The Uttarakhand High Court on Tuesday asked the state government to publicise the standard operating procedures for the upcoming Char Dham Yatra amid a surge in Covid-19 cases, reported PTI. The court said that the event “cannot be allowed to turn into another Kumbh Mela”, which led to a sharp rise in infections in the state.

The Char Dham Yatra is scheduled between May 14 and May 18. The pilgrimage, which attracts a large number of devotees, begins from Yamunotri, then proceeds to Gangotri and finally to Kedarnath and Badrinath.

On Tuesday, Chief Justice RS Chauhan and Justice Alok Kumar Verma made the remarks during the virtual hearing of a clutch of petitions related to the state government’s handling of the pandemic.

The court instructed the state government to increase Covid-19 testing by deploying mobile vans in the interior regions of the state. It also asked the state authorities to increase the number of Covid-19 hospitals apart from supplying adequate personal protective equipment kits and other instruments of safety to healthcare workers, according to PTI.

The state government was directed to take the help of central agencies to build temporary hospitals and admit Covid-19 patients. Government hospitals should be equipped with CT [computerized tomography] scan machines and 25% of the private hospital beds should be reserved for those holding BPL [below poverty line] cards, the court added. It also asked the government to inform the court about action taken against hospitals that have not reserved 25% of beds for patients from poor backgrounds.

The High Court also asked about the Covid-19 vaccine and anti-viral drug remdesivir’s availability in the state, according to The Times of India. The Tirath Singh Rawat-led state government was also asked to publish information of all hospitals and vaccination centres online for easier public access.

Uttarakhand Chief Secretary Om Prakash, who attended the hearing through video conferencing, said that the SOPs for the Char Dham Yatra will be decided at a Cabinet meeting on Thursday. Topics like curfews, lockdown and functioning of educational institutions will also be deliberated during the meeting he said, reported The Times of India.

The High Court asked the state government to file a detailed report on all the matters by May 12 and asked the state secretary (health and finance) to be present in person at the next hearing.

Uttarakhand Tourism Minister Satpal Maharaj had said that negative Covid-19 reports would be made compulsory from visitors outside the state but no government has been released on this yet, according to the newspaper.

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

On April 17, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the Kumbh Mela should 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.

Devotees take a dip in the waters of the Ganges River on the day of 'shahi snan (royal bath)' during the Kumbh Mela, in Haridwar on April 12. Credit: Money Sharma/AFP

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High Courts pull up state governments

Several other High Courts have pulled up the state governments on their handling of the coronavirus situation.

The Gujarat High Court on Tuesday asked the Vijay Rupani-led state government why many Covid-19 patients were unable to get admitted to hospitals if there were enough beds available.

On Monday, the Delhi High Court had voiced concerns about the surge in coronavirus infections in the national Capital. “It is evident that the healthcare infrastructure is at the stage of imminent collapse.” Hearing the same plea on Tuesday, the Delhi HC had asked why the Centre was waiting till April 22 to ban the industrial use of oxygen amid an acute shortage.

The Telangana High Court on Monday had given a 48-hour ultimatum to the state government to decide whether it will impose a lockdown to contain the rise in Covid-19 cases. A day later, the state government imposed a night curfew till April 30, reported Mint.

The Allahabad High Court on Monday criticised the Uttar Pradesh government for its handling of the sharp rise in Covid-19 cases and imposed a lockdown in Lucknow, Varanasi, Prayagraj, Kanpur and Gorakhpur till April 26. However, the state government had refused to follow the order and moved the Supreme Court against it. A day later, the Supreme Court stayed the High Court order but directed the state government to report to the High Court on the steps taken so far to deal with the pandemic and the measures the Adityanath-led government will take within one week.

Meanwhile, India on Wednesday reported 2.95 lakh new cases and 2,023 deaths in the last 24 hours. This is an unprecedented figure since the pandemic broke out in January 2020. The country now has 1,56,16,130 cases and the toll rose to 1,82,553.