The Supreme Court continues to hold virtual hearings despite protests from lawyers, but it frowned at the virtual ‘darshan’ allowed at Baba Baidyanath temple at Deogarh in Jharkhand by the state's High Court.
On July 3, the High Court had denied permission to hold the annual Shravani Mela at the temple in view of the pandemic and instead asked the state government to organise virtual prayers for devotees.
Seeking a response from the Jharkhand government on a PIL filed by BJP MP Nishikant Dubey challenging the virtual darshan, the 3-judge Bench listed the matter on Friday since the matter is urgent. But even as it did so, it observed: "E-darshan is no darshan. Why not allow darshan on a limited basis?"
Justice Arun Mishra, who headed the 3-judge bench, also remarked, "E-darshan is not equivalent to real darshan." The other two judges were B R Gavai and Krishna Murari.
The petitioner had also pleaded for hosting of the annual Shravani ‘mela’ at the temple site on Monday. The court, however, refused to oblige in view of the pandemic, declining to stay the High Court order denying such a permission.
The Bench observed that the Jharkhand government may consider opening up places of worship, whenever the lockdown restrictions are lifted in the state. It said: "This suggestion of opening temples, when lockdown is eased, must be in sync with social distancing norms and other precautionary guidelines."The top court had asked senior advocate Saman Khursheed, who is appearing for the Jharkhand government, to seek instructions "within half an hour" on whether limited darshans can be allowed.
On BJP MP Dubey's lawyer telling the Bench that about 30,000 priests are allowed in the Baidyanath temple, but no devotees are allowed, Khurshid said the state government had closed down all temples and mosques and there was no question of opening any for darshan due to the rising Covid-19 cases.Khurshid also submitted that since the lockdown is in force in the state till August 31, revoking this order on closure of all temples just two days before the 'Mela" will create chaos.
The Apex Court wanted the state government to explore if a limited number of devotees can be allowed to visit the temple to prevent crowds in view of the pandemic. It said the issue of e-tokens to devotees can be a way out. It further suggested that the new arrangement be tried out in the coming Bhado month and at Purn Masi (full moon).
There are 12 prominent Shiva temples, including one at Deogarh, that attract lakhs of devotees on the last day of the Bhado month, which as per the Hindu calendar is on the coming Monday. Hence the court's suggestion may lead to managements of other Shiva temples also allowing darshan to a limited number of devotees.There is an instance of the Jagannath Rath Yatra in Puri which was banned by the Apex Court on June 18; but the court had yielded four days later on June 22 when it allowed limited Rath Yatra with the chariot being pulled only by the temple staff. Curfew was also clamped in the temple town to prevent outsiders form joining the annual ritual.