Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has urged that only a minimum number of people should participate in the yatra and directed strict implementation of COVID-19 norms
The Supreme Court on Wednesday took suo motu cognisance of the Uttar Pradesh government’s decision to allow ‘Kanwar Yatra’ and sought responses from the state as well as the Centre “given the disparate political voices” on the matter.
This comes even as the Uttarakhand government cancelled the pilgrimage, asserting that “saving lives is paramount”.
What is Kanwar Yatra?
The Kanwar Yatra is an annual pilgrimage of Shiva devotees, known as Kanwariyas, who collect water from River Ganga and take it to their native places. The pilgrims usually walk from their native places, usually to Haridwar, Gaumukh and Gangotri in Uttarakhand, and the water collected there is offered at Shiva temples in their villages.
The fortnight-long yatra, which begins with the onset of the month of Shravan as per the Hindu calendar, goes on till the first week of August and Uttarakhand sees a gathering of Kanwariyas in crores from neighbouring states including Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi in Haridwar.
Why the UP government allowed the yatra and Uttarakhand hasn’t
The Uttarakhand government announced its decision to cancel the Kanwar Yatra on Tuesday, citing concerns of a long third wave of . “We decided to cancel the yatra, according topmost priority to human life in view of the threat of a possible third wave, the surfacing of the Delta Plus variant of the virus and its impact across the country and abroad,” Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said.
The state is not conducting the yatra for the second consecutive year owing to the pandemic. In a letter to the chief minister recently, the IMA’s Uttarakhand chapter had asked him to learn from “previous failure”, possibly referring to the Kumbh Mela, which was termed as a super-spreader event.
Uttar Pradesh has allowed the yatra from 25 July till 6 August with strict adherence to protocols. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has urged that only a minimum number of people should participate in the yatra and directed strict implementation of the protocol. The state government said a negative RT-PCR test report can be made compulsory for pilgrims, if required.
The Odisha government also cancelled the Bol Bam or Kaudia yatra for the second year in a row, owing to the pandemic.
What has the Supreme Court said?
The bench, comprising justices RF Nariman and BR Gavai, said that it was “little disturbed” to read that Uttar Pradesh has chosen to continue with the Kanwar yatra, while Uttarakhand with its hindsight of experience, has decided against it.
The apex court took suo motu of a newspaper report and issued notice to the Union of India and the States of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand to file their early response.
“The headline (in newspaper) just above this headline speaks about the prime minister’s statement when he met the North-Eastern Chief Ministers that when people ask about the third wave of the virus striking the citizenry of India, it’s up to us to stop it and we cannot compromise ‘even a bit’,” the court noted. It also sought to know the stand of respective governments and posted the matter for further hearing on Friday.
How were other religious pilgrimages conducted?
The Uttarakhand government had drawn flak over holding Haridwar Kumbh in April, where norms were violated as over 36 devotees gathered in the religious town. NDTV quoted experts as saying that the pilgrimage contributed to a spike in cases, with fewer than 300 cases were reported on 1 April and over 5,500 cases being recorded by mid-May.
Further, a Hindustan Times report claimed that between 1 and 30 April, active cases in Uttarakhand rose by 2,392 percent. Roughly 1,00,000 of the rapid antigen tests conducted at the Kumbh were also found fake, raising doubts about the efficacy of testing during the event.
A devotee-less Ratha Yatra was held in Odisha’s Puri on Monday with strict adherence to protocols as the entire coastal town was put under curfew. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, though a devout follower of Lord Jagannath, also refrained from visiting Puri, even as the state government had banned physical public participation in the annual event in the wake of prevailing pandemic.
This was for the second consecutive year and the second time in the history of the 12th Century shrine that the annual mega-festival, considered one of the biggest religious events in the country, was held sans devotees. Only those servitors, police personnel and officials who have tested negative for were allowed to take part in the festival. Gatherings on the streets or building roof tops were also prohibited. While the Ratha Yatra is celebrated in over 100 places across the state every year on normal days, no such fare was witnessed this year.
With inputs from PTI
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