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Petition in Supreme Court asks for re-opening religious places across the country to ensure the spiritual happiness of citizens

The petition clarifies that the prayer is not for permission to hold religious congregations but to protect the rights of citizens to visit confined religious places in line with all the guidelines

Shruti Mahajan

A petition has been filed before the Supreme Court praying for permission to open up all religious places across the country that have remained closed or restricted for access due to the pandemic.

The petitioner is a Public Trust seeking the re-opening of religious places in the country across all faiths in order to uphold the fundamental rights of the citizens, particularly of the devotees.

The "pious objective" of the Trust is to "to protect the fundamental rights enshrined and guaranteed under the Articles 14, 19(1)(a) and (b), 25, 26 and 21", states the plea.

The plea pertains to all religious institutions, including Temples, Mosques, Gurudwaras and Churches in the country. Most of these institutions have remained either closed or have allowed limited and restricted access to the public in conformity with the guidelines laid down by the Centre under the Disaster Management Act and enforced by various State governments.

"The Petitioner is concerned for the well-being and spiritual happiness of each and every resident of India."
the petition states

The petition clarifies that the relief sought in no way concerns the holding of any religious congregation. Rather, the scope of the prayer is limited to the opening of the confined religious institutions for access to devotees while following all the requisite safety norms and safety measures.

"The Petitioner also states and submits categorically that the objective of the Petition is not to either promote or encourage or seek any relief for any religious congregation or procession, but only limited to the rights of devotees confined to the places of worship and that too following the relevant guidelines strictly."

The petitioner points out that despite the relaxation provided for by the MHA's guidelines under Unlock 1 for opening up of religious places starting June 8, many of the State governments have not passed orders allowing the same.

The pandemic and the effect the lockdown on the mental health of the citizens is adverse. At a time like this, much of the mental distress faced by the citizens can be resolved if religious places are opened up for access to devotees who can seek their spiritual peace, the petition says.

Since permissions have been given for opening up of various economic activities, it is discrimination against religious institutions if they are not granted similar permission, the petition further argues.

"In permitting businesses and commercial activities and prohibiting religious practices the States have weighed the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak with the 'reward” of the value of the business.'"
the petition states.

The complete closure of the religious places also does not meet the test of proportionality, it is said, and neither does it achieve the objective of fighting the pandemic.

As such, the plea urges the Court to consider the issue of opening up of the religious places with all the necessary precautions in place.

The petition is filed through Advocate Surjendu Sankar Das.

It is pertinent to note that earlier this month, Chief Justice of India, Justice SA Bobde had orally observed that while States were willing to take risks in allowing economic activities, restrictions in the name of COVID-19 were being imposed on religious places.

The Bench headed by CJI had also observed that the Court was not averse to considering the scope of opening of religious shrines if requisite precautions could be put in place.

This observation from the Bench had come when the Court was hearing a petition by a Jain temple Trust which sought the opening up of three Jain temples in Mumbai for the period of Paryushan.

An undertaking by the Trust was given to the Court that at any given point, not more than five persons inside the temple would be permitted and that all the necessary health and safety measures under the applicable SOP would be taken.

Resultantly, the Court had granted the permission while clarifying that the said order was not to be treated as a precedent.

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