Judge says litigant can’t choose route.
BJP State general secretary K. Nagarajan on Saturday told the Madras High Court, at a special sitting, that only 30 persons in 15 cars will participate in the ‘Vetrivel Yatra’ to cover the six abodes of Lord Murugan. Besides, the tour would be wound up much before December 6, the Babri Masjid demolition anniversary.
Justices M. Sathyanarayanan and R. Hemalatha were told by advocate Venkatachari Raghavachari that Mr. Nagarajan would make a fresh representation to the police on Sunday, listing out details of the yatra. He hoped there might not be any further objection in granting permission. The submission was made at the hearing of an urgent writ petition moved by the BJP leader after the police denied permission for the yatra.
On Friday, when the yatra began, participants, including president L. Murugan, were detained.
During the course of hearing, the senior judge on the Bench pointed out that the previous representations made by the petitioner to the police did not contain any details regarding the number of participants, vehicles and people above 60 years of age.
Also baffled at an elaborate route planned across the State, the judge asked: “If your purpose is going to the six abodes of Lord Murugan, why do you want to tour through routes where there are no Murugan temples at all.” He said the litigant could not be allowed to pick and choose the route especially when the threat of COVID-19 was still looming large.
Revenue and police officers had to tackle problems due to the onset of the monsoon and also the law and order situation during the Babri Masjid demolition anniversary, the judge said. The police would be in a position to consider grant of permission for the yatra only if all material particulars were submitted to them.
On her part, Justice Hemalatha wondered why the State government was opposing the yatra when thousands of devotees were allowed at major temples. Recalling her recent visit to the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple in Madurai, she said about 2,000 people had congregated there.
Advocate-General Vijay Narayan submitted that the petitioner’s counsel was trying to oversimplify the issue by claiming that it was a simple visit to the temples by Mr. Murugan and that the government was preventing him. “It is not like that. He wants to have a huge gathering with him. Such a crowd may not be advisable when scientists are predicting a second or even a third wave of COVID-19,” he said.
The Advocate-General added that a majority of the participants of the yatra, which commenced on Friday without police permission, were not wearing masks. “I can show videos of that,” he said. Justice Sathyanarayanan said the court could even take cognizance of the photographs published in newspapers. He said the yatra was not just a simple visit to the temples but involved a procession.
Though the petitioner had now told the court that only 30 participants in 15 cars would go on the yatra, there was a possibility of overenthusiastic party cadres and others congregating in large numbers to welcome the participants at district borders and at the temples, the judge said. Therefore, the Bench granted time till Tuesday for the petitioner to file an additional affidavit with all necessary particulars.
The judges directed Additional Solicitor-General R. Sankaranarayanan to get instructions from the Centre by Tuesday on the binding nature of the guidelines issued by it to the State governments on tackling COVID-19. The Bench wanted to know if the guidelines were only recommendatory.
The question was raised since the petitioner had challenged the October 31 Revenue and Disaster Management Department order wherein it was stated that religious congregations, with a ceiling of 100 participants, would be permitted in the State only from November 16 and not before that.
According to the petitioner, the GO was in contravention of the Union Home Ministry’s September 30 notification which permits religious gatherings, with even more than 100 participants, from October 15 and requires the States to lay down Standard Operating Procedures.
The State government was bound to follow the Central guidelines as long as it had not reported to the Union Home Ministry that the conditions prevailing here required a different yardstick, the petitioner said. He claimed that a national party could not be denied permission for such an event when government and other private functions were being allowed freely.