The Supreme Court on Friday told the Jharkhand government to consider reopening of historic Baba Baidyanath Jyotirlinga Temple at Deoghar and Baba Basukinath Temple at Basukinath for devotees, as entries were restricted due to COVID-19 pandemic.
The top court said that virtual 'darshan' of prayers is nothing like actual 'darshan' and devotees could be allowed to participate on limited basis.
The apex court was of the view that since the country was reopening now, at least on important occasions Temples, Mosques, Churches and other religious places should also be opened.
It refused to interfere with the Jharkhand High Court order of July 3 passed on a plea of BJP MP Nishikant Dubey by which it has rejected the prayer for allowing reopening of both the historic temples and holding of annual 'Shravani Mela' in Deoghar and instead allowing virtual 'darshan'.
A bench of Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari disposed of the plea but asked the Jharkhand High Court to consider reopening of the temples as the country is now reopening. 'Virtual darshan is no darshan'.
Devotees could be allowed to participate on limited basis while ensuring social distancing norms.
"The country is now reopening then why the religious places should remain shut. At least on important occasions Temples, Mosques, Churches and other religious places should be opened," the bench observed.
Counsel appearing for Dubey said that administration is allowing 30,000 Pandas (priests) inside the temple but no devotee can enter. The bench, expressed displeasure and asked senior advocate Salman Khurshid, appearing for Jharkhand as how can such exclusion takes place.
Khurshid and advocate Tapesh Kumar Singh disputed the figure of 30,000 and said there are hardly dozen of priests and other local people, who traditionally offer prayers at this time of the year. Khurshid said that Jharkhand government has decided to close all places of worship in view of the rising COVID-19 cases as a precautionary move and the state may announce a full lockdown soon.
"There's no question of opening of temples for 'darshan', as COVID-19 cases are on the rise. Revoking this order just two days before the Shravani Mela would create chaos, therefore it may not be possible to open the temples for darshan of devotees," Khurshid said.
Dubey in his appeal said that the High Court has failed to properly appreciate that crores of devotees of Lord Shiva have unparalleled faith in Baba Baidyanath Temple and Baba Basukinath Temple and its significance is duly highlighted in various religious literatures.
"It is apposite to mention here that never ever in the history of temple, the offering of prayer by the devotees was stopped and infact, even during worst natural calamity and epidemic like Plague/cholera in 19th century, the prayers were not stopped," his appeal said.
He added that it would be in the interest of devotees that they are allowed to offer prayer in Baba Baidyanath Temple and Baba Basukinath Temple with such conditions and such precautionary measures as this court deem fit.
"If the instant special leave petition is not allowed and the devotees are not allowed to offer prayer in the temples, it will hurt the religious sentiments of lakhs and crores of the devotees," it said.
The appeal said that high court ought to have considered that the decision of state government to withhold the reopening of temples and not allowing the holding Shravani Mela is manifestly arbitrary and contrary to the guidelines issued by Union Ministry of health and family welfare on June 4.
Dubey who is Lok Sabha MP from Godda in Jharkhand added that Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has only restricted the opening of religious places only within the containment zones and it nowhere mentioned that the religious activities shall remain to be closed even outside the containment zone.
"The High Court ought to have taken into consideration that the central government has taken a conscious decision to end the lockdown and gradually reopen the nation under the various phases of 'unlock' and the religious place(s) of worship was to be opened from the first week of the unlock phase starting from Jun 8, subject to standard operating procedure to be framed by competent authority," his appeal said.