Bombay HC denies permission to mosque for holding prayers during Ramadan

A holiday court of the division bench of Justice R D Dhanuka and V G Bisht was hearing a petition filed by the Juma Masjid Trust in South Mumbai.

The Bombay High Court on Wednesday refused permission to the Juma Masjid Trust, which sought to allow devotees to offer five times prayers, with 50 people present at a time in its mosque in South Mumbai during holy Ramadan month.

The HC observed that while the right to follow religious practices is important, the public order and safety of citizens during the Covid-19 surge is of “paramount importance”.

A holiday court of the division bench of Justice R D Dhanuka and V G Bisht was hearing a petition by the trust “in exercise of right to freedom of religion” and sought opening of the mosque in southern Mumbai during the holy month of Ramadan for offering prayers, which was restricted for people at large as per the Maharashtra government circular dated April 13.

The petitioners said that at the mosque, which is spread over an acre of area, as many as 7,000 people can congregate at a time. However, in view of Covid-19 restrictions, only 50 people can be allowed at a time to offer prayers during the holy month and said that it will follow all safety precautions and Covid-19 protocols.

The petitioner’s counsel referred to the April 12 order of the Delhi High Court allowing prayers at a mosque there with Covid-19 protocols and sought similar relaxation.

Taking measures to contain the Covid surge, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Tuesday had announced curfew-like restrictions on the movement of people in the state from 8 pm on April 14 to May 1.

As per the state government circular, during the 15-day period, all religious places of worship are to remain closed and only those personnel engaged in service of the place of worship are allowed to continue to perform their duties and no outside visitors or devotees are allowed to enter the premises. All staff of the places of worship are advised to get vaccinated at the earliest as per Centre’s guidelines.

Additional Government Pleader Jyoti Chavan, appearing for the state government, said that in view of the current spike in Covid-19 cases, such permission cannot be granted. “We cannot make an exception to any religion, especially in this 15-day restriction period. We cannot take a risk at this stage and all citizens should cooperate,” she added.

Chavan also said that the government was not refusing people from practising their religion but they should do it in their homes in view of the Covid-19 surge. She added saying that the state is facing a shortage of vaccines and oxygen and in such a situation, allowing social gatherings would not be advisable.

Opposing the plea, Chavan further said that while the situation in Delhi is different from Maharashtra, the Delhi HC order cannot be considered in the state.

After hearing submissions, the HC said that the restrictions imposed by the state government are the outcome of the circumstances of the Covid surge. “Maharashtra is threatened with Covid-19 and has imposed restrictions as emergency measures to break the chain of transmission of the virus,” the court noted.

“Considering the prevailing situation and ground reality in Maharashtra, we cannot permit the petitioner to offer prayers at the mosque. The restriction order of the state government is in the public interest and for the safety of all residents of Maharashtra” the bench said.

The court added that the Covid-19 situation is “serious” and “critical in nature” and “safety of citizens is of paramount importance”.

“The right to celebrate or follow a religious practice is important, but what is more paramount and of importance is public order and the safety of citizens,” the bench said.

The bench, while refusing the plea, also noted that the Bombay HC and several other courts in the country, in the past had refused permissions to many other religious congregations in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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