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Temples May Open

The prayers of priests and servitors of Maa Sarala seem to have been heard as both the State Government and Orissa High Court have favored the proposal of reopening of the temples.The State Government on its Unlock-6 Guideline issued an order on 31 October saying that local authorities like District Magistrates/ Municipal Commissioners may permit public worship in religious places/ places of worship with appropriate restrictions, based on local assessment of the situation with regard to spread of COVID-19 and in due consultation with relevant stakeholders, with observance of COVID-19 safety protocol.  Meanwhile, the Orissa High Court has directed the Commissioner of Endowments Odisha to consider and dispose of the representation of Sevayats and other similarly situated Sevaks of the Maa Sarala Thakurani Temple and if possible, extend financial assistance.

The Bench of Justice S. Panda and Justice S. K. Panigrahi was hearing a plea seeking a direction to the State of Odisha and its instrumentalities to take steps in extending financial assistance to the Sevayats of Maa Sarala Thakurani, Jhankad in the district of Jagatsinghpur, Odisha because of striving due to COVID-19 Pandemic.

The plea also prayed before the High Court that Public Darshan of the Deity “Maa Sarala Thakurani” be allowed with due restrictions of social distancing.

The Sevaks belonging to different categories and the Sevaks, Sevayats are being entrusted with the Seva Puja of the deity Maa Sarala Thakurani.

It was submitted that the Sevaks of Maa Sarala Thakurani temple have completely devoted their lives to the service of the deity “Maa Sarala Thakurani” and they are maintaining their livelihood out of the offerings made to them as personal gifts, donations by the devotees or public while having visit and darshan to the istadevi i.e. “Maa Sarala Thakurani” beside their offering and donations to the Temple Trust Fund.

The counsel for the petitioners submitted that the State Government issued an advisory on religious institutions regarding restrictions for access of general public to religious place due to COVID-19 pandemic and the same restrictions are being extended from time to time and are still in force till date.

It was argued that the Darshan of the deity is completely seized thereby making no alternate arrangement for the livelihood and sustenance of the petitioners and other similarly situated sevaks of the Maa Sarala Thakurani Temple.

It was further submitted that the sevayats manage their families from the donations given by devotees, but as the temple is closed, they have a tough time to maintain their livelihood.The opposite parties have completely failed to provide any financial assistance to the Sevaks towards performing daily Seva puja of the deity despite several presentations.

Considering the facts and submissions of the counsels for the parties, the Court was of the opinion that since the respondents have provided financial assistance to the Sevayats of the different religious institution by considering their representations, the representation of the present petitioners should also be considered.

“This Court disposes of the Writ Petition with a direction to the petitioners to make a representation to the Commissioner of Endowments (CoE) , Odisha within a period of two weeks from 28 October.CoE shall consider and dispose of the said representation of the petitioners and other similarly situated Sevaks of the Mass Sarala Thakurani Temple, in accordance with the law, after affording opportunities of hearing to the parties concerned and provide financial assistance, if possible, at the earliest.”

However, the High Court directed that above exercise shall be completed by the CoE within a period of four weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of this order.

It may be noted that the Orissa High Court on 5 October had directed the State Government to consider the opening of temples, in a graded manner according to modalities it may decide, as per its assessment, from place to place and from time to time.