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Justice Mishra observed that when the entire country was unlocking, how could places of worship be kept closed, especially on important occasions.
The Supreme Court today refused to stay the July 3 Jharkhand High Court verdict denying permission for the conduct of the annual Shravani mela at Deogarh's Baidyanath Temple amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The order was passed by a Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari.
The Bench was hearing a petition by BJP MP Nishikant Dubey, who had challenged the Division Bench verdict of the Jharkhand High Court ordering that priests will perform puja in the temple, while devotees can watch virtually.
The petitioners argued before the Apex Court that about 30,000 pandas (priests) are allowed inside the temple, but no devotee can enter.
To this, the Bench expressed shock and asked how such exclusion can take place when so many priests are allowed.
Justice Mishra observed that when the entire country was unlocking, how could places of worship be kept closed, especially on important occasions. He went on to say,
Justice Arun Mishra
However, Senior Advocate Salman Khurshid, arguing for the State of Jharkhand, stated that lockdown in the state has been extended till August 31, and that the state government cannot revoke its orders just two days before the festival.
It was further submitted that the government has decided to close all temples and mosques amid the pandemic. Khurshid said,
"Numbers of COVID-19 cases are only on the rise, especially after the influx of migrants. No question of opening darshan. State may announce a complete lockdown."
The Court ultimately refused to stay the High Court order. However, it directed the state government to consider opening places of worship in areas where lockdown has been lifted or eased by following the social distancing guidelines and other protocols laid down by the government.
The top court noting that a "total restriction on darshan by public is prima facie unreasonable," states that it was alarming that thousands of pandas were being allowed inside the temple.
Reads SC order
Justice Arun Mishra led bench has further stated that it was not correct on the part of Jharkhand HC to impose complete restriction on darshan for Shravan and Bhado months since state government can make alternate arrangements to provide limited entry to devotees as it is being done in as is being done in Ujjain, an another Jyotirligam.
the SC said
Referring to a recent Supreme Court order allowing the Rath Yatra in Odisha with certain conditions, Dubey had urged the High Court to allow the kanwar yatra and open the revered shrine for devotees during the holy month of Shravan starting July 6.
The writ petition also urged the High Court to allow opening of the Basukinath Temple in Dumka, about 40 km from Deoghar, as devotees who offer prayers at Baidyanath Temple also visit the neighbouring shrine.
Before the High Court, the state government had favoured a virtual darshan of the Shravan festival at the Baidyanath Temple.
Secretary of the Disaster Management Department, Amitabh Kaushal, had told the Court that due to the Coronavirus outbreak, all places of worship have been shut by the state government.