SC says 'all sentiments' subservient to Right to life, asks UP to reconsider Kanwar Yatra decision

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New Delhi, Jul 16 (PTI) All sentiments, including religious, are subservient to the Right to Life, the Supreme Court said on Friday and asked the Uttar Pradesh government to inform by July 19 whether it would reconsider its decision to hold a “symbolic” Kanwar Yatra.

The Uttarakhand government earlier this week cancelled the annual ritual that sees thousands of Shiva devotees called ‘kanwariyas’ travel mostly on foot to collect water from the Ganges and bring it back to their villages. Uttar Pradesh is going ahead with a pared down “symbolic” version.

A bench of Justices R F Nariman and B R Gavai said the Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution is paramount and asked the Uttar Pradesh government whether it was willing to reconsider its decision to hold a yatra at all.

“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 apex court's direction came after the Uttar Pradesh government told the bench it has decided after relevant discussions to hold a “symbolic” Kanwar Yatra with appropriate Covid restrictions.

Appearing for the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said state governments must not permit the yatra in view of the pandemic and arrangements should be made for water from the Ganges to be available through tankers at specified places.

Considering age-old customs and religious sentiments, state governments must develop a system so devotees can collect holy ‘Gangajal’ and offer it at the nearest Shiva temple, he said.

The governments must also ensure this exercise of distribution of “Gangajal’ among devotees and the rituals takes place after adhering to Covid appropriate behaviour and Covid health protocols.

The bench told Mehta, “One thing is clear, we cannot allow the Uttar Pradesh government to hold Kanwar Yatra in view of Covid.” “Total ban on the yatra will be inappropriate,” senior advocate C S Vaidyanathan, appearing for the Uttar Pradesh government, told the court.

He said they have filed an affidavit stating that a symbolic yatra would be held with the minimum presence of devotees and also keeping in mind religious sentiments.

Appropriate restrictions would be taken, he said - ‘Gangajal’ will be supplied through tankers, Covid tests done and social distancing norms followed among other measures.

The top court after perusing the affidavit of UP government which explained how “symbolic” Kanwar Yatra will take place in the state, noted that it has pointed out to Vaidyanathan that given the Covid pandemic and the fear that looms over all the citizens of India of a third wave of the pandemic whether the authorities would be in a position to reconsider holding or the allowing, for compelling religious reasons, of this yatra in physical form at all.

It noted in its order that Vaidyanathan responded positively to the court’s suggestion and asked for time to come out with an additional affidavit by July 19, to apprise this Court as to whether there can be a reconsideration of holding the physical “Kanwar yatra” at all.

The top court took all the affidavits on record and thanked the solicitor general and other counsels, appearing in the matter “for the prompt manner in which they have all immediately responded to this court’s anguish” and posted the case for further hearing on July 19 (Monday).

Advocate Abhishek Atrey, appearing for Uttarakhand government, said they have filed an affidavit and taken a decision to ban the yatra due to Covid and it has been notified.

On July 14, the top court took suo motu cognisance of media reports on the Uttar Pradesh government's decision to allow the yatra amid the Covid pandemic and sought responses from the state as well as the Centre 'given the disparate political voices' on the matter.

The top court had said it was a “little disturbed” to read that Uttar Pradesh has chosen to continue with the “Kanwar Yatra”, while Uttarakhand had decided against it.

The Yogi Adityanath-led government on July 13 allowed the “yatra” from July 25 despite concerns raised in various quarters over the risk posed by such events in triggering a possible third wave of COVID-19.

The chief minister said only a minimum number of people should participate and directed strict implementation of Covid protocol.

The fortnight-long yatra, which begins with the onset of the month of Shravan by the Hindu calendar goes on till the first week of August, and sees a large gathering of Kanwariyas in Haridwar from neighbouring states, including Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi. PTI MNL SJK MNL RKS RKS

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