March 20, 2020
Political parties in Punjab have asked authorities to relax restrictions on the pilgrimage at visiting religious sites including amid the COVID-19 outbreak citing ‘religious sentiments’.
Several political leaders to seek their views on the subject in light of the decision of Himachal Pradesh government to suspend visits to several temples in the state. The Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board in neighbouring Jammu and Kashmir has also suspended the Vaishno Devi Yatra temporarily.
Brahm Mohindra, chairman of the Group of Ministers formed to coordinate the state’s preparedness to fight the virus, said Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh has already issued requests to heads of religious organisations to restrict the number of visitors to 50 at a time. “Restrictions on large congregations are already in place,” he said.
Leader of Opposition and AAP MLA Harpal Singh Cheema said that visiting gurdwaras, temples, Mosques or churches in the state was a matter of faith for the people. “No one should interfere in the faith of people. However, the managements of these places must take adequate precautions like providing hand sanitisers and masks to the devotees,” he added.
This view was echoed by BJP national secretary Tarun Chugh, who said that politicians should not get into matters of faith. “However, this decision should be taken by religious heads of institutions. The Jathedar of Akal Takht or the head of any temple should take a call. The regular sewa inside the gurdwara or temple can continue by the staff but number of visitors could be restricted,” he said.
Lok Insaaf Party president Simarjeet Singh Bains said there could not be any interference in matters of faith. “However what concerns me most is that while all other institutions in Punjab have been shut down till March 31, the Kartarpur Corridor has been closed for an indefinite period. This raises suspicion that the government has some other intentions of shutting it down forever. Else the Corridor too could have been shut down till March 31,” he said.
Senior vice-president of SAD (Taksali) Bir Devinder Singh was, however, of the view that there was a definite need to stop visitors from congregating at religious institutions. He said religious places could continue to function but should not be open for the general public to gather. “The virus is not going to differentiate between faiths and there is a need to take strong measures to prevent it’s further spread,” he said.