By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 16 Sep: The Uttarakhand High Court today lifted the stay on the Char Dham Yatra that it had enforced on 26 June against the state government’s decision on opening up. The stay on the Yatra was lifted by the Uttarakhand High Court today during a hearing in this case. However, although the Court has allowed the Yatra to start for the remaining season, some Covid pandemic related restrictions and conditions have been imposed. The decision has been taken on the appeal of the state government to lift the ban, as the Corona pandemic seems under control now.
It may be recalled that the ban imposed in June by the High Court on the Char Dham Yatra had been challenged in the Supreme Court as, in successive hearings, the Court had dismissed the appeals by the government on the issue. However, some days ago, the Uttarakhand Government withdrew its appeal in the Supreme Court. The decision of the High Court has, now, provided much needed relief to the tour operators, hoteliers and restaurant owners, as also all those associated with the Char Dham Yatra. It has given them a chance to make up their losses to some extent in the remaining season.
Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami and Tourism & Religious Affairs Minister Satpal Maharaj have welcomed the decision. They have issued directions to the officials concerned to prepare for the Yatra. It may be recalled that though the ban on the Yatra had been imposed by the High Court, the chief opposition party, the Congress as well as other parties like Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), had turned this issue into a political one and were blaming the state government for the ban.
During the hearing held, today, in the High Court, the Advocate General, on behalf of the government, claimed that the corona infection was now under control. In such a situation, he sought the ban be lifted from the Char Dham Yatra. He also made it clear to the Court that the government would issue new SOPs for the pilgrimage.
While pronouncing the verdict, the court said that 800 pilgrims would be allowed in Kedarnath Dham, 1200 in Badrinath Dham, 600 in Gangotri and 400 in Yamunotri, every day. It added that the travellers would not be permitted to bathe in any of the pools or rivers along the route, or at the shrines. It would be mandatory for every passenger to bring a negative Covid-19 test report and vaccine certificate. The court has also directed the government to deploy the police force as required during the Char Dham Yatra in Chamoli, Rudraprayag and Uttarkashi districts.
The matter was heard by a division bench comprising Chief Justice RS Chauhan and Justice Alok Kumar Verma. It may be pertinent to point out here that the government had urged the Court on 10 September to hear the matter soon. The court had fixed 16 September to hear the matter. Religious Affairs Minister Satpal Maharaj said that Chardham Yatra would begin soon. Garhwal Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer of Uttarakhand Char Dham Devasthanam Management Board Ravinath Raman stated that the Board has already made necessary preparations to begin the Yatra. Worship was underway at all the four Dhams following the Corona SOPs and protocols. After the decision of the High Court, the Devasthanam Board would start preparing for the Yatra afresh. He said that the SOPs regarding Corona would be implemented strictly during the Yatra. A proper registration process would begin soon keeping in view the restrictions imposed by the Court. The focus would be on providing adequate housing, food, medical-health facilities, clean drinking water and sanitation at the Char Dham shrines.
On 10 September, the government had filed an application seeking withdrawal of the SLP from the Supreme Court, lifting of the ban on Char Dham Yatra while promising strict compliance of Covid protocols. It had also pointed out that the Covid pandemic was strictly under control in the state. With the ban on the Yatra now gone, those whose livelihood is linked with it can feel relief to a great extent.
Sandeep Sahni, President, Hotels & Restaurant’s Association of Uttarakhand, has welcomed the court order on reopening of the yatra. “The yatra, besides its huge religious significance, is also the lifeline for millions who are dependent on it for their livelihoods,” he said. “The association would like to express its deep gratitude to the Chief Minister, the cabinet ministers as well as the bureaucracy, who tirelessly worked over the last few weeks to make this happen. Gratitude is also due to former Chief Minister Harish Rawat and Congress President Ganesh Godiyal for highlighting the issue. The government and opposition both realised the importance of reopening the yatra and, we, as stake holders would like to thank them all,” he added.