The Supreme Court on Friday allowed devotees of 'Shwetamber Jain' community to offer Paryushan prayers for two days in three temples in Mumbai on the condition of "strict compliance" with the standard operating procedures meant to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
Making exception for the three Jain temples located at Dadar West, Byculla and Chembur in Mumbai, a bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde said however that the permission for ''Ganpati'' festival will have to be taken on a case-to-case basis from the Maharashtra Disaster Management Authority.
"Upcoming Ganpati festival in Maharashtra is altogether different and it will become uncontrollable and we understand the situation for that but in this case the situation is different," said the bench, also comprising Justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.
It said no permission for prayers would be given for any other temple in Mumbai.
The apex court, in a hearing conducted through video conferencing, granted "reprieve" on the plea of 'Shri Parshwatilak Shwetamber Murtipujak Jain Trust' which has challenged the Bombay high court order.
The bench was hearing an appeal against the Bombay high court order which had said that it did not wish to interfere with the state's decision not to permit Jain temples in Mumbai to open for devotees to mark the eight-day Paryushan festival from August 15 to 23 in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The top court considered the undertaking of the Jain trust that it will abide by the Centre's guidelines and the SOP in allowing devotees inside the temples for two days of the rituals.
"Having carefully considered the rival submissions, we are of the view that a small reprieve can be granted to the petitioners, without making it as a precedent. After all, the petitioners are not seeking to hold any festivities in congregation," the bench said in the order.
It noted that the trust wanted, by way of an interim measure, opening of three temples, one each in Byculla, Dadar-west and Chembur in Mumbai for two days only on August 22 and 23 by undertaking to restrict the entry of devotees only to five persons at any given time subject to maximum of 250 devotees on a single day.
"Therefore, considering the peculiar facts and circumstances the prayer made by the petitioners are allowed to the limited extent of permitting them to open the three temples...on August 22, 2020 and August 23, 2020 for devotees to perform the rituals connected with ‘Paryushan'," it said.
Ordering strict compliance of the undertaking, it said that "this order is not intended to be used as a precedent by other persons to seek permission to hold any festivals/festivities which would involve, by their very nature, congregation of people, such as ‘Ganesh Festival'".
During the hearing, senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for the trust, filed a statement giving certain undertakings which said that the conditions mentioned in the “SOP on preventive measures to contain spread of COVID-10 in religious places/place of worship” dated 4 June 2020 by the Government of India, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as public health measures will be strictly observed".
The trust said that the entry of devotees will be restricted to 250 persons per day and only in the age group of 12 to 65, in the places of worship.
It also said that "at any given point of time, no congregation of people will be allowed in temples and only up to five persons will be allowed to enter and remain within the inner part of the temples."
The Jain Community of Mumbai will be appraised of the order that may be passed by this Court and the above conditions through appropriate means of public communication, the trust said in its undertaking to the top court.
The top court took the statement on record and allowed the plea by making clear the order permitting prayer was order "specific" to the three temples only.
At the outset, the bench indicated that it may allow the prayers as done in the case of Puri Jagannath Yatra if the petitioner can give an undertaking that COVID-19 SOP will be followed.
It said Maharashtra government will have to take a decision on case-to- case basis and if five people go into a Jain temple at a time then it would not cause problem.
Senior advocate A M Singhvi, appearing for the state government, said there are over 40 lakh Jains in Maharashtra with around five lakh in Mumbai itself and the issue should be left to the executive as it has to look at the interest of everybody.