On 28 October 2020, the High Court of Orissa ordered the Commissioner for Endowments to examine and give attention to the representation of Sevayats and other related Sevaks of the Maa Sarala Thakurani Temple and, if necessary, should grant financial support.
The Constitutional Bench of Justice S. Panda and Justice S. K. Panigrahi examined the petition to provide direction to the State Government of Odisha and its agencies to take action to provide financial support to the Sevayats of Maa Sarala Thakurani, in the district of Jagatsinghpur, Odisha, on the grounds of a COVID-19 pandemic. The petition also pleaded before the Court that the public darshan of the God "Maa Sarala Thakurani" should be permitted with due limitations of social distancing.
The complaint of the appellants claimed that the appellants are Sevaks belonging to various groups and also that the Sevaks / Sevayats were assigned to the Seva Puja of the MaaSaralaThakurani deity.
It has been argued that the Sevaks of Maa Sarala Thakurani Temple have devoted their lives completely to the service of the deity "Maa Sarala Thakurani" and sustain their livelihood from offerings made to them as personal gifts, contributions by devotees or the people while visiting and darshan to the Istadevi, i.e., "Maa Sarala Thakurani" in addition to their offerings and contributions to the devotees. The petitioner's counsel argued that the government released a notification on religious establishments about limitations on public access to the religious place due to the COVID-19 pandemic and that the same limitations are being applied periodically and are still in action to date.
It was stated that the Darshan of God was absolutely confiscated, thereby allowing no alternative provision for the survival and conveyance of the appellants and other related sevaks of the Maa Sarala Thakurani Temple. It has also been argued that the sevaks manage their families with contributions from followers, however as the temple is shut, they have a hard time sustaining their livelihood. Amidst many efforts, the opposite parties have absolutely refused to offer any financial support to the Sevaks for the regular Seva puja of the god.
Order of the Court:
In the light of the evidence and observations of the counsel to the parties, the Court was of the opinion that, because the respondents rendered financial support to the Sevayats of the various religious institutions by considering their representations, the representation of the current appellants must also be recognized.
In the above case, the Court said, "This Court has agreed to send a petition to the appellants to make submissions to the Opp. Party No.4—Commissioner of Endowments, Odisha shall, within a span of two weeks from today, and where such representation is filed, accept and dispose of the said representation of the petitioners and other related Sevaks of Mass Sarala Thakurani Temple, in compliance with the statute, after providing the concerned parties with the opportunity to hear and provide the relevant parties with the opportunity to do so.
However, the Court has ordered that the exercise referred to above be performed by the opposite party No. 4 within a period of four weeks from the date of issuance of a copy of this order. It is observed that on 05 October 2020, the Orissa High Court ordered the Government of the State to consider the opening of the temples in a graded manner, according to the manner in which it may determine from place to place and from time to time, based on its evaluation.
The Constitutional Bench of Chief Justice Mohammad Rafiq and Justice Dr. B.R. Sarangi heard the petitions filed by appellants seeking guidance from opposite parties to extend financial relief to the Sevayat / Servicers of Registered Temples during the lock-down period.
The Court instructed, 'The Court ordered the opposite parties- the State Government and the Endowment Commissioner, to review the complaint of the petitioners on their behalf, combined with a copy of that order, and to take a view on their complaint concerning financial assistance/ration kits or, instead, on the opening of temples, in a graded manner, in compliance with the modalities it may decide, as per its assessment, from place to place and time to time, as per earlier orders of this Court, as expeditiously as possible, but not later than eight weeks from the date of copy of this order is produced before the authority."
Notably, on 31 July, the Supreme Court has ruled on the petition in the Nishikant Dubey case by directing the State Government of Jharkhand to examine the likelihood of darshan, which should have been made open to the general public, as is the case in Ujjain, another Jyotirligam. The Court has recommended to the state of Jharkhand that it be possible for the general people to enter in limited numbers in the temples, churches, and mosques in the state. In the above-mentioned case, the bench led by Justice Arun Mishra noted that a small number of persons/devotees should have been permitted to access all religious sites, as is the case throughout India.