On 21 August 2020, the Supreme Court allowed the Shri Parshwatilak Shwetambar Murtipujak Jain Trust to keep Jain Temples open during the Paryushan festival to perform prayers at temples of Dadar, Bycullar & Chembur subject to following the Standard Operating Procedure formulated by the authorities with respect to COVID19.
Today, the Paryushan period expires.
Clarifications by the Bench
Clarification was made by bench that the order cannot be used as a precedent and will not apply to other temples or festivals.
Directions by the Bench in the Opening of the Jain Temple
Directions to the temple trust were given by bench comprising Chief Justice SA Bobde, Justices AS Bopanna & V. Ramasubramaniun to follow Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and specifically referring to Ganesh Chaturthi with which the State Government will be dealing in accordance with merits it was added that the order would not have any bearing to any other trust or temple.
“We must make it clear that the Order, in this case, does not extend to any other Trust or any other temples. Our Order is not intended to apply in any other case, particularly which involves a large congregation of people which by their very nature cannot be controlled.”
Background for filling the PIL in Opening of the Jain Temple
The Supreme Court was moved by the Shri Parshwatilak Shwetambar Murtipujak Jain Trust wherein challenging the Bombay High Court order which had refused to allow members of the Jain community from offering prayers in temples during the holy period of Paryushan festival (between August 15 and August 23).
The Petitioner-trust was represented by Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave who submitted that they were “only seeking allowance of congregation of people up to 250 a day”.
The State of Maharashtra was represented by Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi today.
Arguments were raised that it would not be prudent to allow prayers as COVID cases had increased exponentially in the State.
Singhvi stated that Ganesh Chaturthi is starting tomorrow and it’s the biggest festival in Maharashtra and that “The govt. has taken a decision and everyone is following it properly. If this one festival is allowed, floodgates will be opened.”
CJI’s Say in the opening of the Jain Temple
CJI SA Bobde drew a corollary between allowing the conduct of Jagannath Rath Yatra in June in the state of Odisha wherein the apex court had stated that it could be conducted while observing the strict restrictions and regulations of the Centre and the State Government added that the “blanket prohibition cannot be instituted.”
CJI Bobde questioned Singhvi that “if only five people at a time are congregating, what is wrong? If that is the case, we don’t mind going beyond the Jain community.”
Dave And Singhvi
Dave added that there was no reason to disallow religious congregation from taking place when the State is not policing malls, barber shops and liquor shops.
In opposition, the Court was urged by Singhvi to not allow the prayer of the Trust as this it would be impossible to each State & each religion and contented that, “I hate to say this but I want to ask, how will you deal with the petition tomorrow that states Jains have been allowed, but others haven’t.”
While assailing the order of the Bombay HC the plea stated that Paryushan is the most important religious ritual followed annually by the followers of the Jain faith & not permitting opening of the religious places in the State of Maharashtra is arbitrary, unreasonable and without any basis in closure of religious places including Temples.
Right before the commencement of the festival, Bombay High Court on August 14 had refused to allow members of the Jain community from offering prayers in temples during the holy period of Paryushan festival (between August 15 and August 23).
The court observed that the duty of every right thinking person at this stage is to balance their responsibility towards the rest of mankind and their religious duties with public duty.
Observation by the Court
Division bench of Justice SJ Kathawalla and Justice Madhav Jamdar gave the observation,
“Keeping in mind that maintenance of public health is of paramount importance and the peculiar pandemic that has gripped the world and taken a huge toll in our country, in terms of the number of lives lost, we are inclined to agree with the reasons given by the Secretary, Disaster Management, Relief and Rehabilitation for not opening places of worship/temples to the members of the public at this stage.
Before parting with this Order, we would once again reiterate that it is the duty of every right-thinking person at this stage to balance their religious duties with public duty, and their responsibility towards the rest of mankind. In this regard, we again repeat what we have already told the Petitioners at the time of hearing, that “God is within us” and “God is everywhere”.