Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday hinted at the possibility of reopening of temples in the state after Diwali. The issue of allowing public into the temples, which have remained closed since the outbreak of COVID-19 in March, has been a contentious one in the state as the Opposition has attacked the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi government over its decision to keep the temples closed.
"People have been asking questions when will temples reopen? Yes, places of worship shall be opened, but let Diwali get over. We shall prepare comprehensive SOPs for the purpose," Thackeray said.
Explaining the reason behind the delay, he said it was on account of "precautions at each and steps" to ensure the state doesn't return to the earlier (Covid-19) situation.
Thackeray said some people are blaming him for the delays and he was ready to take the blame for it, since it is a matter of people's health and lives.
Since the past couple of months, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has targeted the state government over keeping temples closed while permitting all other activities to restart. With regular protests going on by the BJP, other groups and organisations, the issue became a huge controversy with a sharp exchange of words between Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari and Thackeray, leading to Union Home Minister Amit Shah chiding the Governor.
Thackeray asked the people not to lower their guards against COVID-19 and said that although the infection cases were going down in the state, the pandemic was far from over. He said several countries were facing the second wave of coronavirus now, but the state cannot afford to have another such wave.
Thackeray said this while virtually performing the 'bhoomi pujan' ceremony of an art gallery in Mira Bhayandar township in Thane district of the state. "Even if the number of coronavirus cases in the state is going down, the pandemic is not over yet. If you look at the global situation, many countries are facing the second wave now. But we cannot afford to have a second wave," he said.
"Therefore, people should not take things lightly. They should follow all the guidelines and norms," he added.
"The state government has so far relaxed several curbs. But the use of face mask is a must and it should continue for a longer period for the safety of people. We have to make sure that no second wave hits us," the chief minister said.
He appealed to the people to celebrate Diwali safely, just as they did during Holi, Gokulashthami, Ganeshotsav, Dussehra, Eid, Navratri and other festivals, and refrain from bursting firecrackers as it will add to pollution levels and affect Covid patients.
"We considered a ban, but everything cannot be banned... I am confident that the people will cooperate with the government. The four days of Diwali will be crucial in the war against the virus, It is winter and the air pollution could increase because of the fireworks," he warned, citing the example of Delhi.
Thackeray further said that when the pandemic began, there were only three testing laboratories in the state. "But the number of such labs has now gone up to around 500 in the state. Likewise the number of beds for coronavirus patients has grown to 3.75 lakh from around 4,000 in the beginning," he said. On the occasion, he also inaugurated a COVID-19 testing lab and a molecular testing lab in the township.
Referring to a request made by Mira Bhayandar Mayor Jyotsna Hasnale that a project being developed in the city be named after late BJP leader Pramod Mahajan, Thackeray said, "We considered Mahajan as one of our family members." "
Balasaheb Thackeray and Mahajan had cordial relations. Mahajan's contribution towards strengthening the bond between Shiv Sena and BJP was immense and it cannot be forgotten…Without that, I would not have become a chief minister," he added. "Mahajan made sacrifices for Shiv Sena. So as far as naming a project after Mahajan is concerned, we will do it going beyond the party lines," he said.
"When it comes to development, there is no place for party politics," Thackeray said. The proposed art gallery, the ground-breaking ceremony of which was performed by the chief minister, will be known as 'Hindu Hriday Samrat Shiv Sena Pramukh Balasaheb Thackeray Kala Dalan'. It will be built at the cost of Rs 38 crore, officials said.
With inputs from PTI and IANS