VIJAYAWADA: The Andhra Pradesh High Court on Wednesday upheld the decision of the State government not to permit Ganesh festivities at public places by erecting pandals in view of Covid-19.
As part of implementing the Covid-19 protocol and as per the advisory from the Home Ministry, the Director-General of Police has issued an order denying permission to hold Ganesh festival celebrations at public places. Hearing an emergency lunch motion petition filed by the Vinayaka Chavithi Utsava Committee of Tirupati and T Omkar of Tirupati, Justice Ch Manavendranath Roy said though festivities cannot be held at public places, Ganesh idols and pandals can be set up in private places.
However, the number of participants in puja is limited to five. He directed the police to take measures to implement the Covid guidelines strictly and ensure that there is no crowding. The Judge observed that the Constitution provides liberty to citizens to conduct religious programmes.
Hence, a blanket ban cannot be imposed on them. At the same time, the government is empowered to impose curbs for public health safety, he said. Utsava Committee’s counsel G Bhupesh said his client has been organising Ganesh festivities since 2008. The committee organised the festivities smoothly last year also.
He argued that no permission was given to the committee to hold Ganesh festivities though it assured the authorities that Covid protocol would be strictly implemented. He urged the court to direct the police department to accord permission to hold the festivities.
Omkar’s counsel K Srinivasulu contended that the police who gave permission to hold political meetings denied the same to celebrate the Ganesh festival. He urged the court to permit the installation of Ganesh idols and allow people to participate in the puja.
Special government pleader Chintala Suman and government pleader V Maheswara Reddy, appearing on behalf of the police department, argued that Ganesh festivities were not permitted at public places in view of people’s safety.
As per the Supreme Court directive, all religious rights come under Article 21 of the Constitution, but at the same time the government is allowed to impose restrictions taking public health into consideration, they said.
Government: Ensuring public health important
Countering the argument of the petitioners’ counsels with regard to political meetings, they maintained that the meetings were limited to a single venue and for Ganesh festivities at public places, permission needs to be given to more than 4,000 organisers across the State, which could create a problem during the Covid pandemic.
Ensuring public health is the foremost responsibility of the government, they argued. The Judge concurred with the government pleaders’ argument and only allowed the installation of Ganesh idols in private places, limiting the number of participants in puja to five at any given time during the celebrations.
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