3 reasons why Uttarakhand HC stayed the Char Dham Yatra
The Uttarakhand High Court on Monday stayed the state government's decision to allow the Char Dham Yatra from July 1. The government had earlier this month said the pilgrimage could go ahead in a phased manner. However, the court cited several reasons to state why that should not be the case - inadequate healthcare infrastructure, slow vaccination, and past failures in implementing COVID-19 protocols.
A bench of Justice Raghavendra Singh Chauhan and Justice Alok Verma has put the state government's decision on hold for four weeks. "If the Char Dham Yatra were permitted, we would again be inviting a catastrophe," the bench remarked.
The court noted the state's healthcare system is in a deplorable condition. Highlighting several shortcomings in the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) submitted by the state, the court asked how the government planned to stop chewing of tobacco in crowds of hundreds of pilgrims. Who would ensure that pilgrims repeatedly use sanitizers and soaps to wash their hands, the court further inquired.
The court said there was no clarity from the state government on how many testing labs would be set up on the route of the pilgrimage or how soon the test report would be made available. It was noted that the state does not have enough ambulances to be arranged for pilgrims in case of an emergency.
The court also took note of the slow pace of COVID-19 vaccination in the state before arriving at its decision on the pilgrimage. Of Uttarakhand's 1.32 crore population, only around 35 lakh have been partially vaccinated while nearly seven lakh are fully inoculated, the state told the court. It would take 18 months to vaccinate 70% of the state's population, the court was informed.
"Even if 100% population of Uttarakhand is inoculated, there is no guarantee they will be protected from the Delta Plus variant," the court further said. Delta Plus is an emerging variant of the coronavirus and studies are underway to understand whether vaccines work against it.
The High Court examined the state administration's failures in implementing coronavirus-related protocols at the Kumbh Mela and other religious gatherings ahead of India's devastating second wave of the pandemic. "The Cabinet should have realized the SOPs are flouted by the people, and the civil administration does not have the wherewithal for implementing them in sensu stricto," the court said.
The court even put aside the state's reluctance to arrange live-streaming from temples, asking it to make arrangements for that in the next seven days. When the state counsel contended live-stream may be "prohibited by the Shastras," the court said that was "absolutely impossible." "Our ancestors were unaware of the development of a technology that would permit live-streaming," it replied.