Representatives of religious organizations today re-examined the standard operating procedures (SOPs) relating to the reopening of places of worship and maintained that the number of attendees should be one-third of the capacity of any religious places, with special SOPs to be formulated for special days, such as Durga Puja and All Souls’ Day.
In a meeting of the sub-committee chaired by Chief Secretary MS Rao to revise the SOPs, representatives of the Shillong All Faiths Forum (SAFF) submitted their recommendations for consideration.
“The recommendations we have made from our side have been taken in and will be amalgamated along with the SOPs of the government,” SAFF President, Rev Purely Lyngdoh told reporters.
On the reopening of religious places he said that that the forum has left the matter to the government.
“Based on the SOPs of the government, we have added and made suggestions on a few things, for instance, on the number of attendees in any place of worship. In the previous SOPs, they said either 100 or one-third of the capacity, but we said that this is confusing to many people, especially in rural areas. So we said that let us remove 100, but put one-third of the space available and that has been accepted,” Rev Lyngdoh said.
SAFF also suggested that some churches that have a compound attached to the church building be allowed to hold services outside with the spacing earmarked.
On the government SOPs relating to special ceremonies, like baptisms, where names have to be submitted in advance, the SAFF leader said that this would not be convenient and requested the church be allowed to maintain their records and provide the names as and when required.
“We have also discussed marriage ceremonies and the government has fixed the number at 50. But since we say one-third of the capacity, it should apply to all functions,” he said.
On the upcoming Durga Puja celebrations next month, SAFF maintained that occasions like this, All Souls’ Day and Muslim holidays are not regular but are held once a year with large gatherings.
“For these, the particular faith shall come to the government for special permission along with their own SOPs. The Central Puja Committee (CPC) will have its own SOPs (for Durga Puja) but these should be uniform throughout the state. We have been asked to submit our SOPs, which will be distributed to all the Deputy Commissioners, so that uniformity is maintained by conforming to the main SOPs,” he said.
The SAFF leader also said that the forum has made it clear to the government that the forum is not pressuring or asking the government to open up places of worship, “as this is not our prerogative, but of the government. The government has asked us to help formulate the SOPs and we have done that. Whenever the government decides (to open religious places) the SOPs will come into place.”
Rao said that the meeting has agreed on the SOPs but there will be further consultations at the level of the Deputy Chief Minister before finalization.
“Tentatively, we said that reopening of religious places will be in the first week of October but a final call will be taken in the last week of September depending on the situation,” he said.