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SC dismisses plea seeking cancellation of this year’s Amarnath Yatra due to COVID-19 outbreak

The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a petition seeking cancellation of this year’s Amarnath Yatra and directions to the Centre to provide “live darshan” of the Lord Amarnath to the devotees via the internet and television in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.
A Bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud refused to interfere with the matter linked to Amarnath Yatra stating it’s for the district administration to take the decision and not for the court.
“The issue as to whether yatra is held should be left with the local administration. Undoubtedly, any decision arrived at must be based on law and all relevant statutory provisions. The petition under Article 32 of the constitution would involve Supreme Court taking over functions of executive oversight which we are not inclined to do. As per principles of separation of powers, we leave it to the executive,” the top court said while adding that petitioners are free to approach the authorities in case they have suggestions.
The Supreme Court said that it is of the view that the decisions to whether the pilgrimage should be permitted and if so the conditions subject to which the safeguard should be observed are matters which fall within the executive domain of the state.
Administrative authorities are required to bear in mind the relevant statutory provisions including the guidelines, it said.
“An assessment of the situation on the ground must necessarily be based on local conditions and numerous factors which lie within the domain of the administrative functions of the state,” the top court said in the order.
The petition contended that every year 10 lakh devotees visit the Amarnath cave shrine and if the pilgrims are allowed this year, it would lead to the spread of the contagion.
Shri Amarnath Barfani Langars Organisation (SABLO), a non-profit association engaged in the rendering of various services to the devotees and pilgrims for the annual Amarnath Yatra, has filed the petition.
The plea stated that Shri Amarnath Yatra consists of several poojas, rituals and ceremonies and attended by thousands of people every year.
“However, this year, owing to the outbreak of the pandemic, it is submitted that the entire pooja will be restricted only to the essential persons/trustees, etc and not be open to devotees and pilgrims,” the plea stated, adding that it only seeks a restriction on the participation of the devotees/pilgrims, in light of the outbreak of the pandemic.
It has been further submitted that even last year, 2019, after the Government of India revoked the special status given to the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir, the movement of pilgrims and devotees was restricted, as a matter of security concern.
“The present situation is an unprecedented situation, and the opening up of the Shri Amarnath Yatra for devotees and pilgrims will cause to put thousands of people’s lives under serious risk. Further, there is absolutely no mechanism to maintain the norms of social distancing or to track the contact that the pilgrims/devotees come into, which are a serious concern if the Shri Amarnath Yatra is not restricted,” it added.

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