Experts have however warned against holding the yatra and the Indian Medical Association’s Uttarakhand chapter has written to the state’s chief minister urging him to cancel it
The Uttarakhand government is yet to take a decision on allowing the Kanwar Yatra this year, while Uttar Pradesh has given the go-ahead. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has said that the pilgrimage won’t be banned in his state and full implementation of norms and protocols will be ensured.
Experts have however warned against holding the yatra and the Indian Medical Association’s Uttarakhand chapter has written to the state’s chief minister urging him to cancel the yatra.
What is the Kanwar yatra?
The annual fortnight-long yatra begins with the onset of the month of Shravan, around 25 July and goes on till the first week of August. It sees crores of Kanwariyas from neighbouring states like Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Delhi and Himachal Pradesh gathering in Haridwar to collect the holy waters of the Ganga to offer at Shiva temples in their areas.
The yatra had been canceled last year too due to the first wave of .
What has the Uttar Pradesh CM said?
In an interview with News18 on Monday, Adityanath noted that other religious gatherings had been held amid the pandemic, following necessary protocol.
“Every life is important. It’s an epidemic, it doesn’t see caste and religion. We need to keep all vigil. We are not going to impose a ban on Kanwar Yatra but will ensure full implementation of the COVID protocol,” the UP chief minister told the news channel.
Adityanath said the government was taking necessary measures and talks were on with stakeholders. “Nothing or no one will be banned, but we want people to follow COVID norms,” he stressed. “The Yatra is not only between UP and Uttarakhand, it happens in other parts, as well,” the chief minister said.
An official spokesperson on Tuesday said the chief minister has directed that Kanwar Sanghs should be requested for the participation of a minimum number of people in the yatra and also directed the strict implementation of the protocol. “The RT-PCR negative report could also be made necessary for the yatra, if required,” the spokesman said.
He also said that necessary guidelines should be issued for travel by holding a dialogue with the states of Delhi, Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttarakhand.
Uttarakhand yet to take a call
Newly sworn-in Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami has said that though the Kanwar Yatra is connected with the religious sentiments of people, the state government’s topmost priority is saving lives.
“We are just a host state. Over 3 crore Kawariyas visit state in 15 days. It’s a matter of faith but people’s lives are also at stake. Saving lives is our first priority. God would not like it if people lost their lives to COVID due to Kanwar Yatra,” Dhami was quoted as saying by news agency ANI on Sunday.
Dhami, who met Central ministers including Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi over the past few days, had said that a final decision on giving the green signal will be taken in consultation with neighbouring states including UP, Haryana and others.
According to a report by the Hindustan Times, the Uttarakhand chief minister late on Monday said the government has held a meeting on the issue and “if needed, we would soon hold a high-level meeting to take a decision on it”. He maintained that ensuring the health and safety of people was the state government’s top priority.
Uttarakhand had on 2 July canceled the yatra as a precautionary measure but decided to review the order last week after Uttar Pradesh decided to allow the pilgrimage on 25 July. Both the states are set to go to polls next year.
On Tuesday, Uttarakhand Congress chief Pritam Singh urged the state government to make a decision. “Yogi Adityanath and people of other states are saying that Kanwar Yatra should be done. The Uttarakhand government should make a decision. The third wave should be averted. It is important to fight the COVID crisis,” ANI quoted him as saying.
According to another report by the Hindustan Times, Suryakant Dhasmana, vice president of the Congress’ Uttarakhand unit, had earlier opposed the yatra, pointing out that it is mostly unorganised and people come from different states. “How can they manage such huge numbers at a time when they should be readying for the third wave? Prime Minister Narendra Modi should intervene and stop this. Everyone knows what happened in Mahakumbh…they should not repeat the same mistake,” he said.
What has Bihar decided
According to the HT report quoted above, Subrat Sen, district magistrate of Bhagalpur, which is the node for the pilgrimage in Bihar, has pointed out that under the existing ‘Unlock’ guidelines, all shrines and temples in the state have to remain closed till 8 August and fresh orders will be issued after that.
“In 2020, no kanwar yatra was allowed…this year also, the government is preparing to confront the third wave and huge gatherings need to be avoided. During events like Kanwar yatra, it may be difficult to maintain social distancing,” the report quoted him as saying.
IMA Uttarakhand opposes holding Yatra
Meanwhile, the IMA’s Uttarakhand chapter has written to Dhami, requesting him to cancel the Kanwar Yatra this year for public safety in view of a possible third wave.
Drawing the chief minister’s attention to the warnings of medical experts about a third wave of the pandemic, the IMA’s state secretary Amit Khanna asked him to not allow the proposed Kanwar Yatra to go ahead.
“We request you to disallow the proposed Kanwar Yatra in July-August, 2021, as the third wave of the COVID pandemic is ready to knock on the doors of this country according to several specialists,” Khanna said on behalf of the IMA in the letter.
“After the first wave, we went off-guard and did not follow the guidelines of the central government delineated for this pandemic which was a gross negligence on our part and consequently lost several of our kin in the second wave,” the IMA official said and asked Dhami to take all these things into consideration and take a positive decision in the interest of the state and the country as a whole.
Even the prime minister has expressed concern over the carelessness in following COVID protocol, Khanna said adding that the government should not allow devotees to enter the state, learning from previous failure.
According to reports, experts have also cautioned against holding the yatra, stating that it would be challenging to ensure that guidelines and protocols are abided by. Some have also warned that risk of the infection spreading is higher in the kanwar yatra than it was ta the Kumbh Mela as the number of devotees is likely to be significantly higher.
Anoop Nautiyal of the Social Development for Communities Foundation, which have been tracking the COVID situation in the state, told the Times of India, that even if the Yatra is allowed with SOPs in place, it will be impossible to implement them. “About 3 to 4 crore pilgrims will visit visit Haridwar in a fortnight compared with the 70 lakh that came during the 30-day Kumbh. The state will not be able to handle the infection spread post-kanwar yatra. A decision must be taken keeping in mind the third wave of ,” he said.
Dr NS Khatri, deputy medical superintendent and Covid care centre of the Doon Medical College Hospital that as said as state has already recorded its first case of the Delta plus variant, the kanwar yatra should be avoided “in an ideal situation.”
With inputs from agencies
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