Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday said that the Kumbh Mela should now be held as a “symbolic event” due to the coronavirus situation. His remarks came after the head seer of the Maha Nirvani Akhada from Madhya Pradesh, Kapil Dev, died due to Covid-19 on April 13.

In a couple of tweets on Saturday morning, the prime minister said that he had spoken about the matter to Avadeshanand Giri of Juna Akhada, one of the 13 religious clans taking part in the festival.

“I spoke to Avadeshanand Giri ji over phone,” Modi tweeted. “All the seers are cooperating in every possible manner. I have urged them to keep the Kumbh a symbolic event due to the coronavirus pandemic, now that two ‘Shahi Snaan’ are completed. By doing so, we will get strength to deal with this situation.”

Avdheshanand Giri of Juna Akhara said they respect the prime minister’s appeal. “I request the people to not come for snan [bath] in large numbers, in the wake of Covid situation, and follow all rules,” he tweeted.

However, social media users and commentators pointed out that the prime minister’s intervention is late and that he had endorsed the Kumbh Mela earlier.

A final decision on concluding the event will only be taken by the Akhada Parishad, the top body of the akhadas. Akhada Parishad President Narendra Giri has been infected with the virus and is being treated in Rishikesh.

“The Kumbh Mela used to begin in January, but looking at the Covid-19 situation, the state government decided to start it in April this time,” Haridwar District Magistrate and Kumbh Mela officer Deepak Rawat had said on Wednesday. “The Centre’s SOP [Standard Operating Procedure] said because of the situation, the duration would be reduced. I have no information of it being curtailed.”

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Uttarakhand state government officials ruled out the possibility of curtailing the Kumbh Mela, even as coronavirus cases continued to rise in Haridwar. The Mela is being attended by lakhs of pilgrims every day during a massive second wave of coronavirus in the country.

The Uttarakhand government on Wednesday moved a plea in the High Court seeking relief on an order to conduct 50,000 tests each day in Haridwar. The order was part of the Standard Operating Procedure prescribed for the Mela by the Uttarakhand High Court.

State Health Secretary Amit Negi told the High Court that the authorities had conducted only up to 39,000 tests on the two days of “Shahi Snaan” on April 12 and 14. He cited the “floating population” that Haridwar was receiving for being unable to conduct the tests.

The violation of Covid-19 protocols has attracted attention from across the world. However, state authorities, including Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat, have tried to downplay the risks.

On Thursday, 613 people tested positive for the virus in Haridwar and one person died, according to official data. Nearly 2,800 samples have tested positive in the district in the last six days. There were as many as 3,612 active cases in the district on Thursday.

Uttarakhand recorded its highest single-day rise in Covid cases since the outbreak of the pandemic with 2,220 people testing positive on Thursday.

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