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Will it be safe to allow visitors in places of worship with covid protocols? Delhi High Court asks authorities

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New Delhi Sept 14 (ILNS): The Delhi High Court today asked the authorities to decide the representation preferred by NGOs seeking direction to consider permitting visitors in religious places in Delhi subject to strict compliance of covid protocols, in accordance with the law, rules, regulations and government policies applicable.

The Division Bench comprising of Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh disposed of the plea seeking opening of religious places for visitors subject to strict compliance of covid protocols. 

The Bench asked the concerned authorities to decide the representation preferred by the petitioner organization on July 25, 2021, in accordance with the law, rules, regulations, and government policies applicable to the facts of the case, as expeditiously as possible and practicable. 

Background

The Delhi Disaster Management Authority, a nodal department that is issuing covid related directions for compliance in the national capital, in an order passed on August 30, 2021, allowed the reopening of restaurants, bars, cinema halls, and assembly halls, with 50% seating capacity, under phased easing of restrictions imposed in lieu of the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic. In its order, DDMA further permitted the reopening of sports complexes, weekly markets, and spas functioning across Delhi subject to strict adherence to Covid protocols.

The public interest litigation has been filed by  Distress Management Collective, an NGO that provides support and humanitarian aid to people in distress across borders, through Advocates Robin Raju & Deepa Joseph.

The plea had alleged that the August 30 order passed by the DDMA, although unlocked Delhi to a great extent, yet the restriction on visiting religious places still continues. 

“There is a prolonged prohibition on visitors from going to religious places and that too when the number of Covid cases in Delhi has remarkably come down and almost all other places have been opened,” the plea had stated.

Claiming that this action of the Government is illegal, arbitrary, and violative of Article 25 of the Constitution, the plea reads thus: “The respondents by continuing to prohibit visitors from religious places, that too when the number of Covid cases in Delhi has remarkably come down, give an impression that they see religious places solely as places of worship and not a necessity. It is herein pertinent to mention that religious places are also institutions that provide mental solace to people at large……… It is an undeniable fact that a person will get the above-said experience only by visiting their desired religious place of worship. An online worship service will never be able to provide the same experience when compared with a worship service where believers are physically present at the place of worship.”

The plea had highlighted that a representation was made before the Lieutenant Governor Delhi as also the Delhi Government on July 25, 2021, raising the issue of the continued prohibition on visiting religious places; however, no action has been taken by the concerned authorities as yet.

In light of the above, the plea had sought directions to the Government to consider permitting visitors in religious places in Delhi subject to strict compliance of covid protocols; or in the alternative, to take necessary action on its representation. 

Recently, Justice Kurian Joseph (Retd.), former Supreme Court judge, wrote to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal requesting him to allow worship at religious places in the national capital, while respecting Covid-19 protocols, as there is a significant drop in Covid-19 cases across the city.

“Permitting religious worships and services in places of public worship would not otherwise cause any adverse impact, factoring other activities permitted. It is a matter of fact that allowing people to attend religious worships and services would only help in alleviating their deep stress and it would only infuse them with positivity, hope, inner strength, and confidence, which is the need of the hour,” said the retired Supreme Court judge in his letter./ILNS/KR/SNG

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