Will Interfere If Restrictions On Sabarimala Pilgrims Unreasonable, Says Kerala HC; State Police Chief Directed To File Affidavit

Will Interfere If Restrictions On Sabarimala Pilgrims Unreasonable, Says Kerala HC; State Police Chief Directed To File Affidavit

The High Court of Kerala has directed the State Police Chief to file an affidavit explaining the nature of police arrangements made in Sabarimala and the scope of restrictions imposed on pilgrims. The special bench for Devaswom matters comprising Justices P R Ramachandra Menon and N Anil Kumar also made it clear that Court will interfere if the restrictions are found to be harsh and unreasonable. The affidavit has to be filed by Thursday.

The affidavit should also explain who took the decisions regarding restrictions, reasons for restrictions, the experience of personnel deployed in handling pilgrims at Sabarimala etc. The Devaswom Board also has been directed to file affidavit regarding the facilities arranged for pilgrims.

The direction was passed after hearing Advocate General C P Sudhakara Prasad in the post-lunch session. In the morning session, the Court had called for the presence of the AG at 1.45 PM to offer explanation regarding excessive restrictions imposed by police which were causing hardships to the devotees. The AG submitted that no genuine devotee was inconvenienced by police measures. The police acted against only those persons who were trying to create trouble in the area. The Union Ministry has issued a circular warning the State that anti-social elements are likely to gather at Sabarimala to create law and order problems. The police deployment is in furtherance of the Union circular and is done with the bona fide intention of protecting genuine devotees. The arrested persons have been identified to be affiliated with RSS, BJP, Hindu Aikya Vedi , ABVP etc, the AG submitted. There is a concerted attempt to unleash violence and terror at the area. The AG also produced a circular attributed to BJP which called for mobilization of people at Sabarimala.  In this backdrop, police deployment is necessary to avert law and order issues, the AG submitted.

At this juncture, the Court clarified that it was not concerned with the arrests made by the police. The police is at liberty to act against those creating trouble at Sabarimala, the Court added. The concern of the Court is with respect to the hardships and inconveniences faced by genuine pilgrims, especially women, children, aged persons and persons with disabilities.

The Court asked the AG about the necessity of the restriction that devotees should leave sannidhanam area immediately after darshan. Pilgrims reach the hilltop after a trek of almost three hours and it is harsh to say that they should not remain in the area after darshan. They should be permitted to rest at Nadappandhal. The pilgrims who come for neyyabhishekam should not be prevented from performing it under any circumstance, the Court added.

The Court also told the AG that adequate accommodation facilities should be arranged for pilgrims. The Court invited AG's attention to the grievance of pilgrims regarding inadequacy of food and water supplies and sanitation facilities. The Court also expressed its unhappiness at fact that interruption occurred in KSRTC chain services from Nilackal to Pampa. There should be uninterrupted, round-the-clock chain services offered by KSRTC for the conveyance of pilgrims, the Court categorically said. Though the AG submitted that all arrangements for smooth pilgrimage were in place, the Court said "your words and deeds do not match".

The Court was considering a batch of writ petitions which alleged, inter-alia, that excessive police deployment was being made at Sabarimala by State Government, usurping the powers of Devaswom Board. The petitioners contended that police had created an atmosphere of terror in the area, vitiating the sanctity of the shrine. The devaswom board has been made a mute spectator and all decisions regarding day to day functioning of temple are being made by police. The curfew declared in the area is illegal. Devotees are not permitted even to chant "sharana manthras" and to assemble in groups, complained the petitioners.  The restrictions are harsh and unworkable, infringing the right to worship- the petitioners submitted.

The Court observed that even the petitioners have to share the blame for creating a war like zone in Sabarimala. It observed that various groups are attempting to further their own agendas using Sabarimala and Court was not interested in all that. The Court repeated that it was concerned only about the welfare of genuine pilgrims.

Though the Court reposed confidence in the submissions made by the AG, it expressed the wish to have an affidavit filed by the State Police Chief. The Court also expressed that it might add the Union of India as a party in the proceedings in the light of the fact that police deployment at the hill is based on a circular by Union Ministry.