The Supreme Court on Thursday held that it is government's constitutional obligation to provide basic facilities to pilgrims who visit religious places and directed the Centre and Jammu and Kashmir government to ensure proper health and other amenities to Amarnath yatris.
Observing that arrangements for the yatris near the Holy Shrine are 'pathetic', the apex court issued a slew of directions to the governments and the Amarnath Shrine Board for widening the walking tracks to the holy cave which may be covered by pre-fabricated tiles.
"It is the obligation of the state to provide safety, health care, means to freely move and to profess the religion in the manner as they desire insofar as it is within the limitations of law," a bench of justices B S Chauhan and Swatanter Kumar said in their 67-page judgement.
"There is admittedly lack of basic amenities and healthcare. The walking tracks are not only deficient but are also not safe for the pedestrians. The management and arrangements for the yatris at the glacier and near the Holy Shrine are, to say the least, pathetic," it said adding that separate passage for pedestrians and for palkis and horses be made for pilgrims.
The court passed the order after taking suo motu cognisance of media reports on pilgrims' deaths allegedly due to lack of proper facilities and medical care for them.
The apex court said the management for the pilgrims suffers from basic infirmity, inefficiency and ill-planning. The Centre, J&K and the Shrine Board are under a constitutional obligation to provide free movement, protection and health care facilities along with basic amenities.
"It has undoubtedly and indisputably come on record that the rights of yatris to the holy shrine enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution are being violated," the bench said.
The apex court said that the existing grill at the Holy Cave should be replaced by 100 percent transparent fibre or any other material to ensure that the darshan to the Shivlingam is not visually obstructed.
The apex court had earlier appointed a Special High Powered Committee to recommend the measures to be taken to curb the growing number of casualties of Amarnath pilgrims.
It comprised of representatives from different ministries of the Centre, chief secretary and other officers of J&K, director generals of the Border Security Force and the Border Roads Organisations etc. Around 6.20 lakh pilgrims undertook yatra this year out of which 93 people lost their lives.
Accepting the SHPC's recommendations, the bench said, "There shall be separate one way passage for palkis and horses as one unit and the pedestrians as the other, near and at the passages leading to the Holy Shrine."
"There has to be a regular width of the track which in any case should not be less than 12 feet and may be wider than that if so recommended by the committee concerned. These tracks should duly provide protection or any other support towards the open sides. It may by iron grills, supporting walls etc. as may be considered appropriate by the committee," the bench said.
"All other walking tracks from various other points, like Baltal, Panchtarni and Chandanvadi may be covered either by pre-fabricated rough cement tiles or such other material, which in the opinion of the SHPC, would be most appropriate for the benefit of the pilgrims.
The court also directed the chief secretaries and health secretaries of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Union Territory of Chandigarh to depute sufficient doctors during Yatra for ensuring due health care of the pilgrims.
"The walking track/passages should be widened and railing and retaining walls be provided. The extent of width of the passage and manner of providing the railing (thick iron cables supported by wooden blocks or cement and stone) shall be in the discretion of the Sub-Committee afore-constituted. But, we make it clear that width of no passage shall be less than 12 feet," the bench said.