SC refuses to entertain plea for restrictions on Amarnath Yatra due to COVID-19

New Delhi:The Supreme Court on Monday refused to entertain a plea seeking restrictions on devotees in the Amarnath Yatra pilgrimage this year due to COVID-19 pandemic, saying the issue has to be left with the local administration to look into.

“We have to respect principle of separation of powers,” said a bench comprising justices D Y Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and K M Joseph and declined to enter the arena of the executive which has to deal with it as per statutory norms.

“We are of view that recourse being taken here under Article 32(of the Constitution) is inappropriate. The issue as to whether Yatra be held should be left with the local administration. Undoubtedly any decision arrived at must be based on law and all relevant statutory provisions”, the bench, which conducted the hearing through video conferencing, noted in the order.

The apex court was hearing a plea filed by ‘Shri Amarnath Barfani Langars Organisation’ (SABLO) which had sought a direction to the Centre, Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board to restrict the access of pilgrims in the Yatra this year in wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

The plea had also sought a direction for ‘live darshan’ of Lord Shri Amarnath Ji Shrine by way of the internet and on television.

The bench dealt with the contention of senior advocate Devdutt Kamat, appearing for the organization seeking restrictions, that the top court had earlier put restrictions on the rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath.

The apex court later modified the order to allow Rath Yatra at Puri, the bench said.

“We are ill-equipped to determine whether a Yatra should be held in a particular terrain or not,” the bench said, adding that these matters needed to be dealt by the District administration.

The matter whether Amarnath Yatra is to be conducted or not was “better left to the local authorities”, it reiterated.

The Jammu and Kashmir administration, on July 5, had decided to permit the Amarnath Yatra by restricting the number of pilgrims to 500 per day by road from Jammu to the 3,880-metre-high cave shrine.

The Shrine Board is reportedly planning to allow the yatra for a period of 15 days only.

The move was challenged by SABLO in the top court saying that it will not be possible to carry out the norms of physical distancing, wearing of masks and other steps to prevent COVID-19 transmission at high altitudes.

Kamat said the organization was not against the conduct of rituals pertaining to Yatra, but was only seeking to restrict participation of people from all over the country. The petitioner also sought for allowing live-telecast of the rituals.

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