Amarnath Yatra: The Supreme Court Verdict

visit because of their faith.   It can also be hardly disputed that huge revenue is generated as  a result of visit of large number of pilgrims to  the  Holy  Cave. The Amarnath Shrine Board receives huge amount of money not only by way of offerings but also from the charges/fee it takes  from the pony-owners, palkiwallahs as well as the helicopter services
available between Baltal and Panchtarni.

It is also  evident  that  there  is  a  complete  lack  of adequate essential amenities and facilities for the  yatris  who come to pay their tribute at the ‘Holy Cave at Amarnath’.   Lack of medical facilities and limitations of the  officers/officials of the Forces are some other facets which need to be  considered by the concerned authorities.

It also appears to be  a  very  sensitive  place  from  the environmental point of view and in terms of  the  provisions  of
the Environment Act,  1986  and  the  constitutional  obligation placed upon the  concerned  authorities,  it  is  expected  that proper measures be  taken  to  prevent  such  high  death  rate controlling pollution and providing the requisite facilities and improving the services required  for  successful  completion  of such yatras.

It  is  expected  of  a  Government   and   the   concerned authorities to devote more  attention  and  provide  appropriate
amenities and facilities to protect the life of the individuals, the environment as well as ensure to make  the  yatra  effective and successful, preferably  without  any  human  casualty.   The authorities cannot shirk from their responsibility of  providing minimum essential facilities including medical assistance, roads and other necessary infrastructure.  Visit of lacks of people to the State of Jammu & Kashmir generates revenue for the State, in
fact, for the residents of that State and add to  the  need  for better tourism facilities.  The authorities are also expected to
better equip the Forces posted at the holy cave, base points and
en route to the holy cave.

It is a  settled  canon  of  constitutional  law  that  the doctrine of sustainable development also forms part  of  Article
21 of the Constitution.  The ‘precautionary principle’  and  the ‘pollutor-pays principle’ flow from the core  value  in  Article 21.  The Supreme Court in its judicial dictum  in  the  case  of Glanrock Estate Pvt. Ltd. vs. State  of Tamil Nadu (2010) 10 SCC 96 has held “forests in India  are  an  important  part  of  the environment.    They   constitute   a   national    asset    and intergenerational equity is also part of the Article 21  of  the Constitution and cautioned that  if  deforestation  takes  place rampantly, then intergenerational equity would stand violated.

Right  to  life  is  enshrined  under  Article  21  of  the Constitution which embodies in itself the  right  to  live  with
dignity.  The  State  is  not  only  expected  but  is  under  a constitutional command to treat every citizen with human dignity and ensure equal treatment to all.  In our considered  view  and as demonstrated by these newspaper reports, inhuman, unsafe  and undesirable conditions are prevailing at the base camps  and  en route to the holy cave.  The yatris do  have  a  right  and  the State  is  under  constitutional  obligation  to  provide   safe passages, proper medical aid,  appropriate  arrangement  and  at least some shelter to the thousands of yatris visiting the  holy cave every day.  They are also  expected  to  equip  the  forces deployed  with  appropriate  equipments   facilities   and   the authorities should ensure that no untoward  incident  occurs  at the holy places.  In our view, the following questions arise for consideration of the Court: –

1. Whether there exists 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.?

2. What steps are being taken and have been taken  to  protect the environment in that area?

3. What essential amenities have been  provided  at  the  base camps and en route to the holy cave keeping  in  view  that
lakhs of people are visiting the shrine every day.

4. What measures are being taken and methods being adopted for collection and disposal of the waste including domestic and human waste generated by the yatrisen route and around  the holy cave?

5.  What  are  the  facilities   and   equipments   available, particularly for protecting or treating conditions such  as dyspnoea, cardiac arrest and other heart related problems.

6. What is the cause for such high casualty rate  and  whether there exists the required medical equipments to ensure that in future such casualties can be avoided?

7. What measures and means are available with the  authorities on ground for handling such huge crowd and why seven  times the requisite number of people coming to visit the cave per day are  being  permitted  and  if  so,  whether  there  is
requisite infrastructure at the site for handling such huge crowd?

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.

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.   They  are expected to equip their Forces posted in an around the  cave  so as to have complete human dignity for the persons working  there as well as for the pilgrims coming to the holy cave.   They  are also expected to make appropriate arrangements for  darshans  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.  Therefore, taking  suo  motu  notice  of  the articles which are placed below and to appropriately  deal  with this serious subject, answer  the  above  questions  and  evolve solutions within the framework of law, we require the  following to appear and answer before this Court:

1. Union of India, through its Secretary.

2. Ministry of Environment and Forests, through its Secretary

3. State of Jammu and Kashmir, through its Chief Secretary.

4. Chairman/President of the Amarnathji Shrine Board.

Issue notice, returnable within a week.  Dasti.”

2.    The notice was served upon the concerned respondents. The  respondents filed their respective replies by way of affidavits on record.   Vide  order dated 20th July, 2012, when the petition was  called  on  for  hearing,  the Court, after hearing the counsel appearing for the parties at  some  length, while noticing the lack of public amenities,  facilities,  health  care  and particularly the high rate of mortality and the need to take  immediate  and effective steps to remedy the  same,  constituted  a  Special  High  Powered Committee (for short ‘SHPC’).   This SHPC consisted of representatives  from different Ministries of the  Union  of  India,  Chief  Secretary  and  other officers of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, Director Generals of the  Border Security Force and  the  Border  Roads  Organizations  etc.   The  SHPC  was expected to visit the site and make its recommendations in  the  form  of  a Report to the Court inter alia, on the following points: –

“1.  Construction of proper passages, wide enough and  with  due support on both sides, for the traffic of pedestrian yatris,  or horses and by palkis from Panchtarni to the Holy Cave.

2.  Providing one-way passage  with  separate  tracks,  one  for pedestrians and other for horses, carriages and palkis near  the Shrine.

3.  Providing of health check-up facilities on both the passages from baltal and Panchtarni to the Holy Cave.

4.  Providing of proper public amenities and facilities  on  way and at the lower end of the glaciers near the Holy Cave.

5.  All such other steps which are  required  to  be  taken  for preventing unfortunate deaths of the yatris, going on yatra,  to the Holy Cave.

6.  Deployment of more forces and to provide  better  conditions of service for the members of the forces, posted on way  and  at the Holy Cave.

7.  Environmental Impact Assessment.

8.  The manner and methods to be adopted to  attain  the  above, with least damage or interference with the  environment  of  the entire zone right from Baltal to the Holy  Cave  from  different routes.

9.  Deployment of more medical teams, at regular distance on all the passages leading to the Holy Cave.

10.  Registration of  yatris  at  Jammu,  Srinagar,  Baltal  and Panchtarni.

11.  It should also consider the possibility of  limited  number of yatris being released  from  Srinagar  to  Baltal  to  ensure better management, hygiene, healthcare  and  betterment  of  the yatris, who stay there overnight.

12.  Medical examination at the  time  of  registration  and  on way.”


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