Uttarakhand is likely to review its decision to prohibit all Kanwar Yatra pilgrims from entering the state this year, the Hindustan Times reported on Friday. This came a day after the neighbouring Uttar Pradesh government allowed the event in the state from July 25.
In a meeting on Thursday, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami directed officials to hold talks with Uttar Pradesh and other states about holding the yatra, according to The Indian Express.
“It was decided that state government will first hold talks with other states from where Kanwariyas come on how to conduct the yatra amid fears of the third wave, how the millions of pilgrims would be tested and whether there should be a cap on the numbers this time,” an unidentified official told the Hindustan Times. “The final call [on how to allow the yatra] will be taken after talks in a day or two.”
On Tuesday, Uttarakhand had decided to cancel the event citing the coronavirus situation and fears of a potential third wave of the pandemic. The state police had also decided to seal the borders of the state from July 22 to ensure Kanwariyas do not enter Haridwar from Uttar Pradesh or Himachal Pradesh.
Uttarakhand Director-general of Police Ashok Kumar said that Kanwar Yatra was discussed in the meeting on Thursday, but did not divulge any more details. “Various aspects of the yatra were discussed and pros and cons were weighed,” he added.
The Kanwar Yatra is an annual pilgrimage by devotees of Hindu deity Shiva. They collect water, usually from river Ganga, and offer it at Shiva temples in their respective states. These devotees, called Kanwariyas, come from far-off places, covering hundreds of kilometres on foot.
Both Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh are ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party. The two states are scheduled hold Assembly elections next year.
The Opposition have criticised the Uttarakhand government’s change in stance.
“Everyone knows what happened in Mahakumbh, what mess they have left behind, and how they endangered the lives of millions of people through fake Covid tests,” Suryakant Dhasmana, senior vice president of Uttarakhand Congress, told the Hindustan Times. “During Kanwar Yatra, which is mostly unorganised, with people come from different states, how can they manage such huge numbers at a time when they should be readying for third wave?”
Earlier this year, Uttarakhand was severely criticised for allowing the Kumbh Mela to be held. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims had gathered in Haridwar for a ritual bath in the Ganga 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 last Kanwar Yatra was held in 2019. Official records say close to 30 million pilgrims had gone to Haridwar for it. Last year, the Uttar Pradesh government had not allowed the Kanwar Yatra to be held in view of the pandemic.