New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday while allowing Jain temples to remain open in Maharashtra this Saturday and Sunday, told the state government that the court found it very strange that although economic activities were being allowed in the state, but when it came to opening of temples then Covid-19 risks were being cited.
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 brings up Covid-19 and its risks wherever religion is involved.
“Lord Jagannath forgave us, your gods will forgive you too,” noted the bench.
The court observation was made during a hearing of the matter involving the opening of Jain temples in Maharashtra during the Paryushan period. The apex court allowed the Jain community to visit these temples in Dadar, Byculla, and Chembur in Mumbai.
The temples will 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 Sri Parshwatilak Shwetambar Murtipujak Jain Trust had moved the apex court against the Bombay High Court’s August 14 ruling declining permission to allow offering of prayers during the Paryushan period.
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.
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, then 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 were 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 were 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, however, made it clear 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.