Will prepare SOP on opening religious places after Diwali: CM Thackeray

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Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday hinted that places of worship could be reopened in the coming days. Thackeray said that he was criticised for not reopening temples and other places of worship, but those taking a potshot at him would not share the blame, if the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) contagion spun out of control.

The CM, in his 33-minute address to the state, which was broadcast via social media, said Maharashtra’s Covid-19 cases were on the wane.However, he cautioned that any sort of complacency could lead to another wave.

He said that the state government would prepare a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to reopen places of worship in Maharashtra after Diwali (November 14).

Several political parties and religious bodies have been appealing to the state government to reopen the places of worship. However, the state government has been cautious since senior citizens will predominantly frequent the places of worship and may become super spreaders.

“We will prepare a SOP after Diwali. Mostly senior citizens such as our parents and grandparents visit all places of worship. Masks will be compulsory in all places of worship. I am intentionally delaying reopening of all places of worship. I am aware that I am being criticised for my decision. But if there is a bigger spread of Covid-19 cases, those criticising me will not take the responsibility,” he added.

Thackeray also appealed to the public to celebrate a firecracker-free Diwali as pollution and smoke would aggravate the health condition of those who suffer from lung ailments.

The CM said that the next 20 days would be crucial in the fight against Covid-19. He urged the public to maintain social distancing, avoid crowding, use masks in a bid to prevent another surge in Covid-19 cases in the state.

“The upcoming Diwali and 15 days after the festival is a big test for us. European countries, including France, have enforced lockdown restrictions again. It will be tough, if we have to adopt similar measures. Many people are still not wearing masks. Such indiscipline will not be tolerated. The public will be fined for non-compliance. An estimate says a Covid-19 patient without a mask can infect up to 400 people,” he said.

The issue to ban firecrackers was discussed in the state cabinet meeting on Thursday. However, a decision to impose a ban is yet to be taken.

State minister for health and family welfare Rajesh Tope said the government might take a call on restricting the use of firecrackers.

Sena ministers reportedly suggested promoting environment-friendly crackers instead of announcing a blanket ban.

Thackeray said that instead of imposing a ban on firecrackers, he would want the public to voluntarily restrain from bursting them.

“Elsewhere in the country, especially in Delhi, there has been a spike in Covid-19 cases. Why is it increasing? It is said it’s due to pollution. I would like to appeal to you not to burst crackers this Diwali. We must maintain self-discipline like we have been doing in our fight against the viral outbreak. A vaccine is yet to be launched. Pollution causes Covid-19 cases to increase. Can we avoid firecrackers? Should we ban it? …There is so much pollution and smoke. What we have achieved [in controlling Covid-19] will be lost in just four days of smoke. I request you not to burst fire crackers in public places and avoid them altogether,” he said.

The CM also launched an attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for what he said was the latter’s bid to derail a Metro Rail project that would benefit Mumbaikars.

The BJP has been accusing the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government, comprising coalition partners such as CM Thackeray’s Shiv Sena, the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress, for trying to build a Metro Rail car depot at Kanjurmarg that is a salt pan.

Thackeray, in a veiled attack on the BJP, said that the state has attracted proposed investments of over Rs 5,000 million, despite a campaign to defame the MVA government.

The plot for the Metro Rail car depot in Kanjurmarg has become the latest flashpoint between the Centre and Maharashtra government. The Centre has claimed that the plot, where the Metro Rail car shed is proposed, belongs to it and is a salt pan.

“Some people said that the plot is a salt pan. But they don’t understand that they are trying to derail the project meant for Mumbaikars,” he said.

He hit out at the MVA government’s detractors and said it did not work with its “eyes shut”.

“During the last few months, while we were battling the Covid-19 in Maharashtra, those who have a grudge against us launched a campaign to defame the state. [They said] Maharashtra’s law and order has collapsed. It is a safe haven for drug addicts. However, we overcame these trenchant criticisms and signed Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) worth Rs 1,700 million in June. Last week, we signed MoUs worth Rs 3,500 million. Several companies, both Indian and multinationals, will invest in Maharashtra. I was criticised for not stepping out of the home. However, I got all the investments for the state while sitting at home. Maharashtra’s economy is gaining momentum, despite the Covid-19 pandemic,” he added.

Thackeray said that the Covid-19 cases in Mumbai, Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), Pune, etc were on the wane, thanks to the state government’s “My Family, My Responsibility” campaign. “Several people were criticising us for the pandemic situation was getting out of control. But our determination, self-confidence and discipline has helped flatten the Covid-19 curve,” he said.

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