Sabarimala : Kerala HC Lifts Restrictions Imposed By Police; Declares That Place Should Not Be Used For Protests; Appoints A Team Of Observers [Read Order]
The High Court of Kerala on Tuesday passed a slew of directions to ensure peaceful pilgrimage at Sabarimala with requisite amenities and facilities.
The Court ordered that "all unilateral restrictions imposed by Police except to the minimum required extent to meet the law and order situation shall stand deleted, particularly with regard to right of pilgrims to conduct "namajapam" and chant 'sharanamanthra'. So far as it does not amount to any protest or demonstration or design to indulge in any unlawful act or instigating others to indulge in any unlawful act, affecting the law and order situation, there shall be no intervention from the part of police adversely affecting the rights of pilgrims or as part of "Crowd Management Scheme".
The Court held so accepting the contention of the petitioners that police had no powers to add to the conditions imposed by the Executive Magistrate in the prohibitory order issued under Section 144 of CrPC. The Court also noted that under Section 83(2) of the Kerala Police Act, it is the Government and not the police, which has the power to impose restrictions in an area notified as "Special Security Zone".
At the same time, the Court clarified that lifting of restrictions should not be used to make the area a "place of protest". It was held : "Incidentally, we would like to make it clear that the interference made by this Court to the above extent, removing the restrictions, to the extent found as unreasonable, at the same sustaining reasonable restrictions., it shall not be misused by the pilgrims or anybody proclaiming themselves as pilgrims, causing the area as a place for protest"(emphasis supplied by Court).
It was added that any attempt to thwart peaceful "darsan" can be checked and interfered by police and that they can conduct reasonable extent of search, interrogation and such other process to provide peaceful darsan. "All stakeholders are required to co-operate with such efforts taken by the police in all aspects", said the Court.
The directives were issued by a Division Bench of Justices P R Ramachandran Menon and N Anilkumar. The bench was hearing a batch of writ petitions which challenged the police restrictions as excessive, and highlighted grievances regarding lack of adequate amenities and facilities for pilgrims like food, accommodation, transport etc. The Division Bench also took into consideration the report filed by Special Commissioner of Devaswom(who is a District Judge) regarding the state of affairs at Sabarimala, on the basis of which a suo moto case was registered.
The other significant directions issued by the Court are as follows :
- Court found it appropriate to have "nadappandal" reserved to women, children, ailing persons, physically challenged persons and senior citizens. Police can do "filtering" of persons entering to Nadappandal, in view of the apprehension expressed that in case of visit by a woman in the age group of 10 and 50 years, there could be large convergence of crowd at "nadappandal", raising protests. The filtered/identified persons shall be permitted to take rest, place 'viri' and to have night halt in the nadappandal.
- Appropriate steps should be taken by the Forest Department to curb the menace of influx of reptiles and wild animals in the area.
- The "annadanam"(food supply) at Sannidhanam, Pampa and Nilackal shall continue round the clock, catering to the needs of pilgrims. Food quality should be ensured by the authorities. The Court took into account the fact that on November 16, police had issued orders(though subsequently withdrawn) to close annadanam stalls by 10 PM.
- There should be continuous running of chain services of KSRTC buses from Nilackal to Pampa without any interruption, whether during day or night.
- Devaswom Board and Water Authority should ensure supply of pure drinking water. Devaswom Board shall also ensure that proper toilet facilities are there.
- Police should ensure that there is proper access to "mahakanika" placed at lower Thirumuttom, enabling devotees to deposit their offerings.
The Court also appointed a Team of Observers, comprising Justices P R Raman and S Sirijagan, former judges of Kerala High Court and DGP A Hemachandran. The Team will have power of overall supervision and to take spot decision to give effect to directions issued by the Court and to ensure smooth and safe pilgrimage.
The petitioners had contended that police measures interfered with the right to worship of devotees. They contended that Sabarimala pilgrims come in groups, by chanting “sharana manthrams”. Police was targeting persons chanting “sharana manthras” by invoking the prohibitory order, alleged the petitioners. The Advocate General C P Sudhakara Prasad submitted that the order only restricted unlawful practises with the intent to ensure smooth pilgrimage of genuine devotees. The AG clarified that there is no restriction in chanting “sharana manthras”. It was submitted that police has no objection in people coming in groups or chanting “sharana manthras” and that police restrictions are applicable only to identified persons with vested interests who were “posing as pilgrims
Regarding the incident of "water-spraying" at nadappandal, which was allegedly done by police to prevent stay of pilgrims there, the Court accepted the explanation offered by the Advocate General that it was done by Fires and Rescue Department and not police, and that it was a routine exercise undertaken every year to wash off dirt and dust.
The Court refrained from examining the merits of the prohibitory order issued by the Executive Magistrate, as it is subject matter of another writ petition which is scheduled to be heard on December 6.Read Order