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We would again invite catastrophe: Uttarakhand HC stays move to allow Char Dham yatra

The court took note of experts’ opinion that the “ill-decision” of holding the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar in April was one of the contributory factors for the steep rise of the Covid second wave.

A bench of Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Justice Alok Kumar Verma issued the order while hearing a bunch of PILs related to availability of health infrastructure in the state.

The Uttarakhand High Court on Monday stayed for four weeks the state cabinet decision allowing Char Dham yatra for locals of three districts from July 1.

The court took note of experts’ opinion that the “ill-decision” of holding the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar in April was one of the contributory factors for the steep rise of the Covid second wave.

A bench of Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Justice Alok Kumar Verma issued the order while hearing a bunch of PILs related to availability of health infrastructure in the state.

State government spokesperson Subodh Uniyal told the media that the government will examine the HC order and move the Supreme Court if necessary.

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The Uttarakhand cabinet had on June 25 decided to start Char Dham yatra from July 1 for locals in the districts of Chamoli, Rudraprayag and Uttarkashi, where the shrines are located.

An observation of the court in the order reads, “Needless to say, the second wave struck the country like a tsunami. It not only killed about 3 lakh people in the country, but in its wake it has also left devastated families, and orphaned children. It reached its zenith in April and May 2021. During that period, neither the lifesaving medicines were available, nor the oxygen tanks were available, nor sufficient numbers of bed were available, nor sufficient numbers of ambulances were available. The health care system began to crumble. Consequently, people had to run from pillar to post for seeking and begging only to be saved from the second wave.

“It is common knowledge that as people began to die, there were insufficient spaces in our crematorium and burial grounds. People could not perform a decent cremation, or decent burial to our lost brethren. The satellite images of May 2020, and the International Media continued to show the endless number of pyres which were burning, and the pitiable condition of our people.”

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The court said that according to experts, it will take 18 months to vaccinate 70% of the population in Uttarakhand. Even if 100% population of Uttarakhand is inoculated, there is no guarantee that they will be protected from the Delta Plus variant.

The court said that despite the best intentions of the state government, the civil administration of Haridwar and Rishikesh had singularly failed to implement SOPs. “There are a large number of images, readily available on the internet, which clearly prove that a sizeable number of pilgrims neither wore masks, nor maintained the social distance of six feet, nor used sanitizers, nor used soap to wash their hands. In fact lakhs of people were permitted to gather on the banks of the holy Ganges, and to take their bath day in and day out, while the Kumbh Mela lasted for a month…,” the order reads.

The court said that the cabinet decision of June 25 is patently against the warnings given by experts and against the Centre’s directions to states to control and prevent the third wave. The court said the cabinet decision will unnecessarily expose people to the dangers of the third wave. “Thus, the decision is against Article 21 of the Constitution of India, against Articles 39(e) & 39(f) and against Article 47 of the Constitution of India. It also ignores India’s commitment to the International Conventions,” the order reads.

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“There is, thus, a strong prima facie case in favour of the people, for not permitting the Char Dham Yatra, even in a limited manner. For, the lives of the people may be exposed to the danger of the Delta Plus variant, and to the third wave of COVID-19. If the Char Dham Yatra were permitted, we would again be inviting a catastrophe,” the order reads.

The court directed the government to ensure that the ceremonies carried out within the sanctum sanctorum of the Char Dham temples be live streamed for the people.

Hours after the court order, an SOP issued by the state government regarding Covid curfew said that the first phase of Char Dham yatra will start from July 1 for local residents of Chamoli, Rudraprayag and Uttarkashi districts with a prior registration a RTPCR/TrueNat/RAT Covid negative test report. In the second phase from July 11, only residents of Uttarakhand will be allowed to visit all four shrines with a negative Covid report, and a detailed SOP for the yatra will be issued separately.

First published on: 29-06-2021 at 12:17:31 am
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