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Sabarimala Virtual Queue: Kerala High Court Urges Setting Up Spot Booking Counters At Prime Locations To Make Darshan Accessible To All

Hannah M Varghese
12 Nov 2021 12:19 PM GMT
Sabarimala Virtual Queue: Kerala High Court Urges Setting Up Spot Booking Counters At Prime Locations To Make Darshan Accessible To All
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The Kerala High Court on Friday insisted on establishing spot booking counters at several prime locations so that pilgrims who do not own a phone or are not acquainted with online booking may not be at a disadvantage as compared to other devotees intending to visit Sabarimala this year.A Division Bench comprising Justice Anil K Narendran and Justice P.G Ajithkumar was hearing a PIL...

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The Kerala High Court on Friday insisted on establishing spot booking counters at several prime locations so that pilgrims who do not own a phone or are not acquainted with online booking may not be at a disadvantage as compared to other devotees intending to visit Sabarimala this year.

A Division Bench comprising Justice Anil K Narendran and Justice P.G Ajithkumar was hearing a PIL challenging the legality of the Pilgrim Management System implemented by the Kerala Police. It alleged that it restricts Darshan in Sabarimala to only those who avail Virtual Queue Services.

While arguing for the petitioner, Senior Advocate Abir Phukan submitted that according to the respondents' claims, the data of the devotees were stored safely in an encrypted form. In that case, he asserted that since the Kerala Police was not equipped with the technical know-how of encryption, a third party agency would be doing the said encryption. 

The petitioner's concern in this regard was that the agency encrypting these data would also be capable of decrypting the same, thereby exposing the devotee's personal data. 

The Court noted that although sufficient safeguards for data protection should be enforced, for the time being, it was ideal that the system continues since there was no alternative for booking for the darshan. It was then added provisions should be made to ensure that a maximum number of devotees are allowed to attend the darshan at the temple, including those who do not own a mobile phone.

State Attorney N Manoj Kumar submitted that counters were being established for spot booking at various locations such as Nilakkal, Erumeli and Kumily to increase feasibility. It will be started when the festive season begins. The Court urged the Counsel to establish these counters on more locations and to publish this information on the website, and if possible on a newspaper as well

Currently, there is a limit of 30,000 devotees to attend the Sabarimala darshan. It was suggested that certain slots should be earmarked for the people opting for spot booking so that they are not denied their right to go to darshan, or be allowed over and above the said 30,000 limit.

The State Attorney responded that as of now, it was decided that 2% slots will be set aside for slot booking. He added that after further discussion, it could be relaxed during the darshan season. 

The Court clarified that the other issues raised in the case will be kept pending till the festive season was over so that it can monitor the situation till the peak season was over. 

The panel also expressed displeasure over the failure of the officer in charge of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) to file a statement answering the question of data privacy, despite being given several opportunities to do so.

"Despite this Court's Order on November 8, the officer in charge of TCS has not chosen to file a report on data privacy and with regard to administering the queue system."

As per the website maintained by the Police Department, the Virtual Queue is "a limited subscription, first come first serve basis service" to provide access to the pilgrimage to a devotee.

The petitioner claimed that for availing the impugned service, a devotee has to provide personal information including name, age, address, contact number, photograph, details of photo identity cards, etc., without any assurance regarding their protection privacy or safety of the data so collected.

The primary allegation in the PIL is that in the pretext of facilitating the crowds, the State and the Police are effectively usurping the role and powers of the Travancore Devaswom Board for malafide reasons in a completely non-transparent and arbitrary manner.

The question before the Court was whether the Police and the State were entitled to host a website and run a virtual queue system without requisite approvals. The Court also took note of the fact that the portal had been releasing advertisements as well to generate revenue.

The matter will be taken up again on Wednesday at 2 pm to decide regarding the right to manage the affairs of the temple. 

Read Arguments Made By Petitioner Here

Read Arguments Made By Respondents Here

Also Read: Is Govt Authorized To Manage Affairs Of A Temple? Kerala High Court Asks 

Case Title: Suo Motu v. Travancore Devaswom Board

Click Here To Read/Download The Order


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