Temples and places of worship in Maharashtra to reopen from Monday, face masks compulsory
Photo by Reuters

Almost after seven months and 15 days, the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government on Saturday issued an order under MissionBeginAgain allowing the reopening of temples and all other religious places in Maharashtra from Monday on the occasion of Diwali Padwa. Temples and other religious places however, will be allowed to open outside the containment zones only.

The Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, who was under attack for not reopening the temples and other places of worship under the unlocking of lockdown, made the announcement today. ‘’God has been with us, the government has allowed reopening of temples and other places of worship from Diwali Padwa which falls on Monday. Everyone has to strictly follow the rules and avoid crowding in the actual prayer halls. Protect yourself and others,’’ he said in a statement.

Last week, Thackeray had hinted that the places of worship would reopen soon. The trustees of major temples and Maulanas of mosques have hailed the state government’s order. Ruling partners Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress welcomed the move while BJP claimed better late than never.

The state Chief Secretary Sanjay Kumar in the order said wearing of face masks, social distancing, provision for thermal scanning and hand wash or sanitizers will be mandatory. In a three page SOP, the government has clearly advised persons above 65 years of age, persons with comorbidities, pregnant women and children below the age of 10 years to stay at home. Individuals must maintain a minimum 6-feet in public places, follow respiratory etiquettes, self-monitoring of health and installation of Aarogya Setu app.

Apart from these generic preventive measures, it will be mandatory for religious places to take 33 other safety measures. Touching of idols/statues/holy books will not be allowed while large gatherings and congregations continue to remain prohibited.

In view of the threat of potential spread of infection, as far as feasible, all religious places will have to play recorded devotional music and songs. Common prayer mats are prohibited as devotees should bring their own prayer mat or piece of cloth which they may take back with them. Physical contacts while greeting should be avoided and there will be no physical offering like Prasad and distribution or sprinkling of holy water.

Only asymptomatic persons shall be allowed in the premises, staggering of visitors be done, proper crowd management in the parking lots and outside the premises be organised duly following social distancing norms and preferably separate entry and exits for visitors be organised.

Moreover, posters/standees on preventive measures about COVID 19 should be displayed prominently. Audio and video clips to spread awareness on preventive measures for coronavirus pandemic should be regularly played in all places of worship.

In case of a suspect or confirmed case in the premises, the religious places will have to place them in a room or area where they are isolated from others and immediately inform the nearest medical facility or call the state or district helpline.

Thackeray’s announcement comes days after the opposition BJP has mounted a campaign to have them reopened, backed by Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari. Incidentally, Thackeray and Koshyari were engaged in a war of words on this issue. As Koshyari questioned the CM's "sudden secularism", Thackeray was quick to hit back with "don't need Hindutva lessons from anyone" message.

BJP and Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi had separately staged agitation. A fortnight ago the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena had slammed the state government for dilly dallying over reopening of temples.

Hours after the government’s announcement, the iconic Shirdi Sai Baba Samadhi Mandir, where daily 50,000 devotes throng to take a darshan, the temple authorities from Monday will initially allow only 6,000 devotees who have got online pass on the lines of Tirupati Balaji temple will only be permitted to avoid crowding.

A HUMBLE PRAYER

· Senior citizens advised to stay home

· Touching of idols/statues/holy books will not be allowed

· Large gathering and congregation continue to remain prohibited

· Physical contacts while greeting should be avoided

· No physical offering like prasad and distribution or sprinkling of holy water

· Recorded devotional music and songs to be played only

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