The apex court took a suo moto cognizance of a number of deaths during yatra 2012. It appointed a committee that visited the spot and interacted with the state government and the Shrin Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB). On basis of the recommendations, the Special High Power Committee made, and the response from the J&K government, the division bench of the Supreme Court comprising Mr Justice Dr B S Chauhan and Mr Justice Swatanter Kumar issued a final order on December 13, 2012. Given the public interest involved with the issue, Kashmir Life posts the entire order for its readers.
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CRIMINAL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION
SUO MOTU WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 284 OF 2012
COURT ON ITS OWN MOTION …petitioner
UNION OF INDIA & ORS. ….Respondents
J U D G M E N T
Swatanter Kumar, J.
1. Taking notice of the persistent press reports dealing with the poor arrangements and number of deaths that occurred during the yatra in the year 2012 to the holy cave of Amarnathji, the Court took suo motu action and issued notice to the Union of India, State of Jammu and Kashmir and the Chairman/President of the Amarnathji Shrine Board vide its order dated 13th July, 2012. It will be appropriate to reproduce the said order at this stage itself:-
“Today’s ‘The Times of India’ and ‘Hindustan Times’ reports 67 deaths of pilgrims mostly because of the cardiac arrests as well for other reasons. As per these reports, this has happened in 17 days. Last year 105 persons died during the 45 days’ yatra. Thus, this year it appears to be on the rise. 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.
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 the State of Jammu & Kashmir and the Amarnath Shrine Board. Some of the events that have been widely reported in the newspapers compel us to take a judicial notice of the lack of necessary facilities, essential amenities and the risk to the lives of the yatris, en route and around the “Holy Cave of Amarnath”.
On 3rdJuly, 2012, it was reported in the Hindustan Times, Delhi Edition, that two more pilgrims died of cardiac arrest on Sunday, taking the toll to 22. Both the pilgrims were stated to be in their mid-thirties. One pilgrim was on her way to the holy shrine while the other was returning to Pahalgam Base Camp (Names : Ms. Anita Chourasia and Sadhu Ram). The same daily on 2nd of July, 2012 had reported that there were deaths of five more devotees as a result of cardiac arrest at the Pahalgam and Baltal Base Camps. These were the deaths reported to have occurred between 25thJune, 2012 to 2ndJuly, 2012 on the twin tracks of Baltal in Ganderbal and Pahalgam in Amarnath. This daily also reported that nearly 1.20 lakh pilgrims had so far paid obeisance to the shivalingam at the holy cave. This newspaper also showed the path and the weather conditions to which the yatris to the Holy Cave were exposed and the
amenities that were available at the glacier.
The Times of India, New Delhi Edition on 29thJune, 2012 had reported that there was an unidentified body of 55-year old pilgrim which was recovered along the Pehalgam cave route in Anantnag district.
Similarly, on 28th June, 2012, the Hindustan Times, while referring that the Management had directed increase of security at the yatri base camps to maintain proper schedule, had reported that the death toll within the first three days of the commencement of the yatra was six. The same newspaper dated 27thJune, 2012 had shown a photograph of the passage that more than 18000 pilgrims had visited the holy cave, which is at the height of 3,880 metres, in three days. It showed one of the passages leading to the holy cave. From this picture itself, it is clear and even otherwise it is a matter of common knowledge that the path leading to the holy cave is not only very small but is even unprotected. The photographs also show that hardly any amenities are available for the yatris in and around the
holy cave, though thousands of people who throng the holy cave have to wait for hours and days for having the darshan. It has also been published in other papers that in the initial days of the yatra, one person had died because of the fall from the height as there was no support or protection on the path leading to the holy cave. The path somewhere is stated to be even less than six feet and does not have any grill or protection (like pagdandi), which could prevent the people walking on these constricted paths/passages from falling. All the palkis, horses
and even the yatris walking on foot, travel on the same path at the same time, thus causing complete jams on the already tapered paths leading to the holy cave.
With the passage of time, the things have hardly improved. We may refer to what was the situation was in the year 2011, as per the newspaper reports of the relevant/concerned year.
The Indian Express while reporting the commencement of the yatra in its newspaper dated 29th June, 2011 reported that nearly 2.5 lakh pilgrims had registered themselves for the annual pilgrimage with the Amarnath Shrine Board till the aforesaid date and 2000 pilgrims had already left the State of Jammu for the yatra. It also reported a very unfortunate incident where a person named Rajinder Singh, aged 55 years resident of Jaipur had died due to cardiac arrest at Baltal base camp in Ganderbal district of Kashmir.
Again on 1st July, 2011, the same paper reported that a group of men and women, young, elderly and children with their backpacks walked up the winding steep gradient of the road to the cave shrine. In this report reference was made to the statement of the public that there were no vehicles and it was very difficult for the pilgrims to travel and walk such long distances. From Baltal route, 13,000 pilgrims left while 9000 pilgrims left from Chandanwari for darshan to the holy cave.
With the increase in the number of pilgrims coupled with the poor management, it appears that there was a sharp increase in the casualty rate. In the Indian Express dated 6thJuly, 2011, it was reported that 18 yatris had died within a week of the commencement of the journey. This included elderly people as well as young victims. One Mr. Vikram Rathore, who died, was only aged 25 years. It appeared from this report that constraints on the availability of medical aid and medical examination is writ large.
The same newspaper on 8thJuly, 2011 reported that three more pilgrims died during the yatra raising the toll to 27.
Even a constable namely Inderjeet Singh posted with 28 Battalion, Central Reserve Police Force (for short ‘CRPF’), Srinagar, died of heart attack while returning from the cave.
Another person aged about 54 years hailing from Gujarat also died of cardiac arrest at Sangam top much ahead of the shrine. Still another detailed article appeared in the Times of India dated 18th July, 2011 detailing the lack of facilities, referring to the rush of the pilgrims at the base points as well as at the holy cave. A pilgrim from Guwahati stated: “Half-an-hour after starting out for the shrine from Panchtarni, which is a place 6 km from the holy cave, we were trapped in a jam for close to two hours. There was not an inch of space on the path.
There was pushing and shoving as yatris got restless. A sudden movement or a horse or commotion in a section of the crowd could have caused a big stampede”. Referring to the statement of an officer, the report stated that the pilgrims had to be regulated from the base camps and there was very little that the members of the Forces could do at the narrow pathways or the holy cave to control the situation. Nearly 22,000 pilgrims visited the shrine daily while the limit, as per the administration itself, was reported to be 3,400 per day only. It is again a matter of great regret that obviously because of lack of proper aid and amenities, the death toll had gone upto 85 on 21st July, 2011, as was reported in “The Hindu” of the even date.
All these reports clearly showed disregard to the human life. Lack of facilities at the shrine and on the paths leading
to the shrine is evident from all the aforestated articles and the photographs published therein. This Court has repeatedly held that in terms of Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 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 —