The Supreme Court on Monday directed the Kerala government to file its reply by the end of the day on a plea challenging its decision to relax Covid-19 restrictions in view of Eid-al-Adha, or Bakrid, reported Live Law.

Justices Rohinton Fali Nariman and BR Gavai also told the registry to list the matter as the first item for hearing on Tuesday. The court was hearing a suo motu case on the Uttar Pradesh government’s decision to allow the Kanwar Yatra. The petition regarding the Kerala government’s decision was taken up in the suo motu case.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had announced a three-day relaxation in the rules from Sunday. Vijayan had said that shops selling clothes, footwear, jewellery, gift items, home appliances, electronics and repair outlets will be allowed to open. However, he had cautioned that restrictions were also needed to rein in the spread of the infection.

Kerala, which is one of the worst-hit states in India, recorded 13,956 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, taking the infection tally in the state to 31.6 lakh since the pandemic broke out in the country in January 2020. The toll climbed by 81 to 15,350.

The application challenging the Kerala government’s decision was moved by Delhi resident PKD Nambiar. “It is shocking that in a medical emergency, the government is playing with the lives of citizens through such measures,” the plea said. “[The] Government of Kerala is ready to sacrifice the health and life of innocent citizens during this critical situation.”

It pointed out that the decision was taken just a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi advised caution due to the “increasing numbers [of Covid-19 cases] in Kerala and Maharashtra”. The plea also noted that the Supreme Court had expressed its reservation on allowing Kanwar Yatra.

The plea alleged that the Kerala government took the decision without consulting the medical department, but following the discussions between Vijayan and leaders of the traders’ body Kerala Vyapari Vyavasaay E-Kopana Samiti.

“The political interest and cause cannot overcome the fundamental rights of the citizens of this nation,” it said. “The said act of the Government of Kerala is noting but politically motivated, moreover the said decision is totally contrary to the observation and the spirit qua which this Hon’ble Court has shown it’s concern over the presents pitiable situation of this Nation.”

During the hearing, senior advocate K Radhakrishnan, appearing for the petitioner, argued that all social and religious congregations should be suspended till at least 80% of the population has been inoculated, reported Bar and Bench. The court took the submission on record.

Advocate G Prakash, representing the Kerala government, told the court that only some shops have been opened in Kerala. “Lockdown has been lifted squarely for this reason in some areas for facilitating the festival,” he said. “Otherwise, shops are open in Kerala... each day we are publishing Covid-19 positive cases [record].”

On Sunday, the Indian Medical Association too had said that the Kerala government’s decision to relax coronavirus restrictions for Bakrid was “unwarranted and inappropriate”. The doctor’s body demanded that the Kerala government withdraw the order and ensure that Covid-appropriate behaviour is followed. The IMA said that it would be forced to approach the Supreme Court if the government did not withdraw the decision.

Kanwar Yatra

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court closed the suo motu case registered in connection with Uttar Pradesh’s decision to hold the Kanwar Yatra after the state counsel said that the annual pilgrimage has been called off.

Senior Advocate CS Vaidyanathan further told the court that local-level activities would not constitute a Kanwar Yatra. He explained that a devotee visiting a local temple cannot be considered a pilgrimage but added that Covid-19 protocols would need to be maintained when doing so.

Closing the case, the court offered a word of caution: “It is to remind... authorities at all levels when untoward incidents which directly affect lives of the public take place, [it] will be looked upon sternly and action should be taken immediately.”

Besides Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha have also called off this year’s Kanwar Yatra in view of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, India on Monday recorded 38,164 new coronavirus cases, taking the tally of infections since the outbreak of the pandemic in January last year to 3,11,44,229. The number was 7.27% fewer than Sunday’s tally of 41,157 cases.

The country’s toll rose to 4,14,108 as 499 more patients died due to the infection in the last 24 hours. The number of active cases in India stood at 4,21,665 while the count of recoveries reached 3,03,08,456.