The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued notice in a plea seeking permission to open all religious places PAN India that have remained closed or have had restricted access due to the ongoing pandemic.
A bench of Chief Justice SA Bobde, Justices AS Bopanna & V. Ramasubramaniun souht response from the Centre and issued notice to the Ministry of Home Affairs on the plea by plea of Ahmedabad-based "Gitarth Ganga Trust' seeking opening of the places of worship in the country.
"We are issuing notice to just explore this possibility," said the CJI led bench.
The plea states that it has been filed with the "solemn and pious objective to protect the fundamental rights enshrined and guaranteed under the Articles 14, 19(1)(a) and (b), 25, 26 and 21, in particular, of the residents of India pertaining to opening of the places of worship/religious places throughout India which have been prohibited/restricted at present by many of the states".
While highlighting that the petition pertains to all religious institutions including Temples, Mosques, Gurudwaras and Churches in the country, the plea states that most institutions have remain close or have had limited access to the public in terms of the stipulated guidelines as under Disaster Management Act, 2005.
The states that it is "concerned for the well-being and spiritual happiness of each and every resident of India".
"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" - Excerpt of Plea
It is clarified by the Petitioner-NGO that the reliefs sough are not to the tune of holding "religious congregations" but is "only limited to the rights of devotees confined to the places of worship and that too following the relevant guidelines strictly."
Stating that while businesses have opened and economic activities have begun, it is a discrimination against religious institutions to not be allowed to have similar permissions. This, it is averred, does not meet the test of proportionality and has no relevance to objectives of fighting the pandemic.
"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 petitioner contends.
In light of this, the plea states that despite relaxations, many of the State governments have not passed orders allowing opening up of these institutions.
Recently, Chief Justice SA Bobde had remarked while hearing a plea seeking permission to allow opening of Jain Temples in parts of Maharashtra that States were willing to take risk in economic activities but restrictions were being placed on religious institutions.