A Public Interest Litigation(PIL) petition has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking directions to stop mass gatherings in Haridwar city for the ongoing Kumbh Mela.
The petition also highlights the threat posed by mass campaign rallies in poll-bound states like West Bengal and seeks directions to the Election Commission of India to take corrective steps.
The petition filed by a Noida resident Sanjay Kumar Pathak says that lakhs of persons are attending Kumbh Mela without following the COVID-19 protocols regarding the wearing of face masks and maintanence of social distancing are posing a grave public health threat amid the second wave of the pandemic.
"...there is no protocol in place to ensure devotees who get infected at Haridwar do not go on to spread the virus when they return to their home districts", the plea says.
It is said that between April 13 and 14, more than 1000 COVID-19 cases were reported in Haridwar. The head of Nirwani Akhada, who had participated in the mela, died on April 15 due to COVID-19.
"Photos and videos from the event show that COVID-19 protocols like physical distancing and wearing masks are not being followed at the event. Blatant violations by the kumbh mela attendees were ignored despite the claim of respondent no.2 to take strict action against the violation of Covid guidelines. On the other hand, India reported 1,68,912 new cases of Corona positive", the petition states.
Even though the disease is spreading at a breakneck speed across the country, the Indian Railways is organizing special trains to facilitate the mass gathering for the Haridwar Kumb, says the petitioner.
The petitioner alleges that Union of India, the State of Uttarakhand and the National Disaster Management Authority have not taken any steps to discourage the gathering at Haridwar, even though it was evident from the second week of March that a new surge of COVID-19 has started.
The petitioner says that Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat was actively encouraging participation in the event, totally disregarding the pandemic threat.
"Nobody will be stopped in the name of COVID-19 as we are sure the faith in God will overcome the fear of the virus", the petition states as said by the Chief Minister.
The petitioner says that front page advertisements were given in leading newspapers inviting people for the Kumbh Mela, with the picture of the Chairman of the NDMA(the Prime Minister), as a "token of approval".
The petitioner says that the Union Health Minister blamed the people for the COVID-19 surge saying that they "became very careless".
"The respondents are acting arbitrarily and illogically despite the surge of COVID-19 cases in India", the plea says.
"On the one hand, poor common man on the street is often punished and treated violently by the Police and executive authorities for individual violations of Covid-19 Rules and regulations in the name of strict enforcement, on the other hand, the authorities are not only permitting but facilitating and promoting congregation of people in the events like Kumbh-2021 and Election rallies. It is visibly clear that two separate and mutually inconsistent standards are being adopted by the authorities in dealing with the citizens of India. Police ki Lathi for the common man for Covid violations and celebration amidst the open mass violation of COVID-19 Protocol in full view, presence of and under the protection of authorities responsible for implementation of COVID-19 protocols"- from the petition.
The petition seeks the following reliefs under Article 32 of the Constitution of India :
- Direct the Governments of Centre and Uttarakhand to immediately withdraw all advertisements inviting people to Haridwar for the Kumbh Mela,
- Direct Centre, Uttarakhand and NDMA to clear the mass gathering from the Haridwar city as soon as as possible and prescribe a safety protocol with respect to people who are returning from the Mela to their native places.
- Direct respondents not to encourage or promote any event inconsistent with the spirit of COVID-19 safety protocols.
- Direct Election Commission of India to strictly enforce COVID-19 guidelines in places where elections are going on.