New Delhi, Dec 24 (IANS) The Kerala government has moved the Supreme Court against a High Court order to increase the number of pilgrims to the Sabarimala temple to 5,000 daily, arguing that it would put officials under great strain amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The state government petition, filed through advocate G Prakash, contended that the High Court ordered an increase in the number of pilgrims without considering any report or other document and that it would put a great strain on police and health officials deployed at the religious place.
"The number of police officials, health officials and pilgrims affected by COVID-19 at the Sabarimala temple so far is on the higher side," the state pleaded.
The High Court had on December 18 disposed of writ petitions on the issue, with directions to the Kerala government to increase the number of pilgrims.
Pointing out to the Sabarimala temple festival period between December 20 and January 14, the Kerala government contended that a high-level committee headed by the Chief Secretary had capped the number of pilgrims to 2,000 on weekdays and 3,000 on weekends as per Health Department advice.
Citing the detection of new coronavirus strain in the UK and the government decision to cancel all to and fro flights from that country, the state's petition said: "This being the situation, the government of Kerala seeks urgent interference of this court in the impugned judgment to control the spread of Covid-19 during the Sabarimala festival season."
The Kerala government urged the top court for a stay on the High Court order as an interim relief. "The High Court ought not to have interfered with the already increased number of pilgrims and substitute it with its own numbers," it said.
The state said that the temple entry was done through a queue managed by police and that pilgrims undergo coronavirus tests before they are allowed entry to the temple premises.
"As per the key indicators of December 18 in Pathanamthitta district, where the temple is situated, active cases per million are higher compared with the state average. The district is conducting the highest number of corona tests per million population in Kerala and there is an increase in positivity rate over the weeks in Pathanamthitta," the state petition added.
The apex court earlier this year had constituted a nine-Judge Constitution Bench to examine the scope of freedom of religion as also of judicial scrutiny into "essential religious practices" of different religious denominations.