The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday directed the Nanded Sikh Gurudwara Sachkhand Shri Hazur Abchalnagar Sahib Board authorities in Maharashtra to approach the secretary of the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) for permission to conduct Dussehra celebrations on Sunday (October 25).
The order was passed by a special bench of the apex court that held a sitting on a day, when the SC was closed because of the Dussehra vacation.
The gurdwara Board authorities had approached the apex court last week and sought an urgent hearing of their plea.
The petition sought permission to conduct their centuries-old tradition of programmes on the occasion of the Dussehra, followed by Takhat Isnan on November 13, Nagar Kirtan procession on Diwali on November 14, and Gurtagaddi – an exaltation of the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs — on November 16.
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The Nanded gurdwara is one of the five high seats of authority of the Sikhs, where Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th and the last Sikh Guru, had breathed his last in 1708.
The Maharashtra government had opposed the petition, as it feared that the procession will attract a large crowd, which will be detrimental to the state’s efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
Senior advocate Devdutt Kamat along with standing counsel for Maharashtra Sachin Patil informed the SC that Maharashtra ranked among the worst-hit due to the Covid-19 pandemic and severe restrictions were still in place as far as public gatherings were concerned.
A three-member SC bench, comprising Justices LN Rao, Hemant Gupta and Ajay Rastogi, asked the state government: “The latest standard operating procedure (SOP) released by the Centre allows 200 people to gather in an open space. You have already reopened Metro Rail and many other services. You may consider their request in this light.”
The state government suggested that the petitioner can approach the secretary of the SDMA with their request.
The bench acceded to the petitioner’s plea and asked the latter that in the event their request is rejected, an appeal could be moved before the Bombay high court (HC).
The petitioner agreed to approach the secretary of the SDMA within a day.
The gurdwara Board stated in their petition that due to the hostile political environment in Maharashtra, their request was not answered by the state government authorities, despite repeated representations.
Advocate Praveen Chaturvedi, who appeared for the Board, stated in the petition, “Having the hostile political environment in Maharashtra, ample religious discontent has been spread due to political interests and the petitioner believe that they will be made to grapple with situation without recourse.”
The gurdwara authorities stated in their petition that no more than 50 people would attend the religious functions and all the participants would undergo Covid-19 tests before taking part in the rituals.
The plea also pledged that all other necessary precautionary measures against the viral outbreak would be adhered to.
The participants’ medical record and identities would be maintained for a month and the public would not be permitted at the religious events, the plea added.
Arrangements have been made for a live telecast of the events for the benefit of devotees from across the world.
Besides, the procession has been reduced from 2.5 kilometres (km) to 1.5 km.
Takhat Sachkhand Sri Hazur Abchalnagar Sahib is considered a holy place by Sikhs across the globe. Its Board has 17 distinguished members of the community.
Amritsar; Anandpur; Patna Sahib in Bihar; Damdama Sahib in Bathinda, Punjab; and Nanded, Maharashtra, are the five high seats of authority of the Sikh religion.
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