By Bhavya Jain
The Supreme Court on 16 July 2021 took suo moto cognizance to order Uttar Pradesh Government to reconsider its decision to allow Kanwar Yatra or else the court will itself pass a stay order.
The Kanwar Yatra is a religious gathering which takes place every year with the onset of the month of Shravan by the Hindu calendar. In this annual pilgrimage of Kanwar Yatra millions of devotees of lord Shiva from different states of India travel thousands of miles by walking, cycling or by any vehicle and gather together to fetch holy water of river ganga that is flowing at four places of Hindu pilgrimage. Three of them are situated in Uttarakhand – Haridwar, Gaumukh and Gangotri, along with sultan Ganj in Bihar. Then the devotees will have to take that ganga water (Gangajal) back to make offerings at different local temples of Lord Shiva. This practice sees a huge gathering of kanwariyas specially in Haridwar, Uttarakhand. In this time of COVID crisis, this practice seems threatening to the life of many people.
For the year 2021, the Uttar Pradesh government has allowed the kanwar yatra in the state from July 25, 2021. But on 16 July 2021, the Supreme Court by taking the suo moto cognizance in this issue ordered the Uttar Pradesh government to revise its decision of allowing kanwar yatra due to the fear of third wave of COVID-19. The divisional bench of the Supreme Court consisting of Justice R.F. Nariman and Justice B.R. Gavai on Friday said that such movement of kanwariyas can not be permitted amidst the fear of third wave as it would be dangerous to the life of many people. We have already seen the disaster that COVID can bring to the country and holding these king of religious gathering would be the invitation to the death. Addition to this, the Court also stated that the COVID-19 has affected every citizen of the country and their fundamental right to life or health under Article 21 of the Constitution cannot be violated at any cost. The right to life of citizens is of utmost importance and nothing is superior to that. The Court said that every belief including religion is secondary to the right to life of the citizens hence the Uttar Pradesh government has to revise its decision of allowing kanwar yatra. The Supreme Court has provided time to the Uttar Pradesh government to reconsider its decision by adding that if it fails to do so then the Supreme Court itself would be forced to pass an order on that behalf. The counsel from the Uttarakhand government told the Court that they have decided to ban the kanwar yatra for this year.
The solicitor general of India Tushar Mehta said to the apex court that the states shall not be allowed to proceed with kanwar yatra because of covid crisis and he also came up with an alternative through which this life long custom can take place without any danger to life of the people. Therefore the apex court ordered the state governments of the devotees to arrange gangajal through tankers and make it available at an identified designated locations. So that nearby devotees can collect the holy Gangajal and do abhishek upon lord Shiva in the temples. It also ordered that the state government should ensure that the distribution of gangajal or conducting of abhishek in the Shiva temples must take place by ensuring social distancing, wearing of mask and by properly obeying to the guidelines of COVID-19.
The Supreme Court asked the Uttar Pradesh government to inform the court about its decision on Monday. The final decision of the Supreme Court will come on Monday, which is on 19 July 2021.