The Uttarakhand High Court on Wednesday asked the State government to reconsider its decision to re-open the Char Dham Yatra from July 1, in view of COVID-19 and the third wave of the pandemic looming large.
Citing data available through media reports, the Bench of Chief Justice Raghvendra Chauhan and Justice Alok Verma observed that there is “a clear correlation between the holding of Kumbh Mela in April 2021 and the consequent deaths which occurred in Uttarakhand in May 2021”.
The Court opined that COVID-19 must not be re-invited by permitting large gatherings at religious events.
“Considering the fact that large gathering invariably leads to a spike in the COVID-19 pandemic, this Court is of the firm opinion that a catastrophe like COVID-19 pandemic should not be re-invited by holding and permitting large gathering at religious shrines, and by permitting the Char Dham Yatra by the State Government.”
With a view to keeping devotees safe from the Coronavirus, the Court asked the State to consider the feasibility of live streaming the ceremonies of the Char Dham Yatra for the benefit of people throughout the country.
With the rising cases of deaths due to the emergence of the “Delta Plus variant” of COVID-19 and the black fungus disease, the Court directed the State government to review its decision to open the Char Dham Yatra for the following reason :
The Delta Plus variant has already started affecting Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and other Southern States and will soon spread to other parts of the country including Uttarakhand.
The Director of All India Institute of Medical Science, Delhi gave a statement that India will be hit by the third wave of COVID-19 by August 2021
The Jammu & Kashmir administration has decided to cancel the Amarnath Yatra which was scheduled for this year in view of the ongoing pandemic
A perusal of data available clearly indicates that the Kumbh Mela held in April in Uttarakhand was the major source of the spread of the Coronavirus leading to 59% deaths in the State in May 2021.
Recently on June 20, lakhs of people were permitted to gather at Har-ki-Pauri at Haridwar for Ganga Dussehra. The precautions mentioned in the SOP were observed more in breach than compliance, with people not wearing masks and no social distancing followed.
On June 22, the Neem Karoli Baba Temple (Kainchi Dham) also saw thousands of devotees pouring into the temple without any adherence to precautionary SOPs prescribed by the Central government.
There is a dearth of medical facilities available at Char Dham and permitting large congregations of people at the temple could have disastrous consequences.
The Tourism Department is yet to prepare the SOP for opening the Char Dham Yatra.
The third wave of COVID-19 will hit children from the prenatal age to 18 years. This will be a colossal loss not only to parents but to the nation at large.
The Court took cognizance of the fact that cancelling the Yatra may have a deleterious financial impact on the residents of the area. "However, it is more important to save the lives of the people," the Court said, while suggesting that the government can provide economic stimulus plans for the benefit of businessmen and the tourism industry, which depends on devotees visiting the event.
The Court added,
"As far as the religious sentiments of the people are concerned, this Court is of the opinion that live streaming from the Char Dham shrines can be done for the benefit of the people of the country. Such live streaming would permit the devotees to witness the deity, to pay reverence to the deity, and yet save the lives of the people. Hence, it is imperative that the decision of the State Government should be reviewed."
After all of the abovementioned factors were brought to light, the Chief Secretary gave an undertaking that the decision will be reviewed by the Cabinet and that the Court would be informed of the government's final decision on June 28, 2021.