief. It said each case would be treated differently, depending on the facts of the case.

The CJI, who had earlier permitted the Jagannath Rath Yatra to be held in Puri, Odisha, on a limited scale with all social restrictions, said: “We were forgiven by Lord Jagannath, so we will be forgiven again.” In this context, the CJI remarked: “There is a big difference between a congregation and the act of an individual worshipping in a temple.”
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The top court told the Jain trusts that sought relief that the temples in Byculla, Dadar and Chembur in Mumbai should allow only five worshippers at a time and limit the number to 250 a day.

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Their case was argued by senior advocate Dushyant Dave, who said people were reeling under lockdown-related mental stress and that faith would help them cope with the situation. The CJI was initially sceptical wondering who would ensure that social-distancing norms et all were followed. Dave countered this saying: “Is the state policing malls, shops, barber shops today? There are congregations in malls and gyms. Thousands of people are standing in line in barber shops.”

So, when a community says it will police why should they not be allowed, he asked. The bench allowed his plea. In doing so the court brushed aside the arguments of senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi that the Maharashtra government’s standard operating procedure was being uniformly applied across religions in the state in view of the Covid situation and that the top court should not upset this balance.He argued that the situation in the state was bad and any favourable order to the petitioners would prompt others to claim similar rights.

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Solicitor general Tushar Mehta said though the central government had fixed a lower threshold for such events to be carried out with restrictions, there was nothing to prevent a state government from fixing a higher threshold depending on the ground situation.
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