SC disapproves of UP’s ‘symbolic Kanwar Yatra’, asks it to reconsider decision

A Bench headed by Justice Rohinton F Nariman gave an ultimatum to the Uttar Pradesh government to either "reconsider" its decision or the court will pass orders on Monday.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday granted one last opportunity to the Uttar Pradesh government to reconsider its decision of holding “symbolic Kanwar Yatra” amid the COVID-19 pandemic while stressing that the health of the citizens of India and the right to life is paramount.

A Bench headed by Justice Rohinton F Nariman gave an ultimatum to the Uttar Pradesh government to either “reconsider” its decision or the court will pass orders on Monday.

 “We are of prima facie view that it concerns all of us and is at the heart of the Fundamental Right to Life. The health of citizenry of India and Right to Life is paramount, all other sentiments whether being religious is subservient to this basic fundamental right,” Justice Nariman told counsel appearing for the Uttar Pradesh government.

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“State of UP cannot go ahead with this. 100 per cent”, Justice Nariman added. Senior advocate CS Vaidyanathan appearing for the Uttar Pradesh government told the Bench that authorities will be apprised of the apex court’s views.

“We will inform the court as to whether there can be a reconsideration of holding a physical Kanwar Yatra amid COVID-19,” Vaidyanathan said. During the hearing, Vaidyanathan said, “Total ban is not practical. We have allowed the Kanwar Yatra in a symbolic manner, with a limited number of devotees under stringent conditions.”

 “We are only planning to allow only a few people. State Disaster Management Authority deliberated upon this and stated that for compelling religious reasons if someone wants to undertake the Kanwar Yatra, they should seek permission and they should have negative RT-PCR test and be fully vaccinated,” Vaidyanathan said.

Vaidyanathan further added that the Uttar Pradesh government has decided that a total ban will be inappropriate thus the State Disaster Management Authority thought to conduct it in a symbolic manner and an option be given to ‘Kanwariyas’ where Ganga Jal be made available through tankers.

The Counsel appearing for Uttarakhand told the Bench that the State had banned the complete Yatra.

At the outset, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for Centre told the top court that as far as the Kanwar Yatra is concerned, the State Governments “must not” permit movement of ‘Kanwariyas’ for bringing Ganga Jal from Haridwar to the Shiv temples to do ‘Abhishekam’ in the local Shiv Temples view of COVID-19 crisis.

The top court was hearing a case where it took suo motu cognizance of the decision of Uttar Pradesh Govt to allow Kanwar Yatra amid COVID-19 and asked the Centre, UP and Uttarakhand to clarify their stand on the issue.

The Central government also filed an affidavit and said that state governments must not permit the movement of ‘Kanwariyas’, however, considering the age-old customs and religious sentiments attached, States must develop a system to make ‘Ganga Jal’ available through tankers at designated locations.

“Tankers be available at an identified/designated locations so that nearby devotees can collect such ‘Ganga Jal’ and do “ABHISHEK” upon their nearest Shiv temples,” the affidavit stated.

 Centre further stated in its affidavit that State governments must ensure that distribution of ‘Ganga Jal’ amongst devotees and rituals to be performed by such devotees in the nearby Siv Temples take place mandatorily ensuring social distancing, wearing masks, and adhering to all steps required during COVID-19 crisis.

The Bench took the suo moto cognizance of the newspaper report that Uttar Pradesh has decided to continue with the Kanwar Yatra despite Uttarakhand cancelling the pilgrimage this year.

Referring to the news report about Uttar Pradesh going ahead with Kanwar Yatra amid pandemic, Justice Nariman had told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that he read “something disturbing” in the newspaper today that the state of UP has chosen to continue with the Kanwar yatra, Uttarakhand with its hindsight of experience has said that there will be no Yatra.

“We wish to know what the stand of the respective governments is. The citizens of India are completely perplexed. They don’t know what is going on…,” The Bench had observed while also referring to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement when he met the North-Eastern Chief Ministers that when people ask about the third wave of the COVID-19 virus striking the citizenry of India, it’s up to us to stop it and we cannot compromise “even a bit”.

 It had said that given the disparate political voices, all speaking at the same time, it is important that the relevant Secretary, Centre, respond to the issue.

The Kanwar Yatra, in which Shiva devotees from northern states travel on foot or by other means to collect water from River Ganga at Haridwar, Uttarakhand, to offer at Shiva temples in their areas, is set to begin from July 25.

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