MUMBAI: The Bombay High Court bench of Justices Sunil Shukre and Anil Kilor at the Nagpur seat, upheld the restrictions imposed by the Maharashtra government on the annual Ashadi Ekadashi festival and also limiting the number of Warkaris (foot pilgrims), who walk up to the temple of Lord Vitthal at Pandharpur. The bench said the restrictions were reasonable and there wasn't any need to interfere with the decision.
The bench was hearing a plea filed by Lok Nayak Bapuji Aney Smarak Samiti seeking to quash the June 14 decision of the state to limit the 'Manachya Palkhya' (Palanquins of Honour) to 10 and Warkaris to 100 in total.
The Samiti through advocate S G Karmarkar argued that the Warkaris cannot be deprived of participating in the Wari pilgrimage as it infringes their fundamental right to be "physically present in the temple and close to their Lord and offer prayers."
However, state counsel K S Joshi pointed out that the Samiti doesn't have any locus in the matter as it is in no way affected by the state's decision to impose restrictions on Warkaris.
Having considered the submissions, the judges said, "Restricting Wari only to 10 Palanquins of Honour and permitting their members in limited number to undertake foot pilgrimage cannot be said to be an act of arbitrariness and unreasonableness."
"If a disease which is declared to be pandemic is known for its spread through physical contact, which is the case now, wisdom would require that physical contact be reduced, as a first step towards control of the pandemic, and this is what is done by the impugned order," the judges held.
The bench further said that the restrictions have been imposed within the four walls of the Epidemic Diseases Act and also the Disaster Management Act.
"This decision does not appear to be based upon any irrelevant or extraneous consideration nor it appears to be the result of any non-application of mind," the bench said, adding, "Besides, such a decision, is not likely to give rise to any issue of discrimination for the reason that the state has to choose between multitude of devotees and social distancing so necessary to contain Covid-19 pandemic and naturally and legally, the State would go with the requirement of social distancing."
"It is needless to state here that the objective of social distancing cannot be achieved without excising the number of devotees who could be permitted to undertake foot pilgrimage to Pandharpur temple on the occasion of 'Ashadhi Ekadashi.' This is what the state has done here and therefore, we find nothing wrong nor any illegality nor any arbitrariness nor any unreasonableness in the impugned decision," the judges said while dismissing the PIL.