The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Kerala government to file its response during the day on an application against the three-day relaxation in COVID-19 restrictions in the state in view of the upcoming Bakrid festival.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced the concessions at a press conference on July 17 and said that in view of Bakrid (Eid-ul-Azha) being celebrated on July 21, textiles, footwear shops, jewellery, fancy stores, shops selling home appliances and electronic items, all types of repairing shops and shops selling essential items shall be allowed to open on July 18-20 from 7 am to 8 pm in category A, B and C areas.
In D category areas, these shops can function only on July 19, he had said.
The areas have been categorised based on test positivity rate.
The matter came up for hearing in the apex court before a bench of Justices R F Nariman and B R Gavai, which also took note of the affidavit filed by Uttar Pradesh government which said that no Kanwar Yatra will be allowed this year in the state due to the pandemic.
After the counsel appearing for Kerala said he would file reply to the application, the bench asked him to do so during the day and said it would take up the matter for hearing as first item on Tuesday.
The application was filed in the matter in which the top court had last week taken suo motu cognisance of earlier media reports on the UP government's decision to allow Kanwar Yatra amid the COVID pandemic.
During the hearing conducted through video-conferencing, the bench perused the affidavit filed by the Uttar Pradesh government.
The bench, which closed the matter related to Kanwar Yatra in Uttar Pradesh, said the authorities at all levels should take stern and prompt action against any untoward incident which directly affects the lives of citizens.
The application, which raised the issue of relaxation in restrictions in Kerala, for intervention in the suo motu matter was filed by Delhi-based P K D Nambiar who has sought stay on the state's decision.
Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the applicant, told the bench that COVID positivity rate in Kerala is over 10 per cent but despite that, restrictions have been relaxed for Bakrid.
He said Kerala is among the states having highest number of COVID cases at present and it has high positivity rate.
He said the positivity rate in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi is 0.02 per cent and 0.07 per cent respectively.
"Allegedly 0.02 per cent," the bench observed.
Singh said every state is giving its own number of cases and as per Kerala's data, the positivity rate is around 10.96 per cent.
The counsel appearing for Kerala said that some shops in some areas have been opened in the state to facilitate the festival.
"We will file our reply," the state's counsel said, adding that Kerala comes out with data of COVID cases daily and is following all the guidelines issued by the Centre.
"There cannot by anything populist in COVID times," Singh said.
The bench asked the state's counsel to file reply on the application during the day itself.
At the outset, senior advocate C S Vaidyanathan, appearing for Uttar Pradesh, referred to the affidavit filed by the state and said a meeting was convened by the authorities and it was decided that no Kanwar Yatra will be allowed this year due to the pandemic.
"It is completely postponed. There will be no Kanwar Yatra this year," he told the bench, adding that Delhi and Uttarakhand have already said that they would not allow Kanwar Yatra this year.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the bench that he had already made clear the Centre's position on the issue.
The bench also heard another application which urged the apex court to see that the Centre and the state governments are vigilant so that infection is contained.
The application, which raised the issue related to Kerala, claimed it is 'shocking that in a medical emergency, the government is playing with the lives of citizens through such measures'.
'The political interest and cause cannot overcome the fundamental rights of the citizens of this nation. The said act of the Government of Kerala is nothing but politically motivated, moreover the said decision is totally contrary to the observation and the spirit qua which this court has shown its concern over the present pitiable situation of this nation,' it alleged and sought stay on the state's decision.
'This court may also be pleased to seek an explanation from the state government as to on what medical advise, if at all any, was the decision arrived at,' said the application.
On July 16, the apex court had observed that all sentiments, including religious, are subservient to the Right to Life and had asked the Uttar Pradesh government to inform by July 19 whether it would reconsider its decision to hold a 'symbolic' Kanwar Yatra.
The Centre had earlier told the apex court that state governments must not permit any kind of 'Kanwar yatra' in view of the pandemic and arrangements should be made for water from the Ganges to be available through tankers at designated places.
The Uttarakhand government had earlier cancelled the annual ritual that sees thousands of Shiva devotees called 'kanwariyas' travel mostly on foot to collect water from the Ganges and bring it back to their villages.
On July 18, the Delhi Disaster Management Authority prohibited the annual Kanwar Yatra in the city to prevent the spread of COVID-19.