The Supreme Court on Friday asked the Uttar Pradesh government to reconsider its decision to allow the Kanwar Yatra amid the coronavirus crisis, Live Law reported.
The pilgrimage is undertaken by devotees of Hindu deity Shiva. They collect water, usually from the river Ganga, and offer it at Shiva temples in their respective states. These devotees, called Kanwariyas, cover hundreds of kilometres on foot.
“The health of citizenry of India and right to life is paramount, all other sentiments whether be religious is subservient to this basic fundamental right”, the bench led by Justice RF Nariman said.
Senior Advocate CS Vaidyanathan, representing Uttar Pradesh, told the court that a total ban on the pilgrimage was not practical. “We have allowed the yatra in a symbolic manner, with limited number of devotees under stringent conditions,” he added.
However, a bench of Justices RF Nariman and BR Gavai rejected his submissions. The court said that the Uttar Pradesh government cannot be allowed to go ahead with the yatra. However, the judges did not pass any directions and listed the case for next hearing on July 19, Bar and Bench reported.
“Either we pass the orders directly or give you one more opportunity to reconsider holding yatra physically,” it said. “The pandemic affects all of us. We are all citizens of India. This suo moto case is taken because Article 21 [right to life] applies to all of us. It is to safeguard all of us”.
Earlier in the day, the Centre told the Supreme Court that states must not allow the movement of devotees undertaking the Kanwar Yatra for taking Ganga water from Haridwar to temples, Bar and Bench reported.
“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,” the government said.
The Supreme Court said it will hear the case again on July 19. On Wednesday, the bench took suo motu cognisance of the Uttar Pradesh government’s decision to allow the Kanwar Yatra from July 25.
The court referred to the statements by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that it was up to every individual to prevent the third wave, and there was no room for compromise.
The Uttarakhand government had on Tuesday cancelled the Kanwar Yatra in view of the Covid-19 situation, but Uttar Pradesh said it will allow the pilgrimage to take place between July 25 to August 6.
Experts have issued repeated warnings about a surge in cases in India. On Monday, the Indian Medical Association had said that “tourist bonanza, pilgrimage travel, religious fervour” could wait and the people should follow Covid protocols for at least three more months.
Crowding at hill stations has also become a cause of concern. On Tuesday, the health ministry said Indians were taking the warnings too casually and treating them like weather updates. Health ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said at a press briefing that people must incorporate Covid-appropriate behaviour into their lives as the new normal.