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SC annuls ban on ‘chanting’ at Amarnath, quashes NGT order

| | New Delhi
SC annuls ban on ‘chanting’ at Amarnath, quashes NGT order

The Supreme Court on Monday removed “silence zone” restrictions placed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on devotees visiting the “Maha Shivalinga” inside the Amarnath Cave in south Kashmir Himalayas.

Observing that the NGT should not have passed such an order, Bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta set aside the December 14, 2017, NGT ruling. The SC asked the petitioner before NGT, Gauri Maulekhi to file appropriate petition concerning pollution at Amarnath cave before the Tribunal.

The Amarnath Shrine Board had approached the apex court challenging restrictions imposed on the devotees visiting the famous pilgrimage centre. Among other things, NGT had directed devotees to maintain silence while standing in front of the ‘Maha Shivalinga’ and also placed restrictions on chanting of religious hymns and carrying of offerings as “prasad”.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, who appeared for the Shrine Board, submitted that the place witnessed an average footfall of 15,000 devotees daily and NGT had erred by putting restrictions on them by saying devotees can’t carry prasad, can’t go in palanquin, cannot chant bhajans and they must be frisked at each point.

 “The NGT jumped the gun in passing the order,” Rohatgi said.

The ‘shivalinga’ is a stalagmite formed by freezing of water drops falling from the roof of the cave and growing up vertically from the cave floor. Petitioner’s counsel senior advocate Krishnan Venugopal said the NGT had not declared the entire area a silence zone and it was only concerned about the use of mules causing pollution. Rohatgi pointed out that the petition did not specifically talk about pollution at Amarnath cave but of Vaishno Devi near Jammu.

The Tribunal’s order became controversial with several right wing outfits openly criticizing the judgment. NGT had clarified that its direction was required to maintain the “sanctity and pristine condition” of the “holy cave” to ensure there is no adverse impact of noise, heat, vibration on the ‘shivalinga’.

The Amarnath cave shrine is considered one of the major holy shrines by the Hindus. The cave itself is covered with snow most of the year barring a short period of time in summer when it is opened for pilgrims.



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