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Individuals are allowed to immerse idols, which can be carried by a single person, in water bodies, the Court said.
The Madras High Court today disposed of a plea challenging the Tamil Nadu Government's prohibition on the public celebration of Vinayaka Chathurthi this year by directing that indivudals should be allowed to carry and immerse Vinayaka idols while following COVID-19 guidelines.
A Bench of Justices MM Sundresh and R Hemalatha has passed the following directions:
Individuals are permitted to have the Vinaya idols after the performance of ceremonies at home;
Individuals permitted to drop idols at the entry point of temples;
Individuals are allowed to immerse idols, which can be carried by a single person, in water bodies;
This permission is for individuals only;
There is a total bar on such activities by organisations;
These directions subject to regular COVID-19 restrictions including time limits for staying out and social distancing;
In case of violations, the State is at liberty to take action according to law.
Appearing for the Tamil Nadu Government, Advocate General Vijay Narayan told the Court that in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, installation of statues in public places, the immersion of idols in public places and public processions had not been permitted.
A Government Order to this effect was also recently upheld by the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court.
In line with these directions, the Marina Beach had also been closed off to prevent any law and order that may arise if groups congregate to immerse the idols, the AG submited.
People were advised to celebrate the festival at home, AG Narayan said. Small temples were, however, open with directions that visitors adhere to COVID-19 norms, including the wear of a facemask.
As such, the State raised an apprehension that if the Court were to modify the GO and permit the immersion of idols, it may be misinterpreted to by groups who may congregate.
The AG urged that if the Court is allowing idol immersion in the public, it should be clarified that the Marina Beach would be out of bounds and that the immersion should take place in some other water body.
The Court, in turn, assured that it would only permit individuals to immerse the idols.
During the hearing, the petitioners also told the Court that they do not wish to partake in any public procession, that they would not insist on mass processions or mass immersions, and that they would extend the fullest cooperation with the State to ensure the smooth conduct of the religious practices.
The Court proceeded to issue directions to allow the immersion of Vinayaka idols by individuals, after also taking note that the COVID-19 lockdown has now been relaxed considerably to allow the restricted movement of persons in Tamil Nadu.
Highlighting that the regular COVID-19 restrictions would continue to apply, Court opined that since only individuals are being permitted to drop the statues, it is unlikely that the same would impact the pandemic situation.
The pandemic would spread when more people congregate and stay back in a place. In this case, the Bench remarked that the individuals permitted to immerse the statues would at best go to water body, drop statue and come back. There is no question of staying back, the Court said.
The order comes days after two Benches of the High Court disposed of PILs calling for action against the Hindu Munnani, for having announced their intent to flout the Tamil Nadu GO that prohibited public Vinayaka Chathurthi celebrations amid the pandemic, leaving it to the State Government to take care of the law and order issue.