The Uttarakhand Government has approached the Supreme Court against the Uttarakhand High Court order staying the Char Dham Yatra.
The Special Leave Petition is filed through Advocate Vanshaja Shukla against the interim order dated 28.06.2021 passed by the High Court of Uttarakhand at Nainital by which the High Court has wrongly stayed the part of the cabinet order dated 25.6.2021 passed by the Uttarakhand Government, with respect to conducting restricted Char Dham Yatra; only for a fixed number of pilgrims residing in 3 Districts Chamoli, Rudraprayag, and Uttarkashi where the respective Char Dhams are located.
According to the Petition, the 4 holy shrines are dedicated to ” Hindu gods and rivers – being Badrinath Dham, Kedarnath Dham, Gangotri Dham, Yamunotri Dham situated in the Garhwal region of State of Uttarakhand are collectively referred as ” Char Dhaam “. Approximately 30 Lakh Pilgrims, visit the Char Dham every year during ” Char Dham Yatra “. The Yatra commences from April uptill November, each year.
It is stated that pursuant to COVID – 19 Pandemic, many PILs were filed before the High Court inter – alia seeking various directions against the State Government to take measures for controlling the spread of the pandemic. In the said batch of PILS, the High Court passed directions pertaining to Char Dham without any pleadings or submissions made by the Respondents. Due to the second wave of the pandemic, the State Government vide order dated 3.5.2021 suspended the Char Dham Yatra – 2021; while the rituals and pooja of the deity at each Dham were allowed to be conducted by the respective priests / Dham Management from 7 am to 7 pm.
In the batch of PILS pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, the High Court vide order dated 23.6.2021, in paragraph 40, directed that ” the State Government to review its decision to commence the Yatra from 1.7.2021 “. Later the Government issued detailed standard operating procedures (SOPs) dated 26.6.2021 for the 1st phase of the Char Dham Yatra. Amongst other safety protocols and measures, the SOP provided for a fixed number of pilgrims for each Dham.
It is submitted that the State, stands_aggrieved with only paragraph 47 of the impugned interim order, vide which cabinet decision dated 25.6.2021 regarding the opening of restricted Char Dham Yatra in 1st Phase, has been stayed. Further, in paragraph 57 of the order, the High Court has directed the Chief Secretary and Secretary Tourism, to inform the Court whether live streaming of the Char Dham has commenced or not, on the next date on 7.7.2021. That the decision “whether live streaming of Char Dham can be done or not and if it can be done then in how much time” – has to be taken by the Board, whose chairman is the Chief Minister.
The State government has submitted that the interim stay order is liable to be set aside on the ground that due to the harsh climate and terrain, the livelihood of people residing in the near villages en route Char Dham Yatra is largely dependent on the earnings made through tourism and religious rituals during the Yatra. Unlike other religious Hindu shrines like Vaishno Devi, Kashi Vishvanath in Banaras, Vrindavan, or other South Indian Shrines, the access to Char Dham is only for a period of roughly 6 months, due to the terrain and climate in winters. Therefore, for the rest of the 6 months, the villagers survive through the cold, without much of an earning.
Further, the High Court ignored that the Char Dham Yatra was also conducted in a restricted manner, last year, during the 1st wave of the pandemic, after following all safety protocols and guidelines issued by State and Central Governments, the Petition highlights.
It is pertinent to note that expressing dissatisfaction with the state government’s arrangements for both pilgrims and tourists during the yatra amid the Covid situation, Chief Justice R.S. Chauhan and Justice Alok Kumar Verma stayed the Cabinet decision to permit residents of Chamoli, Rudraprayag, and Uttarkashi districts to visit Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri from July 1. The court has all along been asking the state government to suspend the yatra so that it does not become another “Covid super spreader” like the Kumbh.