Maharashtra govt tells HC, it is willing to allow Parsi community to pray if they agree to ‘representative’ prayers
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The Maharashtra government on Monday told the Bombay High Court that it would consider allowing the Parsi community to hold its annual prayers at their temple near Kemps Corner, only if they agree to “representative” prayers. The state said the community must agree to using a token system to ensure a limited number of persons enter the temple at a time.

A bench of Justices Ramesh Dhanuka and Madhav Jamdar was further informed by the Union government that its guidelines do not permit any kind of congregation of persons for any religious purpose.

The bench was petitioned by the Bombay Parsi Panchayat (BPP) seeking permission to hold annual prayers - Farvardiyan, at the Doongerwadi temple at Kemps Corner, on September 3.

The trust cited the decision of the Supreme Court, wherein the top court permitted the Jain community to observe Paryushan at three temples in the city. It pointed out that these prayers are not any festivities but are an annual ritual, wherein members of the community pay their respect (through prayers) to the dead.

The community through its counsel Prakash Shah also assured the bench that it would follow all the guidelines and precautions as advised by the state and Union governments.

The trust further said that at a time only 20 out of the total 50 persons would attend the prayers inside the temple, which would be divided into various sections, to ensure social distancing.

Appearing for the state, advocate general (AG) Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, told the bench that if the BPP agrees to use a token system, allowing only a limited number of persons to enter the premises at a time, the state might consider its representation. "The trust must agree to representative prayers, wherein a few persons could pray for the entire community," he submitted.

The state, however, pointed out that if BPP is permitted to hold prayers, it is likely that other members of the Parsi community and also persons from other faiths, might seek similar reliefs.

Similar submissions were advanced by additional solicitor general (ASG) Anil Singh, who pointed out that the Union government has still not permitted any congregation for religious purposes.

Having heard the contention, the bench ordered the community to make a representation before the government and respond to the specific queries raised by the state.

The bench has posted the matter for further hearing on September 2, when the state is asked to submit its decision on the representation of the community.

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