- Top Court said Jains could offer prayers at any one of 3 Mumbai temples
- The prayers could be offered on Saturday and Sunday only, it said
- It said prayers could be offered as long as Covid SOPs are in place
The Supreme Court said on Friday that Jains could offer prayers, on Saturday and Sunday only, at any one of three temples in Mumbai - in the city's Dadar, Byculla and Chembur neighbourhoods - as part of festivities surrounding the eight-day Paryushan festival.
The top court said prayers could be offered as long as SOPs in place during the Covid pandemic, including the use of face masks and social distancing, were strictly enforced.
Religious congregations remain banned under the Covid guidelines, the court added, including at the three temples where temporary individual worship has been allowed.
The court also made it clear that the interim order could not be viewed as a precedent to allow congregations at other places of worship, and said that permission for prayers at other Mumbai temples would not be given. Referring to the popular Ganpati festival, it said "case-to-case" permission was needed from the state disaster management authority.
"This (the interim order) is not intended to apply in any other case, particularly for any large congregation. We are referring particularly to the kind of congregations that take place during Ganpati festival in Mumbai and other places," the court said on Friday.
The Shri Parshwatilak Shwetamber Murtipujak Tapagacch Jain Trust had moved the Supreme Court asking for permission to pray at temples during the Paryushan period.
Days earlier the Bombay High Court had disallowed the opening of Jain temples in the city.
The Maharashtra government today told the Supreme Court that large crowds would be difficult to manage. Represented by the Congress's Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi, the state said it had cancelled other festivals, such as the Pandharpur Wari, due to the pandemic.
In response the Chief Justice of India said: "This is a dynamic situation and is fact-intensive. If you can enforce SOP and obtain an undertaking, why shouldn't the activities be held?"
"This is exactly the choice we had with the Odisha Rath Yatra. If we can ensure social distancing, and people do not gather, then having the rath is not damaging," the court said.
"We were forgiven by Lord Jagannath, we will be forgiven again," the Chief Justice added.
In June the Supreme Court said the Rath Yatra in Puri could be conducted in a restricted manner, with curfews, closed entry points and limited numbers of people involved.
Today the court also pointed out that if entry into places of worship could be restricted there was no reason why congregations could not be allowed once more.
"If it is the matter of five people at a time in one temple and this format can be replicated in all the places, then we are not opposed to expanding this scope of this to beyond Jain temples - why not Hindu temples, why not Muslim shrines?" the court asked.
"We find it very strange that every activity they are allowing involves economic activity. They are willing to take the risk if money is involved but if it religious then they say there is Covid and we can't do this," the court declared.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, representing the Jain trust in the top court today, said his clients would follow SOPs and that the permission sought was only for temples in Mumbai.
To this the Maharashtra government said: "If this prayer is allowed, tomorrow there may be a grievance raised that one community is favoured".
However, in a self-deprecating moment the top court poked fun at itself, responding: "Tomorrow there will be allegations that Supreme Court only favoured one community".
Maharashtra is the worst-affected state in this coronavirus pandemic, with over 6.43 lakh cases so far, of which over 21,300 are deaths and nearly 1.63 lakh are active cases.
On Thursday state government data showed nearly 15,000 new cases had been reported.