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'A Conscious Effort To Malign Police': State Submits Before Kerala High Court In Sabarimala Virtual Queue Case

Hannah M Varghese
28 Oct 2021 1:30 PM GMT
A Conscious Effort To Malign Police: State Submits Before Kerala High Court In Sabarimala Virtual Queue Case
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"The State and the Kerala Police are being subjected to unnecessary criticism...A conscious effort is being made to malign the police," the Kerala Government today told the High Court while defending the Sabarimala Pilgrim Management System for virtual darshan queue.A Division Bench comprising Justice Anil K Narendran and Justice P.G Ajithkumar was hearing a PIL challenging the legality of...

"The State and the Kerala Police are being subjected to unnecessary criticism...A conscious effort is being made to malign the police," the Kerala Government today told the High Court while defending the Sabarimala Pilgrim Management System for virtual darshan queue.

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 is alleged that it restricts Darshan in Sabarimala to only those who avail the Virtual Queue Services.

Today, the State asserted that there was no justification at all for suspension of the SPMS. It argued,

"The State and the Kerala Police are being subjected to unnecessary criticism by the petitioners. A conscious effort is being made to malign the police and the SPMS. The Police force is merely trying to visualise a system that has been in place for the last ten years."  

The matter will be taken up again on Monday. 

ARGUMENTS OF THE STATE

State Attorney N Manoj Kumar submitted that the petitioner had sought for an entire abolition of the virtual queue system, while the Sabarimala Special Commissioner itself had no objection to the continuance of the system.

The only objection put forth by the Commissioner was that the platform should be handled by the Travancore Devaswom Board, rather than by the Kerala Police. 

The State also made it clear that for the past decade, they have not received any complaints against the police or the website. 

Why Virtual Queue Was Implemented:

The State Attorney further explained why the virtual queue system was introduced in the first place. 

In the pilgrim season of 2011, 102 devotees had lost their lives at Sabarimala due to a stampede that transpired at the shrine while trying to get into line to book a slot. 

After the unfortunate episode, the High Court intervened and asked the DGP to take necessary actions towards the regulation of pilgrims and decongestion at Sabarimala during the pilgrimage season. 

Thereafter, the police introduced a software then called the Advance Queue Placement System, and this proposal was approved by the Court. It was found to be a very effective measure for managing crowds at the shrine. 

To improve the performance of the platform and to allow the maximum number of concurrent users on the website, it was entrusted to KELTRON in 2012. KELTRON made use of Amazon cloud to save information for which they had to pay rent. 

To meet the funding requirements, since 2012, advertisements were published on the website. It was submitted that even the Travancore Devaswom Board was aware of such advertisements and that they cannot now claim that it was an authorised move. 

However, the Court reminded the State Attorney that he was dealing with a case against a perpetual minor, and that particular argument may not stand in that context.  

Later on, in 2013, discussions were held with TCS in the presence of the Devaswom Board members, and TCS finally took over the portal. 

In those discussions, it was specifically decided that crowd management at Sabarimala will be exclusively dealt with by the Kerala police, while the Devaswom Board will be in charge of the other affairs. 

Why It Was Made Mandatory:

The virtual queue system was optional from 2011 till the pandemic struck. It was only with an intention to manage the crowd and to control the spread of Covid-19 that the system was made mandatory. 

During the festival season, controlling the crowd is a mammoth challenge and it can only be handled by the Police.

Moreover, considering the location of the shrine, it is exposed to several security threats as well as natural calamities. It was only to keep a tab on the devotees who attended darshan that it was made mandatory. 

Personal Data Not Misused: 

The State or the Police do not have any intention or any vested interest in keeping personal data of the pilgrims or acquiring administrative powers over the shrine. 

The only intention of the police was to make sure that devotees can visit Sabarimala without hurdles, without having to wait long hours in a queue and manage the crowd on the premises. 

The Court at this juncture enquired if TCS was utilising the data obtained from the website for any other reasons.

The State Attorney vehemently opposed this allegation and pointed out that even the Central government had entrusted TCS to handle passports. 

Digital Divide Not A Valid Argument:

The petitioner had argued that making virtual queues mandatory was equal to ignoring the vast digital divide that exists in the country. Responding to this, the State Attorney stated that over 75 lakh devotees had made use of the virtual queue system to attend darshan so far. 

He added that the system has been receiving a lot of positive responses and appreciation from the public while emphasising that even the illiterate were utilising the portal through internet cafes and Akshaya centres.  

Read The Arguments Made By The Petitioner Here 

Also Read: Is Govt Authorized To Manage Affairs Of A Temple? Kerala High Court Asks In Sabarimala Virtual Queue Case

Case Title: Suo Motu v. Travancore Devaswom Board

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