The petitioner’s counsel Dipesh Siroya had urged the court to direct the state to reopen temples albeit with restrictions such as limiting the number of worshippers at a time. Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni on Tuesday told a bench headed by Justice Amjad Sayed that while the state had given the suggestion a thought, it had decided against reopening temples and other places of worship.
“The state contemplated but decided it is not feasible to open places of worship as yet because of the rising cases of coronavirus,” Kumbhakoni said. The state also filed an affidavit in the high court on Monday, informing about its decision.
In the affidavit filed through Kishor Nimbalkar, the secretary of its Disaster Management department, the state government said past experiences, especially in cases of crowd management at “vegetable markets” or during the “Ganesh festival” had shown rampant breach of safety guidelines.
The state, in its affidavit, said that one’s Constitutional right to practice and propagate religion was subject to public order, morality and health. And that maintenance and improvement of public health must rank the highest. Even if it were to issue guidelines, there was “no guarantee” that citizens would follow them, it added.
“The recent Ganesh festival was really an eye-opener. The state had issued guidelines for celebrations and it was expected of citizens to follow the guidelines in true letter and spirit since it is the duty and responsibility of each citizen to cooperate with the state during the pandemic,” it said. “However, at many places, citizens appeared to be more casual than responsible,” the affidavit stated.
According to the state’s affidavit, in several places, including in Mumbai, citizens gathered in large numbers and there was overcrowding at markets, even for buying decorations, which are certainly not essential items. “Opening of religious places will result in a major surge in the spread of infection and considering the limited resources available with the state, it will become impossible to contain the spread,” the affidavit reads.
As per the affidavit, as on September 6, Maharashtra had recorded COVID-19 cases, while toll in the state was over 26,000. Citing that the opening of Balaji Temple in Andhra Pradesh had increased infections, the state said, “Opening of religious places with conditions or guidelines is not a practical solution.”