Can’t have pilgrims in Char Dham Yatra, says Uttarakhand HC; slams govt for ignoring COVID norms during Khumbh

When govt counsel objected to court’s suggestion to live stream temple rituals as being prohibited by the Shastras, HC pointed out that our ancestors were not aware of the technology

Can’t have pilgrims in Char Dham Yatra, says Uttarakhand HC; slams govt for ignoring COVID norms during Khumbh

NH Web Desk

The Uttarakhand High Court on Monday ordered a stay on the state cabinet decision of 25 June to allow local pilgrims to participate in the Char Dham Yatra on July 1.

The order was passed by a Bench of Chief Justice RS Chauhan and Justice Alok Verma after taking into account the imminent threat due to a possible third wave of COVID-19 pandemic.

“As pointed out by the scientific community, the victims of the third wave will be children. The loss of a child is not painful only to parents but the nation at large. In case the Delta Plus variant is permitted to play havoc with the lives of our children, the nation is bound to lose part of its next generation. Such an apocalypse would adversely affect the growth of the country,” the court noted, as per a Bar & Bench report.

After a detailed consideration of the facts and material on record, the High Court held that the balance of convenience in this matter lay with the people of the country at large

It emphasised that should the predictions regarding third wave turn out to be true, children of the country could be affected and the damage will be catastrophic.

“It is in the interest of the public to stay the operation of cabinet decision dated June 25 and to direct the government not to permit pilgrims to reach Char Dham temples," the order said.

During the hearing of the case, the Bench also took exception to the affidavit filed by the state stating that the same was plagued with vague and unclear data.

“The government must be honest with the court. It has purposely tried to mislead the court with its data. The High Court cannot be taken lightly by the government. You can be hauled up for perjury,” the court said.

Chief Justice RS Chauhan noted that the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the Kumbh Mela was very similar to the one submitted for the Char Dham Yatra, pointing out the obvious concern of how the state had failed to implement the SOP for Kumbh.

“Yet it is common knowledge that despite the best intentions of the state government the district authorities singularly failed to implement the SOP. A large segment of the pilgrims neither wore a mask nor maintained social distancing nor used sanitisers or soap to wash their hands. In fact, lakhs of people were permitted to gather at the banks of the Holy Ganges and bathe,” the court noted.

The Bench further highlighted the lapses on the part of the Uttarakhand government during Ganga Darshan. It observed that there were glaring examples of the state government’s inability to implement its own SOPs despite their repeated reassurance.

“Even recently, on the occasion of Ganga Darshan, a crowd of more than 1 lakh congregated at Haridwar to take a holy bath in the Ganges. Even then the crowd failed to adhere to the SOP and the civil administration failed to strictly implement SOP. This is the fourth occasion that the state government is promising that the SOP would be implemented strictly,” the court said.

The court also questioned the state with respect to implementation of the 'dos and don'ts' laid down in the SOP.

On being questioned regarding maintenance of COVID-19 protocol, it was submitted by govt counsel that ‘best efforts’ will be made to ensure compliance.

However, the Chief Justice stated, “It is one thing to try and another to succeed. Can you assure us that if there is a death due to COVID-19 and the same is caused due to the Char Dham Yatra, you will compensate each such death with 4-5 lakhs?”

The court also recommended a safer alternative to the devotees to witness the Yatra from the comfort of their homes.

“This court is well aware of the high religiosity of our people. Therefore, on an earlier occasion this court had suggested that keeping in mind people’s devotion, live-streaming of all ceremonies carried out at Char Dham should be done,” it said.

Replying to the Advocate General's submission that live streaming of Char Dham is against the customs and prohibited by Shastras, the court stated that our ancestors were not aware of this technology and, it could, therefore, not be incorporated in the Shastras.

Further, it was noted that this approach is being implemented by several other temples across the country.

A report was sought regarding the same which has to be submitted before the court by the next date of hearing, which was fixed for July 7.

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