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In SC, Maharashtra Opposes Centre's Suggestion to Allow Small Religious Gatherings as Covid-19 Looms

Shiv Sena chief and Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray (Image: PTI)

Shiv Sena chief and Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray (Image: PTI)

Uddhav Thackeray-led alliance government was emphatic that it is still not time to let open the doors of places of worship in the wake of the Covid-19 situation and the fact that Maharashtra is the worst hit state in the country.

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Utkarsh Anand

The Maharashtra government on Monday opposed in the Supreme Court the Centre’s suggestion to gradually allow religious gatherings and processions with all safety norms in place.

Uddhav Thackeray-led alliance government was emphatic that it is still not time to let open the doors of places of worship in the wake of the Covid-19 situation and the fact that Maharashtra is the worst hit state in the country.

The state government’s stand came forth as a bench, led by Justice L Nageswara Rao, heard a petition by the Nanded Gurudwara management committee to take out a small procession to conduct Dussehra, Takht Isnan, Deepmala and Gurta Gaddi.

The plea maintained that it was a three-century-old tradition and that the management will ensure not more than 50 people take out this procession, boarding a truck and adhering to all safety measures.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the central government, referred to the latest unlock guidelines to point out that the Ministry of Home Affairs has now permitted religious gathering up to 100 persons. This number can even go up outside a non-containment zone with certain conditions.

The law officer added that Nanded has a specific relevance for Sikhs since it was home to one of their five seats of authority (takhats), the Sachkhand Shri Hazur Abchalnagar Sahib. Mehta added that this was in Nanded where Guru Gobind Singh had breathed his last after he consecrated the Granth Sahib as his Last Order, which institutionalized the faith.

The Solicitor General submitted that a middle path perhaps can be reached when the petitioners are willing to restrict the number of people allowed in the procession. Stating that the tradition belonged to one particular community only, he further said that if the procession is taken out early in the morning, it may prevent overcrowding and the state may permit it subject to more conditions.

But senior lawyer Devadatt Kamat, appearing for the Maharashtra government, strongly opposed this. He emphasised that it always becomes impossible to restrict the number of people in a religious gathering and that the state will give precedence to public health and safety in the larger interest.

Kamat added that while the MHA guidelines are advisories to the state governments and that it is eventually for the state to consider what is best for its people after looking at the ground realities.

“As far as the state rules are concerned there is a 30 September order that clearly states that congregations are strictly prohibited. Maharashtra has borne the brunt of Covid cases. Now, when the count is going lower, we cannot take the risk of allowing such processions. Law enforcement agencies have expressed that they will not be able to control the crowd in a charged atmosphere like this,” Kamat contended.

The senior counsel said prohibition have been put across the board and said gatherings were not allowed in Gudi padwa, Akshaya Tritiya, Ashadhi Ekadashi, Pandharpur, Bakrid, Gukulashtami, Ganesh Chaturthi, Muharram or Navaratri.

After hearing the submissions, the bench accepted the Maharashtra government’s contention that the state administration is best suited to assess the ground situations and take decisions accordingly in view of the pandemic.

The top court asked the Gurudwara management committee to give a new representation to the state government with particulars of its proposal. The state administration can take a call afresh and the management will have the liberty to move the Bombay High Court if it still has grievances, said the bench.


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