India Supreme Court: religious rights subservient to right to health and life
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India Supreme Court: religious rights subservient to right to health and life

The Supreme Court of India Friday ordered the state of Uttar Pradesh to reconsider its planned Kanwar Yatra pilgrimage amid fears of a third COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

The Uttar Pradesh State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) had initially ordered its officers to direct the “Kanwar Sanghs,” which are essentially religious congregations, to not proceed with the pilgrimage in light of the pandemic.

However, the SDMA subsequently created an exception for “compelling religious reasons” to allow individuals to carry on with the pilgrimage provided that the number of permissions granted under the exception are kept to a minimum. Additionally, the government mandated that all individuals must be fully vaccinated and must have passed a negative RTPCR test within the past 72 hours to qualify under the exception. The SDMA further left room for the state to explore other options for conducting the pilgrimage.

The Supreme Court, taking quick notice of a report published in The Indian Express approximately two weeks ago regarding the state’s decision to allow the pilgrimage, responded with this Suo Motu action. After receiving responses and affidavits from lawyers for the state, the court updated its action stating:

We are of the view that this is a matter which concerns everyone of us as citizens of India, and goes to the very heart of Article 21 of the Constitution of India, which has a pride of place in the fundamental rights Chapter of our Constitution. The health of the citizenry of India and their right to “life” are paramount. All other sentiments, al beit religious, are subservient to this most basic fundamental right …

Additionally, Justice Nariman gave an ultimatum to the state counsel warning that, “Either we pass the orders directly or give you one more opportunity to reconsider holding the yatra physically. The pandemic affects all of us. We are all citizens of India. This suo motu case is taken because Article 21 [of the Constitution] applies to all of us. It is to safeguard all of us.”

The Uttar Pradesh government and the Kanwar Sangh have now jointly agreed to cancel the pilgrimage.