The Punjab and Haryana high court has held that there is no violation of fundamental rights in keeping religious places closed due to the covid-19 outbreak. “Freedom to religion is subject to public order, morality and public health and there is no violation of religious rights of a community. It is an extraordinary situation. To safeguard the health of the society, restrictions have been imposed by closing down all the places of worship for public,” the bench of justice Rajiv Sharma and justice Ajay Tewari observed while dismissing a public interest litigation (PIL).
Malerkotla resident Mubeen Farooqi had filed the PIL, alleging violation of fundamental rights of a person in keeping the religious places closed and allowing markets etc to open. He had challenged the March 24 guidelines of the Union home ministry, which were relaxed for other purposes from time to time but not for religious places. He had demanded that mosques be allowed to open on Eid and Gurdwaras be allowed to open on May 26 on the martyrdom day of Guru Arjan Dev.
The bench further observed that the scope of judicial interference in policy matters is very limited. The policy decision can be challenged only if it is unconstitutional, arbitrary or irrational. But in the case in hand there is no arbitrariness.
“The endeavour of the Union ministry of home affairs is to break the cycle by maintaining social distancing. The right of the state to impose restrictions, as are required or found necessary on the ground of public order, health and morality is inbuilt under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India,” the bench held, adding that the restrictions are in collective interest of the society at large. Articles 25 and 26 protect religious rights of a citizen, but with certain conditions such as public order, morality and health.
The court added that merely because restrictions had been relaxed in certain areas, it could not be a ground to relax the same for religious places of worship. The discretion not to permit opening of all the places of worship for public and prohibiting holding of religious congregations/gatherings has been exercised judiciously, it said.