Disagreeing with the Uttar Pradesh government’s proposal to conduct a “symbolic” Kanwar Yatra amid the pandemic for “compelling religious reasons”, the Supreme Court on Friday asked the state to reconsider allowing the annual religious pilgrimage “given that the fear of third wave of Covid-19 pandemic looms over everyone”.
“We are of the prima facie view that this is a matter that concerns everyone of us as citizens of India and goes to the very heart of Article 21 (right to life), which has the pride of place in the Fundamental Rights Chapter of the Indian Constitution. Health of the citizenry of India and the right to life are paramount. All other sentiments, albeit religious, are subservient to this basic fundamental right,” a Bench led by justice RF Nariman said, while giving the state government time till Monday to rethink about its decision.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, submitted that the “state must not permit movement”. Even the Uttarakhand government told the Bench that it had already cancelled all physical gatherings in connection to the Yatra.
Senior counsel CS Vaidyanathan, appearing for the UP government, argued that it would allow a symbolic yatra and that only devotees who have been fully vaccinated could participate.
He said that the government is also contemplating installing tankers carrying water from Ganga river near temples so that the devotees do not have to go all the way to banks of the river. “The holy Ganga jal is being kept at tankers at locations. It would be made available for abhishek at the nearest Shiva temples,” he said, adding that “past experience shows that a total ban would be inappropriate” and the yatra would be held with a minimum number of people maintaining social distancing.
The apex court is hearing a suo-motu case after taking cognizance of news reports that Uttar Pradesh is planning to allow the Yatra, in which pilgrims (Kanwariyas) walk to banks of Ganga river to collect water and then travel to designated Lord Shiva temples to offer the water. The event takes place in the Shravan month of Hindu calendar, which generally falls around July and August.