Govt. told to decide on petition to allow visitors in places of worship

Devotees wait for their turn at ISKCON temple in Dwarka in Delhi.   | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday asked the AAP government to take a decision on a representation seeking that visitors to religious places be allowed, subject to strict compliance of COVID-19 protocol.

A Bench of Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh gave the direction while dealing with a plea by NGO Distress Management Collective.

Advocate Robin Raju, appearing for the NGO, contended that despite the reopening of markets, malls, gyms and spas in view of a “significant drop” in cases of COVID-19, the Delhi government continues to prohibit visitors from places of worship.

Selective exclusion

“This prolonged prohibition on visitors from going to religious places has become a matter of distress for not just religious leaders but to the believers at large,” the plea said.

Mr. Raju, during the brief hearing, argued that there was “selective exclusion” of religious places even in the August 30 order of Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA).

“Religious places shall be permitted to open but no visitors will be allowed... My representation [to allow visitors] was sent 40 days ago,” he added.

The petition argued that restaurants, bars, cinemas and multiplexes have been allowed to operate up to 50% of their seating capacity.

It said that even the Delhi Metro is allowed with 100% seating capacity in coaches. The DDMA has even permitted funeral and marriage-related gatherings with a ceiling of 100 persons. “It is though striking to note that aforesaid circular continues to prohibit visitors from religious places,” the NGO said.

The NGO said it was constrained to approach the HC as it had received numerous grievances from both the clergy and laity regarding the issue of prohibition of visitors in religious places, even after unlocking almost all those centres where usually throngs gather.

The petition said that an “online worship service will never be able to provide the same experience” as a physical visit and that the continued prohibition on visitors “gives an impression that they [the authorities] see religious places solely as places of worship and not a necessity”.

Building maintenance

“Most of the religious places in Delhi are in difficulty to even meet its building maintenance and other ancillary expenses due to prolonged absence of visitors. It is also hard to comprehend the selective exclusion of religious places despite opening up of all other crowd gathering spots,” the plea said.

“The spiritual guidance and counselling from the religious leaders and interaction with other believers gives mental strength and relief amid these uncertain and challenging times,” the NGO said.

It argued that the religious places were permitted to allow visitors prior to the second wave, and all the religious places and the managing committees of the places of worship had strictly adhered to the COVID protocols directed.

Last week, the High Court declined to entertain a petition seeking to declare as illegal the Delhi government’s decision of organising Ganesh Chaturthi from State treasury.

In July, the court had asked the Centre to respond to a petition by Delhi Waqf Board to open the Nizamuddin markaz, which has been locked since March 31 last year after several people who attended a religious congregation there contracted COVID-19.

The Centre, in response, said that about 1,300 foreigners were found to be residing in the premises and “cases against them have cross borders implications and involves nation’s diplomatic relationship with other countries”.

“It is necessary and incumbent on the part of the Respondent (government) to preserve the said premises for the purpose of Section 310 [local inspection] of CrPC,” the Centre said in an affidavit.

“As such, in view of the seriousness of the case which has trans-border implication and diplomatic consideration, it is just and necessary that the case property in such a case is preserved in letter and spirit so that due process of law in dealing with such cases is followed which also includes the procedure contemplated under Section 310 of the Code of Criminal Procedure,” the Centre said.

Previously, on April 15, the High Court had permitted 50 people to offer namaz five times a day at Nizamuddin markaz during Ramzan, noting there was no direction in the DDMA notification to close down places of worship.

It had then said that namaz be offered on “first floor above the basement” of the mosque, and “strictly in accordance” with the DDMA’s April 10 notification and other standard operating protocols.

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2021 1:06:42 PM |

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