September 13th, 2020

Govt discusses plan to reopen restaurants and places of worship

Officials consider keeping places of worship open 24×7 and allowing eateries to operate at 20% of capacity; likely to submit plan to CM this week.

With demands from the opposition BJP and leaders within the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition, the state government is said to be mulling the opening of restaurants and places of worship, which have been closed since March 22. At a meeting with the state’s Covid-19 task force earlier this week, the state administration discussed how places of worship and restaurants could be reopened.

The plan discussed involves keeping temples, mosques and other places of worship open around the clock and allowing them to offer darshan – both virtual and in person – after taking bookings online. While no formal decision has been made, the plan is likely to be submitted to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray this week.

Restaurants, senior officials said, could be allowed to start operating at 20% of capacity. A member of the task force, who did not wish to be named, said, “Restaurants can start at 20% of their capacity and gradually increase this by October-end. For temples and other places of worship, we have suggested darshan by appointment. The management will be responsible for maintaining social distancing. There was also a discussion about virtual darshans.”

He added, “It will be more practical to keep religious places open 24 hours a day so that there will be smaller crowds. Popular temples and other places of worship that draw large numbers of people will have to set up waiting halls that can fit up to 500 people.”

As recently as Thursday, the state government had told the Bombay High Court that reopening places of worship, even with guidelines and restrictions, was not practical at this point, and that it had decided against this until the Covid-19 situation improved. The government was responding to a public interest litigation filed by an NGO demanding the reopening of temples.

A senior bureaucrat, who did not wish to be named, told Mirror, “The issue of reopening restaurants and places of worship was discussed in the Covid task force meeting. However, a more detailed discussion is expected this week, and a decision later this month. Before that, detailed guidelines will be prepared. We will also talk to trustees and management of the major places of worship. A detailed protocol will also be set up for restaurants.”

Last week, the BJP had told the MVA government that it would forcibly reopen all temples in the state if the government did not allow them to reopen. The BJP’s threat came after a day-long ghantanad andolan across the state. As part of the protest, BJP workers assembled outside temples, ringing brass bells, blowing conches and chanting hymns. Prakash Ambedkar, president of Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, has demanded the reopening of the Vitthal-Rukmai temple at Pandharpur in Solapur district.

NCP MLA Rohit Pawar from Jamkhed in Ahmednagar, grandnephew of party president Sharad Pawar, had also demanded that the state government reopen places of worship, tweeting, “I think that temples and other religious places should be opened. There are many people whose livelihoods depend on these religious places. I will, therefore, follow-up on this issue.” He was responding to demands from traders in Tuljapur who said they have been facing difficulties due to the closure of the temple there.