By LE Desk

Mumbai, April 14: The Bombay High Court on Wednesday refused permission to a city-based trust to allow people to offer Namaz at its mosque in south Mumbai during the Ramadan period, saying the COVID-19 situation was “serious and critical” and the safety of citizens was more importance.

A vacation bench of Justices R D Dhanuka and V G Bisht noted that the Maharashtra government found it expedient to impose restrictions to break the chain of transmission of the coronavirus.

“The right to celebrate or follow a religious practice is important, but what is more paramount and of importance is public order and the safety of citizens,” the court said, The Economic Times reported.

It was hearing a petition filed by the Juma Masjid Mosque Trust, seeking permission to allow people from the Muslim community to offer the prayers five times a day at its mosque in south Mumbai.

The petitioner said the mosque is spread over an acre and around 7,000 people can assemble at a time.

However, considering the COVID-19 situation, only 50 persons would be allowed at a time to offer prayers during the Ramadan period and all safety precautions would be followed, it said.

Additional Government Pleader Jyoti Chavan, appearing for the Maharashtra government, opposed the plea and said the situation in Mumbai and Maharashtra is alarming.

“We cannot make an exception to any religion, especially in this 15-day period. We cannot take a risk at this stage and all citizens should cooperate,” Chavan said.

She said the government was not prohibiting any person from practising his/her religion, but they should do it in their homes.

The court while dismissing the plea said it cannot consider the petitioner’s request in view of the COVID-19 situation which is “serious and critical in nature”.

“In our view, the restrictions imposed by the state government are due to the COVID-19 circumstances. Considering the prevailing situation and ground reality in Maharashtra, we cannot permit the petitioner to perform prayers at the mosque,” the HC said.

The government’s order of restrictions is in public interest and for the safety of all residents of Maharashtra, it said.

The bench noted that in the past, several courts across the country refused permission to many other religious congregations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reeling under an unprecedented COVID-19 wave, the Maharashtra government on Tuesday announced severe restrictions on public movement over the next 15 days across the state.

As part of the curbs, all religious places and malls shall remain shut.

The restrictions, which exclude essential services, will come into effect from 8 pm on Wednesday and remain in force till 7 am on May 1.

Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), prohibiting assembly of five or more people at one spot, will be in force during this period, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said on Tuesday.

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