Uttarakhand High Court Puts a Stay on the State Cabinet’s Decision to Hold Chardham Yatra and Declares That Permission Would Lead to Inviting a Catastrophe

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Excerpt 

In this case, the issues raised before the Court were regarding the conducting of the Chardham Yatra. The Uttarakhand’s State Cabinet had previously allowed the Chardham Yatra in a phased manner. But the same was challenged before this Court. Responding to this, the Court stayed the decision of the Uttarakhand Government to hold Chardham Yatra by taking a prima facie view that this decision was arbitrary and unreasonable, and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. If it is permitted then the State would again invite a Catastrophe. Instead, the Bench directed the Government to ensure that the ceremonies, the pujas, and archanas, carried out inside the sanctum sanctorum of the Char Dham temples, are live-streamed for the benefit of the people at large. 

Facts of the Case

In this case, the issue raised before the Court was whether under the present circumstances which are likely to occur shortly, the Char Dham Yatra should be re-opened or not? For, according to the decision of the Cabinet dated 25.06.2021, the Cabinet decided to permit the opening of the Char Dham Yatra from 01.07.2021, to the limited extent that 4 residents of the districts of Chamoli, Rudraprayag, and Uttarakhand would be permitted to visit the temples within their respective districts. But the question was whether this phased mannered Yatra would prove satisfactory in the context of the control and prevention of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Petitioner’s Submissions 

The Petitioners firstly threw light upon the upsurge of cases during the first and the second wave of the pandemic and especially during the Kumbh Mela, the inoculation rate in Uttarakhand; facilities available for the tackling of the third wave in case it arrives and lastly about the Delta Plus Variant. The Learned Counsels slammed upon the State Governments order of permitting the Chardham Yatra. Furthermore, Mr. Shiv Bhatt, the Learned Counsel submitted that the Hon’ble Supreme Court, in its order passed in Suo Motu Writ Petition (Civil) No.3 of 2021 dated 30.04.2021, urged the Central and the State Governments, “to consider imposing a ban on mass gatherings and super spreader events”. Yet, the decision of the Hon’ble Cabinet dated 25.06.2021 would not only permit the people of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamunotri, and Gangotri to congregate at the shrines but would also allow the people of the respective districts to assemble at their respective temples. Thus, the Cabinet decision contravened the directions issued by the Hon’ble Supreme Court. Moreover, the decision taken by the Hon’ble Cabinet on 25.06.2021 was deliberately against the warnings, which were being given by the experts throughout the country. Likewise, the decision was also against the directions of the Central Government which directed the States to control and prevent the spread of the third wave. Further, the decision was also against the practice of extending the lockdown as observed by the other States. 

Petitioner’s Prayers 

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Considering the fact that the country was still reeling under the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was urged through this Court that the State review its decision concerning re-opening of the Char Dham Yatra even in a phased manner. 

Court’s Observations 

The Court firstly analyzed the history of the COVID-19 pandemic and the facilities available for the same in the State of Uttarakhand in case the third wave arrives. Further, the Court while analyzing the previous trend of pandemic observed that the issue was not just limited to the opening of pilgrimage places, but the issue was more importantly about the human lives, about the people of the State and the people of the nation. Furthermore, the Court named the second wave of COVID-19 a Tsunami, and thereby remarked that it is of common knowledge that during April and May 2021 as people began to die, there were insufficient spaces in the country’s crematorium and burial grounds. The Court also observed that India was portrayed as a renegade, and as an irresponsible member of the international community, and flights emanating from India were stopped by various Countries. Further, the Court observed that the experts claim that the third wave was likely to hit the country in the second or third week of August 2021, but there was no such guarantee that it would not strike the country earlier thereto. The Court also observed the inoculation rate of Uttarakhand State and thereby stated that the same was certainly not a happy one and that out of a population of 1.32 crores, by May end only 35,36,840 persons had been inoculated. Besides, even if 100% of the population of Uttarakhand happened to be inoculated, even then there was no guarantee that the people of Uttarakhand will be shielded from the invasion of delta plus variant. 

Furthermore, the Court observed the three ‘glaring examples’ where the State Government permitted the people to congregate in a large number, and the SOPs were violated by the people. At the outset, the Court noted that despite the soundest intentions of the State Government, the Civil Administration of Haridwar and Rishikesh had notably failed to implement the SOPs related to Kumbh Mela. The Court also observed that the SOP planned for the proposed Chardham Yatra carried several instructions, but it wasn’t clear as to how such injunctions would be implemented. The Court further remarked that the decision of the Hon’ble Cabinet dated 25.06.2021 would not only permit the people of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamunotri, and Gangotri to congregate at the shrines but would also permit the people of the respective districts to gather at their respective temples. Moreover, this decision of the Cabinet will unnecessarily expose the people to the threats of the third wave. Thus, the decision was against Article 21 of the Constitution of India; against Articles 39(e) & 39(f); and also against Article 47 of the Constitution of India. Besides this, the Cabinet had also ignored the warnings furnished by the scientific community, ignored the directions issued by the Central Government, and ignored the directions issued by the Hon’ble Supreme Court. Further, the Court opined that the Cabinet must have realized that the SOPs were flouted by the people, and the civil administration did not have the wherewithal for implementing them in sensu stricto. 

Court’s Decision 

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The Court based on the afore-mentioned observations declared that it would be in the public interest and in the interest of justice to stay the operation of the decision of the Hon’ble Cabinet dated 25.06.2021, vis-à-vis the opening of the Char Dham Yatra for the residents of District Uttarkashi, Rudraprayag, and Chamoli, for four weeks, and to direct the State Government not to permit the pilgrims to reach the Char Dham Temples during four weeks. And If the Char Dhar Yatra were permitted, we would again be inviting a catastrophe. Instead, a direction was issued to the Government to ensure that the ceremonies, the pujas, and archanas, carried out within the sanctum sanctorum of the Char Dham temples, are live-streamed for the benefit of the people at large.

Click Here to View the Judgement


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