The Supreme Court on Friday gave yet another chance to the state of Uttar Pradesh to rethink its decision to go ahead with the annual Kanwar Yatra amid fears of a third wave of Covid-19 infections.
The Bench led by Justice Rohinton F. Nariman and Justice B. R. Gavai said that at the given point of time, the fear of a third wave of COVID-19 pandemic looms large over all Indians, therefore, the authorities shall reconsider allowing this traditional pilgrimage at all for compelling religious reasons.
“We are of prima facie view that it concerns all of us and it 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 be religious, are subservient to this basic fundamental right. As the right to live is paramount, all other rights of religion are subservient to this,” observed the bench.
“Article 21 applies to all and everyone has the right to live. We cannot allow the Kanwar Yatra at all,” it added.
Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta appeared for the Centre. He submitted, “The States “must not” permit the movement of Kanwariyas for bringing Ganga Jal (holy water of river Ganges) from Haridwar (in Uttarakhand) to Shiv temples of their choice in view of COVID-19. However, the States must make the Ganga Jal available to devotees through tankers at designated locations.”
CS Vaidyanathan, appearing for the State of UP, submitted, “The state wants to conduct the symbolic Kanwar Yatra, with proper social distancing and adhering to all the norms of prevention of Novel Coronavirus.”
Earlier on July 14, the apex court had taken suo motu cognisance and issued notice to the Uttar Pradesh Government for giving green signal to the Kanwar Yatra from July 25, even as the cases of Novel Coronavirus showed an upswing in the state.
A Bench headed by Justice Rohinton Nariman sought response from the state government over its decision and fixed the next date of hearing on July 16.
The Apex court took cognisance of a newspaper report on July 14 morning, which said, “Amid fears of a possible third wave of Covid-19, the Uttarakhand government has suspended the Kanwar yatra even as neighbouring Uttar Pradesh is pressing ahead with the annual ritual that sees a heavy movement of pilgrims across states in the northern belt.”
The Uttar Pradesh government had on July 13 said that the Kanwar Yatra could take place with COVID restrictions, while also suggesting to make negative RT-PCR test compulsory for the worshippers undertaking the journey.
While Uttar Pradesh gave a go-ahead to the annual pilgrimage that involves movement of thousands of Lord Shiva’s devotees, commonly known as ‘Kanwariyas’ from across the country, its neighbour Uttarakhand refused to permit the same, ‘giving top priority to the protection of human life’.
Amid the fears of an impending third wave of COVID-19 and the occurrence of Delta variant of Novel Coronavirus, the traditional Kanwar Yatra has been suspended, said Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami on July 13.
The traditional pilgrimage involves thousands of worshippers or kanwariyas trekking to the ghats of the river Ganga in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, filling their pitchers with holy water and offering it to Lord Shiva at a temple near their homes on Shivratri, usually in August, but on August 6 this year. The pilgrimage is largely taken up by the youth of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi and Uttarakhand.
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