The Uttarakhand High Court on Thursday criticised the state government for failing to ensure compliance with the coronavirus protocol while holding religious events or gatherings such as the Kumbh Mela and Char Dham Yatra, reported Bar and Bench.

“First we make the mistake of [holding] Kumbh Mela, then there is Char Dham,” Chief Justice RS Chauhan said. “Why do we repeatedly cause embarrassment to ourselves?”

The High Court was hearing matters related to the coronavirus management in the state.

The bench made the remarks after it came across videos on social media showing that coronavirus norms were being flouted as a large number of priests gathered at pilgrimage centres in Badrinath and Kedarnath. The Uttarakhand government has extended the suspension of Char Dham Yatra for devotees but priests are permitted to offer prayers at the gates of the four Himalayan temples – Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri.

Before the Char Dham Yatra was suspended, the government had allowed the Kumbh Mela to be held, which had led to a surge in coronavirus cases. The violation of Covid-19 protocols at the gathering had attracted attention from across the world. However, state authorities, including the chief minister, had tried to downplay the risks.

On Thursday, the chief justice emphasised that the state was accountable to its people and the central government. “The rest of the country is saying why can’t Uttarakhand learn?” he asked. “I feel embarrassed when colleagues call me and ask what is happening in the state... You can fool the court, but you cannot fool the people, the reality exists out there... you are playing with the lives of millions of people in the country.”

Citing the videos on social media, the High Court asked who was supervising the event to check if coronavirus norms were being followed. “What happens if coronavirus spreads among the priests?” the High Court asked. “Even when deity is being worshiped, you can’t permit twenty priests to enter, because of the small size of [the] room.”

The state tourism department pointed out that there were earmarks at each place of worship to ensure physical distancing. The court replied that no one was following these earmarks.

“Please take a chopper to Char Cham, you will find what the reality is,” Chauhan said, adding that the government was issuing orders on paper but no one was following them.

The chief justice said that there were many matters such as the coronavirus, mucormycosis or “black fungus”, and the approaching third wave of the pandemic to handle, reported Live Law. He noted that the government was being careless and the state dispensation along with the judiciary was accountable to the people.

The case will be taken up hearing next on June 9.

Last week, the Court had observed that the State Government had ignored the warning given by experts about the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier on May 10, the High Court had directed the state to enforce the standard operating procedures issued for Char Dham. “Although the Char Dham Yatra has been suspended by the Government, the Government must ensure that the SOP issued by the Char Dham Management is adhered to strictly,” it had said. “Moreover, the steps required for implementing the said SOP should be worked out immediately by the government in association with the management of the Char Dham.”

On Thursday, Uttarakhand reported 3,658 new coronavirus cases, pushing the infection tally in the state to 3,03,940 since the pandemic broke out in January 2020, reported The New Indian Express. The toll went up by 159 to 5,484.