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The Surat Parsi Panchayat Board and Another Versus Union of India and Others. 2023 SCC Online Guj 1234 (India)

  1. FACTS
  1. In this case, the appellants are the Surat Parsi Panchayat Board and another, representing the Parsi Zoroastrian Community in Surat, Gujrat.
  2. The respondents are the Union of India and others, and they are responsible for the issue of the protocols and guidelines for proper disposal of dead bodies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  3. A writ petition is filed under Article 226 of the constitution of India in the High Court of Gujarat, which seeks directions to allow performing Dokhmenashini or funeral rites in the Dokhmas or Towers of Silence belonging to the Parsi Zoroastrian community.
  4. Appellants claimed that the guidelines and protocols of the respondents violate their fundamental right of freedom of religion under Article 25 of the constitution of India because they do not consider the specific requirements of their Zoroastrian faith for the disposal of dead.
  5. The writ petition was dismissed by the High Court of Gujarat, where it was held that the guidelines and the protocol do not harm their religious sentiments and are issued for the larger public interest.
  6. The judgment of the High Court of Gujarat was challenged by the appellants before the Supreme Court of India by a way of special leave petition.
  7. A notice was issued by the court on the petition and the assistance of the Solicitor General of India was requested to solve the issue.
  8. After that a protocol was made for handling the dead bodies of Parsi Zoroastrian Covid-19 victims, which met the concerns of both sides.
  9. The protocol was accepted and agreed upon by the Supreme Court and passed the final order considering the statements jointly that were placed by the parties.
  10. The order and judgment of the High Court of Gujarat were set aside by the Supreme Court of India and the appeal made was disposed of.
  1. ISSUES RAISED 

The main issue that was raised in the case was, whether the fundamental rights to freedom of religion of the Zoroastrian community under Article 25 of the constitution of India were violated because of the guidelines and protocol made by the union of India for covid-19 pandemic.

  1. CONTENTION

The contentions of the appellants were that the guidelines and protocols made by the Union of India violated the fundamental right to freedom of religion of the Zoroastrian community under Article 25 of the constitution of India as it does not accommodate their religious practice of Dokhmenashini.

The contentions of the respondents were that these protocols and guidelines were necessary for public health and safety.

  1. RATIONALE 

The Supreme Court in this case accepted the protocols made by both parties. This shows that the court has based the judgment in the case on a harmonious interpretation of the fundamental rights and public interest. The Supreme Court recognized the fundamental rights of the community as well as the public interest. However, at the same time, it shows that fundamental rights are not absolute. The court balanced the rights with the interests of all the communities.

  1. DEFECTS OF LAW

In this case, the pandemic is affecting everyone equally, so keeping the interest of the community the decision was to be made, but allowing the practice of Dokhmenashini might be harmful if there is any irregularity in the practicing of the protocol, which might spread the pandemic and this would violate the rights of other communities or people.

  1. INFERENCE

The lesson drawn from this case is that balancing the rights of a particular community and a particular practice that concerns the public at large and the interests of the public is very important.

Tooba Shahid

SS Khanna Girls’ Degree College University of Allahabad