Supreme Court allows prayers in 3 Jain temples in Mumbai for 2 days
New Delhi: The Supreme Court (SC) on Friday allowed the entry of limited number of devotees to three Jain temples at Dadar, Byculla and Chembur in Mumbai over the weekend (August 22 and 23) to offer prayers on the pious occasion of the Jain festival of Paryushana.
A three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI), SA Bobde said that the entry would be subject to the undertaking given by the petitioner trust, which said that it would allow only five devotees at a time inside the shrines and a maximum of 250 would be permitted on a day during the festival because of the raging coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak.
“We are of the view that if the undertaking given by the petitioner is faithfully complied with, it would not be hazardous to permit prayers at the three temples in Dadar, Byculla and Chembur,” said the bench, which also comprised Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.
The court was also critical of Maharashtra government in allowing other economic activities to continue but imposing restrictions on activities connected with religion.
“We find it strange that you are allowing every activity involving economic interests and money. But if it involves religion, you say you cannot do it because of Covid-19,” CJI Bobde remarked.
The court made it clear that its order allowing entry into the three temples would be limited to this particular case and would not apply to any other temples or festivals involving large congregation, including the annual 10-day Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations, which start on Saturday (August 22).
“Our order will not act as a precedent and will not apply to any other plea for worshipping in congregation by any other community or religion, particularly the congregation that happens during Ganesh Chaturthi in Mumbai and other places in Maharashtra,” the apex court said.
Requests with respect to other such temples or festivals would have to be dealt with by the Maharashtra government, the court added.
The order was passed on a plea by Shri Parshwatilak Shwetamber Murtipujak Tapagacch Jain Trust, which is dedicated to the Jain community and had approached the apex court against a Bombay high court (HC) order of August 13 that had declined to grant interim relief.
The plea before the HC had sought permission to visit Jain temples to perform puja during Paryushana, which is being held between August 15 and 23.
The HC while refusing to pass any interim order had listed the case for further hearing in September.
Paryushana, which literally translates to “abiding and coming together” is a major festival for the Jain community, where the members of the faith take vows, observe fast and come together to pray.
Maharashtra government had opposed the plea in the SC, stating that the state is the worst affected as far as Covid-19 outbreak is concerned.
The government reasoned with the apex court that it would be difficult for the authorities concerned to ensure compliance with Covid-19 precautions, if places of worship are opened to the public.
“Maharashtra is the state most affected by Covid-19 in India. I am opposing the plea vigorously due to the unimaginable situation in the state and keeping in mind the interests of the state,” said senior counsel AM Singhvi, who appeared on behalf of Maharashtra government.
CJI Bobde, however, pointed out that if the standard operating procedures (SOPs) laid down by the Central government and the undertaking given by the petitioner could be enforced, then the plea could be granted.
The Central government through solicitor-general (S-G) Tushar Mehta supported the plea on condition that all precautions and SOPs are adhered to.
“This is the same choice we had faced with the Jagannath Ratha Yatra in Puri. We had held that if the congregation can be avoided, then mere pulling of the rath (chariot) will not worsen the situation. And nothing worse happened after that. Lord Jagannath forgave us. We will be forgiven in this case, too,” CJI Bobde said.
Earlier on June 22, the SC had allowed the annual Hindu festival of Rath Yatra at Jagannath temple in Odisha’s Puri district to be held without public participation and subject to stringent restrictions owing to the pandemic.
Senior counsel Dushyant Dave, who was representing the Jain trust, submitted on Friday that he was seeking permission to allow only five devotees inside a temple at a time subject and a maximum of 250 per day. He also pointed out that the state government was allowing other economic activities such opening of shopping malls, liquor outlets, etc, while pleading for the Jain devotees to visit their shrines.
Singhvi argued that a leeway given to one religious group could lead to similar petitions from other faiths as well.
“We are satisfied that if only five people are allowed, it will not cause any problem,” CJI Bobde said.
The SC had also heard another similar case from Jharkhand to open Baba Baidhyanath Jyotirlinga Temple at Deoghar and Baba Basukinath Temple at Basukinath to the public and to allow the Shravani Mela devotees to offer prayers during Hindu holy months of Shravan and Bhado.
The Jharkhand government had opposed the plea, the citing the Covid-19 threat and the fact that it would be streaming the temple rituals online.
The apex court, eventually, did not pass any direction. Instead it had requested the Jharkhand government to explore the possibility of allowing at least a few devotees to visit the temple every day on the auspicious occasion.