India top court demands answers on Hindu pilgrimage amid pandemic

Supreme Court says citizens are ‘perplexed’ by the permission to allow the Kanwar Yatra from July 25.

A woman devotee sits next to the idol of Hindu God Shiva at a makeshift camp in New Delhi [File: Harish Tyagi/EPA]
A woman devotee sits next to the idol of Hindu God Shiva at a makeshift camp in New Delhi [File: Harish Tyagi/EPA]

India’s Supreme Court has questioned the government over its decision to allow a key Hindu pilgrimage even as experts warn that a third COVID-19 wave was inevitable in the country.

The judges sought answers from Uttar Pradesh state and the federal government over the decision to allow the Kanwar Yatra from July 25, saying they were “disturbed” over the matter, legal news portal Live Law reported on Wednesday.

The court said citizens were “perplexed” by the permission, at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and medical experts have warned against large gatherings and urged people to follow physical distancing and other protocols.

It fixed the next hearing for Friday.

On Tuesday, Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, said the pilgrimage could take place with a “minimum number of people” and “with strict implementation of COVID-19 protocol”, Indian media reports said.

Every year, an estimated 50 million ‘kanwariyas’ – devotees of Hindu God Shiva – travel on foot or by other means from various states to collect water from the holy River Ganges and offer it at Shiva temples in their areas.

The Indian Medical Association (IMA), which represents the country’s doctors, has said the third wave of COVID-19 was inevitable.

Images have gone viral of people flocking to tourist destinations and markets without face masks and ignoring physical distancing.

Daily new cases in India have fallen to about 40,000 in recent weeks, down from peaks of 400,000 during the second wave in May.

India’s key challenge remains vaccinating its 1.35 billion population. So far, less than 6 percent of its eligible population has been fully vaccinated, DPA news agency said.

Source: DPA

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