New Delhi: Dismissing a public interest litigation filed by Mumbai-based activist Saket Gokhale on the publicised bhoomi pujan or foundation laying ceremony for the Ram temple at Ayodhya, the Allahabad high court on Thursday said it expects the Uttar Pradesh government to ensure that all necessary measures against the spread of COVID-19 are taken during the event.
The petition, Saket Gokhale v. Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Tirthe Kshetra and another, was heard by a bench of Chief Justice Govind Mathur and Justice Saumitra Dayal Singh.
Gokhale had raised concerns about the spread of COVID-19 due to the event, saying that around 300 people have been invited for the August 5 ceremony. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to attend the event.
Pointing out that the presence of such a large number of people at a venue could lead to the violation of protocols of physical distancing prescribed by the government of India and the Uttar Pradesh government to curb the spread of COVID-19, Gokhale had sought a stay on the event.
The bench, however, held that the concerns were only unfounded assumptions and dismissed the petition.
It noted: “The entire petition for writ is based on assumptions and there is no foundation for apprehending violation of the prescribed protocol … In view of whatever stated above, we do not find any just reason to interfere in the matter. The writ petition hence is dismissed.”
The judges said they expected the government authorities to take all necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the ceremony. “At present, we expect the organisers and the Government of Uttar Pradesh would ensure all the protocol applicable for social and physical distancing,” the order said.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath had earlier in July said big events can be held while adhering to social distancing protocols pertaining to COVID-19.
On March 25, the first day of the national lockdown, Adityanath flouted official social distancing and lockdown norms by taking part in a religious event in Ayodhya along with a large number of people.
Conducting religious events while maintaining required physical distance has proven to be a challenge, as seen in the Rath Yatra in Puri town of Odisha and several other functions like the Kara Hunnime celebrations at Karjagi village in Karnataka – both of which saw a crush of people.
Earlier in April, even when the spike in COVID-19 cases was highest in Karnataka, thousands participated in a religious chariot-pulling procession in Kalaburagi district.
Across India, Ram Navami celebrations, too, were testament to the impossibility of maintaining distancing norms. Earlier, members of the Muslim community were singled out for blame for having attended a Tablighi Jamaat congregation in New Delhi before a health emergency was announced. Members were boycotted, subjected to violent attacks and labelled carriers of the coronavirus in the country.