The Uttarakhand government on Friday decided to open the Char Dham Yatra only for residents of Chamoli, Rudraprayag and Uttarkashi districts, where the Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri shrines are located, reported the Hindustan Times.

On June 20, the state government had announced that the pilgrimage will begin from July 1 for residents of the three districts. Negative Covid-19 reports, reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (commonly known as RT-PCR) or rapid antigen tests would be mandatory to attend the festival.

Last week, the state administration had decided to open the yatra up to residents of other districts from July 11, according to The New Indian Express.

However, the Uttarakhand High Court, which has repeatedly criticised the state government for not putting in place sufficient Covid-19 restrictions, on Wednesday rebuked the government again for holding the pilgrimage from July 1, according to the Hindustan Times. The court cited the Covid-19 crisis and fears of an upcoming third wave of the pandemic.

“Considering the fact that large gathering invariably leads to a spike in the Covid-19 pandemic, this court is of the firm opinion that a catastrophe like Covid-19 pandemic should not be re-invited by holding and permitting large gathering at religious shrines, and by permitting the Char Dham Yatra by the state government,” the court said while taking up a bunch of petitions related to Covid-19. “Therefore, this court directs the state government to review its decision to commence the Char Dham Yatra on July 1.”

The High Court cited the Kumbh Mela held in April and said a large gathering of tens of thousands was “clear cut proof of the failure of the civil administration”. “Once the devotees start gathering in large number, invariably the first victim is the SOP (standard operating procedure) itself; the second victims are the people at large,” the court said, according to the Hindustan Times.

On May 20, the Uttarakhand High Court criticised the state government for failing to ensure compliance with the coronavirus protocols while holding religious events or gatherings such as the Kumbh Mela and Char Dham Yatra.

“First we make the mistake of [holding] Kumbh Mela, then there is Char Dham,” Chief Justice RS Chauhan had said. “Why do we repeatedly cause embarrassment to ourselves?”

For the Kumbh Mela, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims gathered in the city of Haridwar for a ritual bath in the Ganges River between April 1 and April 30, amid the second wave of the pandemic, when there was a massive surge in coronavirus cases. The violation of Covid-19 protocols at the gathering had attracted attention from across the world. However, state authorities, including the then chief minister, had tried to downplay the risks.

The Centre had in March issued a list of Covid-19 guidelines in the states. However, once the festival began, devotees openly violated Covid-19 norms. The police then said that a stampede may occur if they tried to enforce physical distancing guidelines.