Judiciary’s Selective Cognizance of the Amarnath Pilgrimage Issue

by Arpita Sarkar

The death of 67 Amarnath Yatris this year has been a major cause of concern for the apex court. Reacting to the incident, the Court directed the Government to provide an explanation for the same and to upgrade the infrastructure and other facilities in the high mountains of Kashmir in the interest of pilgrims who visit the noted Hindu pilgrimage. The Amarnath pilgrimage is managed by the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB). It ensures that pilgrims are registered with it before they undertake their journey as the shrine is in an ecologically fragile zone. As an explanation to the Court’s concerns, the SASB has pointed that non adherence to the rules set by them, in general and the high number of unregistered pilgrims, in particular, has led to such tragic deaths.

What is surprising about the whole matter is that, in stead of directing the appropriate authority to take necessary actions, the Court has ordered an increase in infrastructure and medical facilities to accommodate the horde without regard to the ecological damage and pollution this would cause in an already fragile zone. As it is, the policy decision regarding pilgrimages and ecosystem requires high expertise which the Courts cannot claim to possess. Further, the doctrine of separation of powers prohibits the judiciary from interfering with the domains of the legislature or the executive. Just because the Supreme Court has resorted to such interferences in the past, the same doesn’t justify it every time. PILs have been filed from newspaper articles and even through letters to judges. That said, the purpose of PILs however, is to enforce the rights of the disadvantaged and not to interfere with government decisions on policy matters.

This very purpose is frustrated even more so when the Court takes selective cognizance of matters. The true concerns of the judiciary are often doubted since the Court tends to be picky about the issues it wishes to take up. Even the present case falls within the realm of suspicion because it caters to the religious interest of the Hindu majority. Kashmir is the same state where hundreds of people have been murdered without being offered even the basic human dignity that no one should be denied. It is the same valley where thousands of young boys disappear and die in ‘encounters’. But the Supreme Court has been reluctant so far in holding the authorities responsible for such actions. Nor has it taken any initiative to issue guidelines and directives to put an end to the gross violation of human rights and the rising death toll in Kashmir. This second class treatment of some as against the others questions the commitment of the nation towards democracy and rule of law which pledges to be impartial in guaranteeing, protecting and promoting justice for its citizens and people at large.

Image Courtesy: here

(Arpita Sarkar recently graduated from the WB National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata. She has previously written for the Journal of Indian Law and Society here and here)

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