A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking directions from the Top Court to restrict the entry of public for the annual Shri Amarnath Yatra for the year 2020 in view of the Covid19 pandemic.
The plea has been filed by Advocate Amit Pai on behalf of Shri Amarnath Barfani Langar Organisation (SABLO), which is an organisation engaged in free of cost services to the devotees/pilgrims who tread the yatra path, by providing them with meals, shelter, medical facilities, etc, facilitating the smooth conduct of the Shri Amarnath Yatra year after year.
SABLO has averred that the cancellation of the Yatra in so far as participation of devotees/pilgrims is concerned, is imperative in light of the prevailing situation in the country and in view of the threat to public health. The organisation has also stated that the prevailing disaster situation in the country, as defined under the NDMA, 2005 makes it pertinent to restrict this year's yatra for public and for the enforcement of Articles 14 & 21 of the constitution.
Petitioner-organisation has stated,
"This year, owing to the outbreak of the pandemic, it is submitted that the entire pooja be restricted only to the essential persons/trustees, etc., and not be open to devotees and pilgrims... the present Petitioners only seek a restriction on the participation of the devotees/pilgrims, in light of the outbreak of the pandemic."
The plea states that the dates of the Yatra have not been announced yet and despite that, permissions to few Bhandara Organisations to reach the venue before June 28 and to start the service (seva) from July 3 have been released which may be serious consequences for the public health at large.
Moreover, the Yatra was cancelled by the Shrine board on April 22 but the said cancellation was withdrawn within a few hours, which the Organisation has contended could be fatal as presently "the number of cases of Covid 19 in India is almost 5.5 lakhs" and that "there is no rationale for the withdrawal of the cancellation of the Yatra for the pilgrims"
Further to this, the plea contends that keeping in mind the enforced social distancing norms and standards that are currently applicable in the country, there is need to apply further restrictions and close the Yatra as absence of transport and lodging facilities will put pilgrims to great hardship.
Invoking the exception of "public health" towards the right to religious freedoms under Article 25, the limit to ceremonies to only bare essential persons is required to be effectuated in this "unprecedented" situation.
"The present matter brings to the fore the conflict of the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 25 and Articles 21 read with 14. It is submitted that this Hon'ble Court has time an again held that Article 21 includes the right to health. The present petition is based on the fact that the current situation in the country is one that is unprecedented, and the continuation of the Shri Amarnath Yatra, and or participation of lakhs of devotees and pilgrims will only fuel the fire of the pandemic"-- Excerpt of Plea
The organisation avers that similar pilgrimage Yatra's to holy places have been cancelled already and although the country is going into "unlock mode" it is essential for the authorities to tread carefully in that direction, so as to ensure that all that has been achieved in terms of containing the outbreak of the Covid 19 virus is not undone.
Additionally, the plea prays for a live telecast of the Lord Shri Amarnath Shrine by was of the Internet and television so that "crores of people across the country" can get access to the "live darshan".