The division bench comprising of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy of the Hon’ble High Court of Madras, while entertaining a Public Interest Litigation (hereinafter referred to as “PIL”), on 06.01.2021, directed State Authorities to examine whether orchestration of religious rituals and traditional festivities at the Srirangam’s Ranganathaswamy Temple, Tiruchirappalli (hereinafter referred to as “Srirangam Temple”) is practical and attainable keeping in mind the present Covid-19 protocols of the state and without undermining public health.
The PIL was filed by Rangarajan Narasimhan, regarding the halt that had been put in the conduct of temple festivals and rituals at Srirangam’s Ranganathaswamy Temple, from April 2020 onwards.
While the hearing of the PIL, Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee noted that, “religious rites have to be subject to public interest and the right to life. The right to religion is not higher than right to life”. Alongside, the Division Bench observed certain previous judgements passed in relation to similar matters by the Calcutta High Court, i.e. reduction of crowd and following the prevalent Covid-19 protocols in the state in order to regulate the festivities of Durga Puja; and the Calcutta High Court’s decision of banning the use of firecrackers during the duration of Durga Puja. As both these decisions of the Calcutta High Court went against how the festival is usually conducted, the Bench noted that, “It goes against how you celebrate these functions. Fortunately both (decisions) were upheld by the Supreme Court on ground that right to life comes ahead of right to religion. If you can assure and if it is feasible that the functions can be conducted on reduced level of participation of the public, so that religious rights are not compromised and public health also not affected, we can go ahead”.
The Petitioner, Rangarajan Narasimhan, in this regard voiced that there were methods to conduct the yearly religious rituals on a nominal scale while following strict COVID-19 protocols. He emphasized that these rituals can be conducted while limiting public participation and following all essential safety norms.
Lastly, the High Court has asked the State Authorities to deliberate with the concerned religious heads in order to appraise whether there is plausibility to conduct rites without compromising Covid-19 protocols and jeopardizing public health. The Court has hence asked for a report from the government in 6 weeks time, stipulating how the festivities may be observed for the present duration, until July 2021. “It is made absolutely clear that hygiene and Covid-19 protocol cannot be compromised for the purpose of any religious celebrations. The celebrations have to be held upon maintaining Covid-19 protocol at all times”, the High Court finally added.