COVID-19| Shravani Mela: SC asks Jharkhand Govt. to work out a possibility of opening religious places for general public

Supreme Court: While stating that the Jharkhand High Court has rightly ordered that Shravani Puja cannot be held holding big congregation fair not even the Kanwar yatra could be permitted due to COVID 19, the bench of Arun Mishra, BR Gavai and Krishna Murari, JJ noticed that total restrictions imposed by the High Court for entire months of Shravan and Bhado was not proper and that it should have been left at the discretion of the State Government, if Government can make an arrangement to permit restricted entry of general public in the temple maintaining social distancing.

“The High Court ought not to have directed that no entry should be permitted in the months of Shravan and Bhado. It is basically for the State Government to take a call on this.”

The High Court had, on July 3, 2020, passed an order that online darshan should be allowed during the entire course of Shravani Puja. Accordingly, directions have been issued for online darshan. At the same time, the High Court had also ordered that Puja of Jyotirlinga would continue during the month of Shravan and Bhado, but the same will be done by the temple trust without allowing any public participation.

The Court was also alarmed by the fact that thousands of pandas are gaining entry into the temple premises every day whereas entry of general public is not being allowed at all even in premises to have darshan from distance. On this, it said,

“we are not happy with the situation that thousands of pandas are being permitted entry in the temple every day. This cannot be said to be very conducive situation so as to prevent the spread of virus Covid 19. Entry of such large number of pandas, as alleged, should not be permitted.”

The Court said that the State and Trust should have made an arrangement for regulated entries of pandas while maintaining social distancing.

“… the State Government ought to have permitted systematically at least few hundred numbers of general public on the basis of online booking, giving them different timings of darshan, so that large congregation does not take place and maintaining social distancing for darshans at important festivals of the year but State has not done it so far and only two days are left from the final day of the Shravan month.”

It, hence, asked the State Government and the Temple Trust make an arrangement that no large congregation takes place even of pandas in the temple premises and Garbh Grih. It is The State Government must ensure that only limited number of persons, maintaining social distancing, be that they are pandas and priests of the temple, enter the premises at the same time in the temple premises.

The Court, however, refrained from issuing directions to the State Government to provide the entry. And requested it to find out a possibility for darshan, which ought to have been done for general public as is being done in Ujjain, an another Jyotirligam. In Ujjain, 300 persons are being allowed on the basis of prior online booking, giving them different timings. The Court requested the State Government to, if possible, permit darshan on the day of Purnima and in the month of Bhado also.

It, further, requested the State to find out a possibility of limited entry of general public in temples, churches and mosques in the State. If not outside State, at least the person from within the State as is being done at some other places.

“We direct consideration not only for the temple but in all such religious places whether it be Churches or Mosques, entry of limited number of persons/devotees should have been allowed as is being done throughout India. The State cannot shirk from its responsibility to enforce the social distancing norms, particularly when there is opening up of such places throughout the world.”

[Nishikant Dubey v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 616 , order dated 31.07.2020]

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