The High Court of Kerala has recently dismissed a plea that sought to challenge an order issued by the government that allows a congregation of up to only 100 persons at locations of worship.
The PIL argued that the state government does not have the jurisdiction to allow any religious congregation, even if they set 100 as a maximum number or not, as there is a complete ban on religious assembly.
The petition was lodged by Advocate Jayakumar TV and Advocate Mansoor BH.
The division bench consisting of Chief Justice S. Manikumar and Justice Shaji P. Chali noted that the petitioners did not give an explanation for declaring the order illegal, but sought to challenge the compatibility of the government to make these guidelines. The court observed: “One will have to give a meaningful intent when the Central government has issued guidelines for opening activities in religious places/places of worships for the public, whether a person belongs to Hindu/Muslim/Christian or any other religion.”
The argument that there was an absolute bar on religious assembly was not taken into consideration. As under Section 38 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the state government had the power to frame rules that would aid in preventing the spread of COVID-19 cases.
The Additional Advocate General, representing the state, argued that in places of worship a maximum of 100 persons were allowed and worshipers had to preserve physical distancing of six feet in such places. Moreover, only 15 persons would be allowed in any 100 square meters area. If 100 people were to gather, it should be at a 7,000 square feet site.
He also mentioned that in the exercise of the powers given under Section 20(3) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the Chief Secretary and Chairperson, State Executive Committee of the State Disaster Management Authority have the power to give orders and that there is no repugnancy that enables Article 254 of the Constitution of India and it is not in contradiction to Exhibit-P4 dated June 29, 2020.