The Uttarakhand government has scrapped the annual Kanwar Yatra in the state after coming in for severe criticism for hosting over 36 lakh people during the Kumbh Mela just before the second COVID-19 wave hit the country. Police authorities in the state appealed to their counterparts in neighbouring states to ask devotees not to visit Haridwar this month to collect water from the Ganga for the annual pilgrimage. The yatra was scrapped last year as well due to COVID-related restrictions.
The appeal was issued during a meeting of the inter-state coordination committee on the yatra, chaired by DGP Ashok Kumar. Police officers from Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab, and Delhi were present at the meeting. DGP Kumar said the Uttarakhand police would book those found entering Haridwar under the Disaster Management Act and the Epidemic Diseases Act, and place them under quarantine. The Uttarakhand police also suggested that devotees coordinate with the police at the station level to send tankers and collect water from the Ganga. The state’s urban development department has already issued an order prohibiting Kanwar Yatra this year.
According to an Indian Express report, nearly 3.5 crore devotees, or kanwariyas, visited Haridwar in 2019. In 2018, that figure stood at 2.8 crore. Officials said most of the kanwariyas were from western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, followed by those from Rajasthan and Delhi.
The state government had earlier suspended the Char Dham Yatra. This followed Uttarakhand High Court staying for four weeks the decision to allow residents of three districts to conduct the pilgrimage from July 1.
According to data from the state’s health department, when the Kumbh formally started on April 1, Haridwar had 626 active cases. On April 30, when the mela officially concluded, the number rocketed to 11,075 in the district. It reported at least 17,226 new cases and 90 deaths between April 1 and 30.
Uttarakhand has recently been mired in political turbulence with Trivendra Singh Rawat being replaced as chief minister by Tirath Singh Rawat, who himself made way for Pushkar Singh Dhami last week.