SC notice to centre on facilities for Amarnath pilgrims


New Delhi : Taking note of reported deaths of 67 pilgrims who fell sick on way to the holy shrine of Amarnath in Jammu and Kashmir, the Supreme Court has issued notice to the central government seeking details of medical arrangements.

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Besides the central government, the court also issued notice to the union home ministry, union environment and forest ministry, the state government and the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board.

The court has asked them to appear before it and answer seven questions posed by it concerning facilities for the pilgrims.

“In our considered view, the pilgrims have a constitutional right under Articles 21 and 19(1)(d) to move freely throughout the territory of India, free of fear, with dignity and safety and to ensure enforcement of such right is the primary obligation of the state and the central governments,” said the apex court bench of Justice B.S. Chauhan and Justice Swatanter Kumar taking suo motu cognizance of newspaper reports about the deaths of the pilgrims Friday.

The notice is returnable in a week.

Taking note that 107 pilgrims died during the last year’s yatra, the court said that “the time intervening the previous and the current year clearly demonstrates that the authorities have not taken any effective and appropriate measures for protecting the life of thousands of devotees who visit the holy cave during this limited period, despite the print media repeatedly bringing this to the notice of all concerned”.

“Thus, within the constitutional mandate of Article 21, this court would have no option but to pass appropriate directions,” the court said.

“They (the authorities) are also expected to make appropriate arrangements for darshan at the holy cave so as to avoid health hazards and injuries, provide proper paths and one-way system passages to the pilgrims to the holy cave,” the court said.

Some of the issues raised by the court in the notice are: “Whether there exist proper medical facilities to prevent human casualties. Further to provide emergency medical aid in the event of these yatris falling sick because of cardiac and other related problems” and the steps taken to “protect the environment in that area” including “collection and disposal of the waste…including by yatris “enroute and around the holy cave”.

“All these aspects need to be taken care of by the concerned authorities certainly with greater emphasis and they cannot escape their obligation to provide minimum essential facilities including roads as an approach to the holy cave,” the court said.

The court said that the government was expected to equip their forces posted in and around the cave so as to have “complete human dignity for the pe sons working there as well as for the pilgrims coming to the holy cave”.

The court observed that “where it is a matter of common knowledge that the yatra to the holy cave of Amarnath is an occasion of privilege and pride for a devotee, there it is also a matter of great concern for the government of India, the government of Jammu and Kashmir and the Amarnath shrine board”.

Referring to newspaper reports. the court said that “with the passage of time, the things have hardly improved”. All these reports clearly showed disregard to the human life.

This court has repeatedly held that in terms of Article 21 of the constitution, a person has a right to live with dignity and not be subjected to inhuman treatment, particularly in such places where large number of people are bound to visit because of their faith.