The Supreme Court on Wednesday took suo motu cognisance of news on Uttar Pradesh government’s decision to allow the Kanwar Yatra amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and sought responses from the state as well as the Centre on the matter.
The court took note of a report published in The Indian Express newspaper on Uttar Pradesh going ahead with the religious festival even though Uttarakhand had cancelled it.
“We read something disturbing in The Indian Express today that the state of UP has chosen to continue with the Kanwar Yatra, while the state of Uttarakhand with its hindsight of experience, has said that there will be no Yatra,” Justice R.F. Nariman, who was heading the bench, told the Solicitor General.
The “hindsight of experience” ostensibly referred to the Kumbh Mela held in March and April, in Uttarakhand, where millions gathered for dips in the river at a time when cases of COVID-19 were rapidly rising in the second wave of the pandemic.
Justice Nariman referred to a statement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the impermissibility of compromises on COVID-19 containment.
“The citizens of India are completely perplexed. They don’t know what is going on. And all this amid the Prime Minister, when asked about a third wave of COVID striking the nation, saying ‘we cannot compromise even one bit’,” the bench said.
It issued a notice to the Centre and the state governments of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand and posted the matter for hearing on Friday.
“We wish to know what the stand of the respective governments is,” said the bench also comprising Justice B.R. Gavai.
“We want them to file an early response so that the matter can be heard on Friday,” the top court said.
The Adityanath government on Tuesday allowed the yatra from July 25 despite concerns raised from various quarters over the risk posed by such events in triggering a possible third wave of COVID-19.
The Indian Medical Association had expressed concern on July 12, over governments and people getting complacent and engaging in mass gatherings without following COVID-19 protocols, saying these events are potential super spreaders for a third wave of the pandemic.
The Uttar Pradesh chief minister has said that only a minimum number of people would be allowed to participate in the annual Kanwar Yatra and said that “strict implementation of COVID-19 protocol” will be implemented.
Every year, tens of thousands of ‘kanwariyas‘ (devotees of Lord Shiva) from northern states travel on foot or by other means to collect water from River Ganga at Haridwar to offer at Shiva temples in their areas as part of the yatra.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said a day ago that though “Kanwar Yatra is part of sanatan culture, saving lives in the time of the pandemic was paramount.”