SC refuses to pass ‘general directions’ to allow Muharram processions

Order would lead to “chaos” and “targeting of a particular community for spreading COVID-19”, says CJI

The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to pass “general directions” to allow Muharram processions across the country amid the pandemic restrictions, saying an order like that would lead to “chaos” and “targeting of a particular community for spreading COVID-19”.

“It is not possible to give general directions for the whole country… It will lead to chaos. A particular community will be targeted for spreading COVID… We as a court cannot do that, cannot expose you to that risk. We cannot give general directions”, Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde addressed advocate Azim H. Laskar, appearing for prominent Shia cleric Syed Kalbe Jawad.

The CJI had orally remarked a few days ago how the court found it “strange that they [authorities] are willing to allow activities involving economic interests, but if it involves religion, they cite COVID to say they cannot open.”

On Thursday, Mr. Laskar pointed out that the court had allowed devotees access to places of worship in other cases and permitted the annual chariot procession in connection with the Jagannath Puri temple festivities amid the pandemic.

But the CJI said those permissions were given for specific places and not the entire country. “They pertained to specific places and from one point to another. There were no general directions passed”, he responded.

“In the Jagannath Puri case, we allowed it [rath yatra] from one point to another. In such cases, the risks and damages can be assessed. But when it comes to the whole country, these cannot be assessed. There may be chaos. How can we order for the whole country,” he asked Mr. Laskar.

The Chief Justice, flanked by Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian, said public festivities for Ganesha festival was not allowed in Tamil Nadu.

Access to Jain temples

Mr. Laskar then referred to how the court had given access to Jain temples for the occasion of Paryushan.

The CJI replied, “That was specifically for three Jain temples in Mumbai. We only allowed five people at a time.”

In its August 21 order in the Jain temples’ case, the court made it clear that its order to allow worshippers access to the specific Jain temples in Mumbai does not, by default, extend to other temples, Trusts or other faiths. It said that its permission would not act as a precedent for allowing congregations during Ganesh Chaturthi.

On Thursday, the Bench also pointed out that though Mr. Jawad sought permission for the whole country, he had not made the States party to his case.

Mr. Laskar finally asked whether the court would specifically grant permission for the procession to be held in Lucknow.

“Go to the Allahabad High Court”, the CJI said.

The court finally disposed of the plea allowing Mr. Jawad liberty to approach the High Court.

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