The Uttarakhand government on Tuesday cancelled the Kanwar Yatra in view of the looming threat of a third wave of COVID-19.
“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 decision was taken after a meeting with senior officials and considering all aspects into account including the opinion of medical experts, he said.
The chief minister also asked Director General of Police Ashok Kumar to coordinate with officials of the neighbouring states and request them to take effective steps to stop the pandemic from spreading.
It is for the second consecutive year that the yatra is not being held due to the pandemic in BJP-ruled Uttarakhand. However, neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, where the saffron party is in power, has allowed the yatra from July 25 with strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols.
The Indian Medical Association has warned against conducting the yatra due to the COVID-19 situation.
In a letter to the chief minister recently, the IMA’s Uttarakhand chapter had asked him to learn from “previous failure” and disallow the yatra in the interest of the people of the state and the country.
People had to pay a heavy price for going off guard after the first wave which had led to a stronger and more fatal second wave, IMA’s Uttarakhand Secretary Amit Khanna had said in a recent letter to Dhami.
The state government had drawn flak over holding Haridwar Kumbh in April as COVID-19 norms were brazenly violated during the religious event.
The chief minister had also discussed the Kanwar yatra with his central leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi during his maiden tour of Delhi after assuming office.
Earlier in the day, at a party meeting here Dhami had said that though Kanwar yatra is part of the Sanatan culture, saving lives in the time of the pandemic was paramount, indicating that he pilgrimage could be cancelled.
The fortnight-long yatra which begins with the onset of the month of Shravan by the Hindu calendar goes on till the first week of August and sees a gathering of Kanwariyas or Lord Shiva devotees in crores from neighbouring states including Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi in Haridwar to collect the holy waters of the Ganga. Allowing such a large gathering in times like these was fraught with risks.
The decision comes as a disappointment for both traders whose businesses are linked with the annual yatra and Kanwariayas.
After no yatra in 2020 due to the first wave of COVID-19, there was mounting pressure on the state government to conduct it this year so that they could partially recover from the economic setback caused by its cancellation last year.
However, this year too there is no respite with the state government deciding to cancel the yatra again in keeping with the warnings issued by medical experts.