A bench of Justices R F Nariman and B R Gavai said Covid affects every Indian citizen and their health and right to life guaranteed under the Constitution could not be compromised. The court made it clear to the state that either it reconsidered its decision and call off the yatra, failing which the court will pass an order. As the UP government responded “positively” to the court’s suggestion to reconsider the decision, the bench appreciated the stand and adjourned the hearing for July 19 and asked the state to file a fresh affidavit informing the court about its decision on that day.
“We are of the view that this is a matter which concerns everyone of us as citizens of India, and goes to the very heart of Article 21 of the Constitution of India, which has a pride of place in the Fundamental Rights chapter of our Constitution. The health of the citizenry of India and their right to “life” are paramount. All other sentiments, albeit religious, are subservient to this most basic fundamental right,” the bench said.
The Centre and the state filed their affidavits after the apex court took suo motu cognisance of a media report pertaining to the state’s decision to allow kanwar yatra. The court had also noted that the state’s stand was contrary to PM Modi’s recent statement that “we cannot compromise even a bit” on the pandemic.
Senior advocate C S Vaidyanathan, appearing for the state, told the bench that the government intended to hold only symbolic physical Kanwar Yatra and only a minimum number of devotees, who are fully vaccinated with a negative report RTPCR test conducted in the preceding last three days, would be allowed to participate. He assured the court that strict compliance of Covid protocol would be followed.
But the bench said even symbolic Yatra should not be allowed and the Centre also contended that the state governments must not permit movement of Kanwariyas for bringing Gangajal from Haridwar to the Shiva temples of their choice.
The Centre, represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, said some alternative arrangement should be made for devotees considering the age-old customs and religious sentiments attached to the Yatra. Mehta said the state must develop a system to make holy Gangajal available through tankers at various places across the state which devotees can take and use to do “ABHISHEK” in their nearest Shiva temples.
“The state governments must also ensure that this exercise of distribution of Gangajal amongst devotees and the rituals to be performed by such devotees in the nearby Shiva temples take place mandatorily ensuring social distancing, wearing of masks and adherence to all steps required for Covid- appropriate behaviour and health protocols,” the Centre said in its response.
As the UP government responded “positively” to the court’s suggestion to reconsider the decision to hold Kanwar Yatra, the bench appreciated its stand and adjourned the hearing for July 19 and asked the state to file a fresh affidavit informing the court about its decision on that day.