Don’t let religion prevail over science
On July 7, the Uttar Pradesh (UP) govern-ment allowed the annual Kanwar Yatra from July 25. Reviewing its preparations, chief minister Yogi Adityanath warned officials that there should be no slackness regar-ding the safety and successful organisation of the yatra, and that Covid-19 protocols must be strictly followed. The yatra is an annual pilgrimage of Shiv devotees who collect water from the river Ganga (usually at Haridwar in Uttarakhand) and offer it at Shiv temples in their home states. While Uttarakhand is yet to take a final call, the admin-istration seems keen to allow it. On July 6, it said pilgrims won’t be allowed to enter the state. But, two days later, it promised to review the decision.
There are ample reasons to be worried. While the second wave of Covid-19 has abated, the pandemic is far from over. The last Kanwar Yatra was held in 2019 and roughly 30 million pilgrims congregated in Haridwar. Experts warn that the Kanwar Yatra will be even more dangerous than the Kumbh Mela, since 30 to 40 million pilgrims may visit Haridwar in a fortnight compared to the seven million who came during the 30-day Kumbh. There are also reports that tourists are flocking to Uttarakhand and many are not following Covid-19 protocols, putting a question mark on the ability of the local administration to enforce norms. In addition, the Uttarakhand government also seems to be adamant about holding the Char Dham Yatra. Despite a stay by the Uttarakhand High Court till July 28, the state has moved Supreme Court against the order.
Both Uttarakhand and UP are governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party, and are scheduled to go to the polls early next year. The party sees these yatras as important to its political base. But in the light of the devastating Kumbh experience, limited State capacity to conduct a mega pilgrimage and ensure that everyone follows Covid-19 protocols, vaccination status, and the impact that any surge will have on the under-equipped health care sector, both states must realise that going ahead with the yatras is fraught with danger. They should draw a lesson from the Amarnath Yatra in Jammu and Kashmir which has been cancelled. To protect their devotees, the gods would not want it any other way.