The Punjab and Haryana High Court recently upheld the restrictions on religious places during Covid-19 lockdown.
While dismissing a PIL challenging these restrictions, the bench comprising of Justices Rajiv Sharma and Ajay Tewari observed that the imposition of restrictions on religious places is in larger public interest and thus has reasonable nexus with the object sought to be achieved.
Mubeen Farooqi, a lawyer and a social activist, had approached the High Court seeking a direction to centre to allow opening of religious places (The relaxations had not been announced at that time). While dismissing the petition, the bench observed,
It is an extra ordinary situation. In order to safeguard the health of the society, restrictions have been imposed by closing down all the places of worship for public, including holding of religious congregations/gatherings. The restrictions imposed are reasonable based on objectivity. The restrictions do not amount to interference in the religious affairs of any community. The restrictions have been imposed qua religious places of all the religions. Moreover, it is a public policy. The scope of judicial interference in the policy matters is very limited. The policy decision can be challenged only if it is unconstitutional, arbitrary or irrational. The closure of religious places of worship during the period of spread of Corona virus, that too as a temporary measure, is a regulation and not prohibition. The restrictions imposed by the Ministry of Home Affairs do not violate any fundamental or legal right of the petitioner or the similarly situated persons. The endeavour of the Ministry of Home Affairs is to break the cycle by maintaining social distancing. We will not substitute our wisdom for the wisdom of the Executive decision, which has been taken in the larger public interest.
The court added that the restrictions were in collective interest of the whole society. Refusing to direct the state to relax the restrictions qua religious places of worship, the bench further said,
“Merely that in certain areas restrictions have been relaxed cannot be a ground to relax the same qua religious places of worship. The discretion not to permit opening of all the places of worship for public and prohibiting holding of religious congregations/gatherings has been exercised judiciously.”
Read the order: