The Uttarakhand government on Tuesday called off the kanwar yatra to stave off the threat of a third Covid wave being triggered by the event which attracts lakhs of devotees to Haridwar every year.
While the adjoining state of Uttar Pradesh from where most of the devotees set off has been vacillating, the message from the Prime Minister and the Indian Medical Association was very clear that there was an imminent danger of a third coronavirus wave being triggered by the mass mobilisation of pilgrims.
Speaking to reporters, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said, “We decided to cancel the yatra, according topmost priority to human life. Our officials held talks with neighbouring states as well. The outcome of this exercise is that in view of the Covid-19 pandemic and with a new variant being detected in the state, we do not want Haridwar to be the centre of the pandemic. We cannot play around with people’s lives,” he added.
Dhami had also visited Delhi and held a meeting with the Prime Minister and Home Minister Amit Shah on the issue as he was under pressure from adjoining states, especially UP to allow pilgrims to enter Haridwar.
Officials said that in 2019, the last time the yatra was organised, nearly 3.5 crore kanwariyas had visited Haridwar while over 2-3 crore people had visited pilgrimage spots in Western UP.
As part of the yatra, kanwariyas walk or drive in huge convoys to ghats of the Ganga, and take back water from the river to their homes. While much of the traffic is usually headed to Haridwar, pilgrims also go to districts in UP such as Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Bulandshahr, Hapur, , Saharanpur and Varanasi.
Uttarakhand’s decision to cancel the kanwar yatra comes after the state was criticised for hosting over 36 lakh people for the Kumbh Mela, which was seen as a superspreader just before the second Covid wave. It now remains to be seen what stand the UP government takes, as until now the state has been in favour of going ahead with a scaled down kanwar yatra.