SC refuses to pass orders in plea for restricted entry, live darshan in yatra4 min read

-Akshay Gurnani

“We are of the view that recourse being taken hereunder Article 32 is inappropriate. The issue as to whether yatra is held should be left with the local administration,” the Supreme Court today said. SC today refused to pass any orders relating to the conduct of this year’s Amarnath Yatra, stating that it is subject matter under Executive.

The SC today refused to pass any orders relating to the conduct of this year’s Amarnath Yatra, stating that it is a subject matter under the domain of the Executive.

A three-judge Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra, and KM Joseph refused to pass orders when the matter came up for hearing today.

The plea filed through Advocate-on-Record Amit Pai urged the Court to issue directions to ensure that live darshan of the ice lingam and the Yatra is shown on television and the internet to satiate the religious sentiments of devotees. While refusing to pass any orders on the plea, the SC said that the decision on this year’s Yatra is one to be taken by the local administration.

Supreme Court stated,”…we are of the view that recourse being taken hereunder Article 32 is inappropriate. The issue as to whether Yatra is held should be left with the local administration.”

Citing the principles of separation of powers, the Court said that the prayers made in the plea would require the Court to “take over the functions of Executive oversight”, which it was not inclined to do.

Senior Counsel Devdutt Kamat, appearing for the petitioners, sought to apprise the Court of the COVID-19 guidelines and regulations laid down by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) under the Disaster Management Act. Justice Chandrachud remarked that the MHA was apprised and seized of the matter, and therefore, there was no requirement for the Court to exercise its jurisdiction under Article 32.

Kamat, to buttress his case, citing the Supreme Court’s order in the Jagannath Puri Yatra case. However, the Court was quick to point out that the State of Odisha was also before the Court in that case. Further, the Court asked, “Why should we assume that state administration will not work to check the spread?”

Entry points to Puri to be closed, curfew to be imposed: The Supreme Court’s conditions for allowing the Jagannath Rath Yatra.
The Bench went on to state, “We are ill-equipped to judge whether a Yatra can be held in a difficult terrain. It is not our concern under Article 32. The problem is in your petition where you compare similar such orders.”

Points concerning public health were also raised by the petitioners, who said that the spread of the virus is a concern that needs to be addressed preemptively. Amit Pai pointed out that while no dates for the Yatra have been announced yet, media reports suggest that it may begin from July 21 or 22.

However, the Court was not inclined to entertain the plea. It however said, “…in arriving at decisions, the administrative authorities are required to bear in mind the relevant statutory provisions including the administrative decisions taken in pursuance of statutory provisions assessment of the situation on the ground is based on local factors which lie in the domain of administrators… Undoubtedly any decision arrived at must be based on law and all relevant statutory provisions.”

Filed by Shri Amarnath Barfani Langars Organisation, the petition states that though no formal date for the Amarnath Yatra has been announced as yet, the Shrine Board has given permissions to a few Bhandara organizations to reach the venue on or before June 28, and to start the service (Seva) from July 3.

The petitioner organization states that if the attendance of pilgrims is allowed, it would cause a “serious public health issue in the present pandemic situation.”

The rationale behind allowing the Yatra to be held this year is also questioned. However, the petition maintains that it is not seeking to cancel the yatra in totality. The plea states, “Shrine Board had initially decided on 22.04.2020 to cancel the Shri Amarnath Yatra 2020 for pilgrims/devotees, to not put them in the harm’s way and to contain the COVID-19 virus. However, within a few hours, the decision was withdrawn. There is no rationale for the withdrawal of the cancellation of the Yatra for the pilgrims.”
Plea filed in Supreme Court.