Uttarakhand defers Char Dham yatra amid storm over fake Covid tests during Kumbh
The Uttarakhand government has withdrawn its decision to open the Char Dham yatra for people living in three districts from Tuesday, reversing a decision that it announced just a day earlier despite concerns that the pilgrimage could lead to an increase in Covid-19 cases.
The U-turn comes at a time the government is investigating if private labs mandated to carry out Covid-19 tests during the Haridwar Mahakumbh issued fake Covid reports, possibly to meet targets.
A Covid-19 test report was mandated for the Char Dham yatra as well, according to the announcement by Cabinet minister and government spokesperson Subodh Uniyal on Monday. He had said the yatra was being opened for residents of Rudraprayag, Chamoli and Uttarkashi, the three districts where the shrines are located, from Tuesday provided they have a Covid RT-PCR test report.
On Tuesday, Subodh Uniyal explained the decision to defer the yatra to the hearing by the Uttarakhand high court. Also, hotels, resorts and shops are still going to be shut due to the extension of the Covid-19 curfew in the state till June 22., he said.
“So, if pilgrims go there, what will they eat or where will they stay?” he asked, rhetorically.
“Also, I was apprised that Char Dham Devasthanam Board needs more time to complete the preparations for the yatra. So due to these factors, we will now take a decision about opening the yatra on completion of preparations and lifting of the Covid curfew in the state.” The Devasthanam Board controls the management of 51 temples in Uttarakhand, including the famous four Himalayan temples also called ‘Chardham’.
To be sure, the Uttarakhand high court has repeatedly expressed concern over allowing the Char Dham yatra. On June 9, the judges also expressed displeasure that the state’s tourism secretary Dilip Jawalkar hadn’t visited the shrines to assess the preparations needed before opening them to pilgrims in phases.
As reported by HT, the probe into the fake Covid-19 tests was ordered after questions were raised about the low Covid positivity rate beginning April in Haridwar as compared to the rest of the state. Data The 10-week average test positivity rate in Haridwar was 4%, while the figure for the rest of Uttarakhand was 13.7%.