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Reconsider even symbolic Kanwar Yatra: Supreme Court to UP government

Underlining that “the health of the citizenry of India and their right to ‘life’ are paramount,” the SC bench said, “all other sentiments, albeit religious, are subservient to this most basic fundamental right”.

Written by Ananthakrishnan G , Maulshree Seth | Lucknow, New Delhi |
Updated: July 17, 2021 7:18:44 am
Meanwhile, the Centre, in reply to the court notice, said that the states, instead of allowing the Yatra, must make arrangements to supply Gangajal to devotees at designated locations.

The Supreme Court asked the Uttar Pradesh government Friday to reconsider even allowing a symbolic physical Kanwar Yatra given the fear of a third Covid-19 wave.

Underlining that “the health of the citizenry of India and their right to ‘life’ are paramount,” it said, “all other sentiments, albeit religious, are subservient to this most basic fundamental right”.

The bench of Justices R F Nariman and B R Gavai, which had sought responses from the Centre, UP and Uttarakhand after taking suo motu cognisance of a report in The Indian Express on UP’s decision to allow the Kanwar Yatra during the pandemic, was told by told Senior Advocate C S Vaidyanathan, who appeared for the UP government, that the state will hold only a “symbolic physical” Kanwar Yatra keeping religious sentiments in mind — it starts July 25.

Justice Nariman told Vaidyanathan: “State of UP cannot go ahead with it 100 per cent… Either we pass the orders directly or give you one more opportunity to reconsider holding the yatra physically. The pandemic affects all of us. We are all citizens of India. This suo motu case is taken because Article 21 applies to all of us. It is to safeguard all of us.”

Vaidyanathan said he will apprise state authorities of the court’s suggestion and file an affidavit. Appreciating this, the bench, in its order, said: “We are of the view that this is a matter which concerns every one of us as citizens of India, and goes to the very heart of Article 21 of the Constitution of India, which has a pride of place in the fundamental rights chapter of our Constitution. The health of the citizenry of India and their right to ‘life’ are paramount. All other sentiments, albeit religious, are subservient to this most basic fundamental right.”

Replying to the court notice, the Centre said that the states, instead of allowing the Yatra, must make arrangements to supply Gangajal to devotees at designated locations.

“So far as the subject matter of the present proceedings i.e. ‘Kanwar Yatra’ is concerned, the State Governments must not permit movement of ‘Kanwariyas’ for bringing ‘Gangajal’ from Haridwar to the Shiv temples of their choice. However, considering the age-old customs and religious sentiments attached, the State Governments must develop a system to make holy ‘Gangajal’ available through tankers which should be available at an identified/designated locations so that nearby devotees can collect such ‘Gangajal’ and do ‘Abhishek’ upon their nearest Shiv temples,” it said.

The Centre said the state governments must ensure that this exercise of distribution of ‘Gangajal’ and the rituals adhere to mandatory social distancing, wearing of masks and all steps required for Covid-appropriate behaviour and health protocols.

The UP government, in its affidavit, said that “after detailed discussions, the SDMA (State Disaster Management Authority) decided that the officers shall hold consultation and dialogue with the various ‘Kanwar Sanghs’ of their respective areas and direct them not to move for religious reasons/yatras in the light of Covid pandemic”.

The affidavit stated that “however, it was decided in case due to compelling religious reasons, if any person still wishes to undertake the yatra, then the person should apply for permission with the authorities through the relevant registered ‘Kanwar Sangh’ of the area. Such persons should have been fully vaccinated as well as should have a negative RT-PCR test in the last three days. Further, stringent guidelines/SOPs should be laid down after consultation with the Health Department. The district administration will ensure that the number of permissions thus granted will be kept to a minimum”.

The UP government said officials had been asked to interact with neighbouring states to ensure that Covid protocol is followed in respect of devotees from such states.

The matter will be heard next on July 19.

In Lucknow, Navneet Sehgal, Additional Chief Secretary, Information, told The Indian Express: “Government officials are in touch with different Kanwar Sanghs to make an appeal and convince the Kanwar Yatris not to come out for the Yatra this year too, like the previous year. Instead of policing, these Sanghs, which were able to convince the Yatris last year, would be requested to make appeals this time as well.”

In a statement, the state government said it has instructed the administration to establish a conversation with Kanwar associations in view of the pandemic so that the right decision can be taken regarding the organisation of the Yatra.

ACS Home and DGP, the statement said, have been instructed to establish communication with other states regarding the Kanwar Yatra.

The government, it said, is making all efforts to ensure that religious sentiments are not harmed and devotees who participate in the traditional journey can be protected amid the pandemic.

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