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Mandatory To Make The Choice Of Health Over Religion: Gujarat HC Expresses Displeasure About Religious Appeasement Policy Of State Govt. [Read Judgment]

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
29 July 2020 3:51 AM GMT
Mandatory To Make The Choice Of Health Over Religion: Gujarat HC Expresses Displeasure About Religious Appeasement Policy Of State Govt. [Read Judgment]
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"Government’s main focus should be protecting the health and wellbeing of the people at all cost, even if it means hurting the religious sentiments of some religious leaders."
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"It is mandatory to make the choice of health over religion", said the Gujarat High Court while disposing of a PIL seeking to put restrictions on proposed Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra.

Highlighting the need to prioritize protection of public health over religious expression, the bench comprising of the Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice JB Pardiwala observed that it is the duty of any welfare State to provide legal safeguard to protect individuals' life and to maintain good health of the community. 

Last month, the Court had, in an interim order, directed that there shall be no Rath Yatra carried out for this year at Ahmedabad and at any other district in the State of Gujarat. The court had then directed the Government to file affidavit on this issue.

Referring to some averments made by the State authorities in the affidavit, the bench said that it is disappointed to see the stand taken by the government in this regard. The court said that the Government has chosen to follow a policy of appeasement and coaxing to convince the religious leaders, Temple authorities and organizers connected with Jagannath Rath Yatra to avoid holding the Rath Yatra processions. It observed:

"However, what was disappointing was the passive and yielding approach of the State Government. As a secular body heading the fight against COVID ­19 in the state, the Government's main focus should be protecting the health and wellbeing of the people at all cost, even if it means hurting the religious sentiments of some religious leaders. With infection rates going up and our resources gradually depleting, it is mandatory to focus on health rather than religion ."

"During a pandemic we do not have time for blandishment. We need action. Strong, pragmatic and robust action."

Policy of appeasement sends out a very wrong message to the public

The court further observed that the government cannot and should not follow a policy of appeasing the cultural and religious heads. It added:

We are treading on thin ice just now. In the absence of an effective vaccine, social distancing has become the principal policy mechanism for suppressing the spread of the virus. This is certainly not the time to shy away from the truth and our responsibilities. For a Government to function effectively during the pandemic it is paramount to have a clear list of priorities in order to make decisions quickly and effectively. Hard choices need to be made, never more so than during a crisis and it is most important to keep those choices or priorities, hyper clear. Providing unclear and contradictory priorities to the people will in turn lead to more trouble Gujarat is a State where we have occasions to celebrate every other weekend. While it is emotional to see these cultural festivals not be celebrated, there is nothing more important than the safety and health of our people. .
Gujarat is a State where we have occasions to celebrate every other weekend. While it is emotional to see these cultural festivals not be celebrated, there is nothing more important than the safety and health of our people. The government cannot and should not follow a policy of appeasing the cultural and religious heads. This is not the time to sit, negotiate and persuade. A policy of appeasement sends out a very wrong message to the public. If the government remains nonchalant on the issue of religious gatherings, this will have a serious impact on how seriously the masses take the pandemic. They too may become increasingly relaxed and easy going, while indulging in gatherings that flout the social distancing norms.

Despite Having Their Religious Sentiments Hurt, People Correctly Understood The Public Health Concerns

The Court said that, by avoiding a large gathering of people on the day of the Rath Yatra by passing an interim order, it avoided a major catastrophe that could have completely derailed the State Government's fight against the COVID­19.

"The emotional, social and economic cost of the loss of lives of the common men, following a major public gathering would have been devastating. The support and understanding shown by the masses was commendable. Despite having their religious sentiments hurt, most people correctly understood the public health concerns behind the cancellation of the age old Rath Yatra."

While disposing of the petition without issuing any further orders, the Court observed that the decision as to whether the Rath Yatra or any other religious procession should be permitted or not is a matter which predominantly falls within the domain of the executive wing of the State Government. This litigation in the first instance should not have reached to this High Court, the Court said. It added:

"We have still a long long way to go before the battle against the COVID­19 is won and over. In such critical times, there is no need to consult or discuss anything relating to the religious practices with the religious leaders, etc. at the cost of public health. We emphasize upon the need to prioritize protection of public health over religious expression."

The judgment began with this quote of Theodore Roosevelt: "No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor we ask any man's permission when we ask him to obey it. Obedience to the law is demanded as a right; not asked as a favor."

The court also extensively refers to an article written by Law Professors titled: "Forced Closing of Houses of Worship During the Coronavirus: Both Legal and Right"

The court concluded the judgment by quoting Justice Rose Bird, the Former Chief Justice of the State of California, U.S.A: ""The judiciary must not take on the coloration of whatever may be popular at the moment. We are guardian of rights, and we have to tell people things they often do not like to hear."

Case Details:
Case Title: Hiteshkumar Vittalbhai Chavda v. Shri Jagannathji Mandir Trust
Case No.: R/WP (PIL) No. 90/2020
Quorum: Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice JB Pardiwala
Appearance: Advocate Aum M Kotwal, Senior Advocate Anshin Desai assisted by Advocate Nandish Thakkar with Sanat Pandya (for Petitioner); Advocate General Kamal Trivedi (for and Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation); Government Pleader Manisha Lavkumar Shah with Assistant Government Pleader DM Devnani and Public Prosecutor Mitesh Amin (for State)


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