Business Standard

SC: Can’t allow UP govt to hold Kanwar Yatra

‘All sentiments subservien­t to Right to Life’; court asks govt to reconsider move


All sentiments, including religious, are subservien­t to the Right to Life, the Supreme Court said on Friday and asked the Uttar Pradesh (UP) 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 prima facie view that this is a matter which concerns every one of us and this is at the heart of Article 21 of the Constituti­on. The health of citizenry of India and Right to Life is paramount and all other sentiments, including religious, are subservien­t to this 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’ it 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 Bench then told Vaidyanath­an he may take instructio­ns and apprise the court by July 19 (Monday) on whether to hold the yatra at all. 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.

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