The Maharashtra government told the Bombay High Court on Tuesday that reopening religious places of worship, even with guidelines, is not practical at present, PTI reported. The government said it had decided not to open places of worship in the state until the coronavirus situation improved.

The Shiv Sena-led government was responding to a public interest litigation filed by a non-governmental organisation in Mumbai, seeking reopening of places of worship. The petitioner’s counsel, Dipesh Siroya, asked the court to direct the state to reopen places of worship with guidelines limiting the number of devotees.

But Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni told the bench headed by Justice Amjad Sayed: “The state contemplated but decided it is not feasible to open places of worship as yet because of the rising cases of coronavirus.” The state government also filed an affidavit in the High Court to this effect.

The government said in its affidavit that its previous experiences with vegetable markets and Ganesh festival had shown that there had been rampant breach of security guidelines. “The recent Ganesh festival was really an eye-opener,” the affidavit said. “The state had issued guidelines for celebrations and it was expected of citizens to follow the guidelines in true letter and spirit since it is the duty and responsibility of each citizen to cooperate with the state during the pandemic. However, at many places, citizens appeared to be more casual than responsible.

The state government said there will be a surge in the number of coronavirus cases in Maharashtra that would be uncontrollable, if religious places are reopened.

The state has allowed public transport to restart, hotels and parks to reopen and removed the requirement of an e-pass for inter-district travel. It has also permitted outdoor sports, takeaway and delivery from restaurants and limited local train services in Mumbai.

‘Not possible to cap charges for all beds at private hospitals’

The state also told the High Court that it was not feasible for it to impose a limit on charges for all beds at private hospitals and nursing homes. Kumbhakoni told the court that the state had imposed curbs on charges for 80% of such beds.

“We can’t take over private hospitals completely,” Kumbhakoni said. “Regulating charges for all beds, taking over like that will not be feasible, as these are private hospitals and the state is not providing them any aid. If we regulate everything, it will be like nationalisation.”

The court was hearing a petition filed by advocate Abhijeet Mangade, who said some private hospitals were overcharging patients for treatment of coronavirus as well as other illness. Mangade claimed that his mother had been charged Rs 72,000 for personal protective equipment kits for six days when she was admitted to a private hospital in June.

Maharashtra has by far the highest number of coronavirus cases for any state in India. As of Tuesday, the state has reported 9,23,641 cases, including 2,37,392 active cases and 27,027 deaths, according to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

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