Uttarakhand has decided to suspend this year's Kanwar Yatra in view of the COVID-19 situation, “giving top priority to the protection of human life”. The decision was taken by Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami following a meeting with senior State officials on Tuesday evening.
“A detailed discussion was held on the occurrence of the Delta Plus variant of COVID, the possibility of a third wave and its effects in the country and abroad. The opinion of experts in this regard was also considered,” said an official statement issued after the meeting.
Mr. Dhami directed that officials of neighbouring States should also be requested to coordinate and take effective action so that they can be successful in stopping the pandemic.
The announcement came hours after Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath reiterated that the traditional yatra would be held following COVID protocol, suggesting that a negative RT-PCR test report could be made mandatory for out-of-State participants.
A senior official in the Uttarakhand CM's office said the decision to suspend the yatra had been taken after consultations with the Central government, as well as with Chief Ministers of the surrounding States from where the pilgrims or Kanwariyas come towards Uttarakhand.
“For all other States, the Kanwar Yatra is simply a movement of people who are passing through, and they are not congregating at a central point in their respective states. But from our point of view, from all four directions, people congregate at a particular city within Uttarakhand and that too within an area of a few square kilometres,” said the senior official, noting that up to two crore Kanwariyas pour into Haridwar, whose usual population was only four lakh. “For us, the dynamics of the Kanwar Yatra are very different, and the public health implications are very different for us compared to other States.”
The official said other States were free to allow people to congregate at other points on the Ganga where it flowed through their States. Even within Uttarakhand, the prohibition was only against the congregation of Kanwariyas in Haridwar, he said.
“If people simply want to go to the river in scattered locations, fill their vessel with water and bring it back to their Shiv mandir and use it for puja, there is no problem,” he added.
The Uttarakhand chapter of the Indian Medical Association had also sent a letter to the CM, as well as the Prime Minister's Office, urging the cancellation of the yatra and saying that lessons should be learnt from “previous failures” and the “gross negligence” during the second wave.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Adityanath held a high level meeting to review the COVID situation in U.P. According to an official statement issued after the meeting, the CM said keeping in mind experts’ assessments regarding the future trajectory of COVID infections, the Kanwar Sanghs should be requested to keep participation in the yatra to a minimum number of people.
The traditional yatra will be possible with COVID protocols, he said, adding that necessary guidelines should be issued in coordination with the States of Delhi, Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttarakhand.
“For those coming from other States, a decision should be taken after discussions on whether a negative RT-PCR test report can be made mandatory,” the statement quoted the CM as saying. The State had earlier anmounced that the yatra would be held from July 25 onwards.