Srinagar: The Amarnath Yatra for this year has been cancelled in view of the rising number of Covid-19 cases in Jammu and Kashmir.
This will be the second time in a row that the annual pilgrimage has been called off — last year, it was curtailed ahead of the Narendra Modi government’s decision to scrap Article 370 and bifurcate the state of Jammu and Kashmir into the union territories of J&K and Ladakh.
This year’s cancellation comes after the Supreme Court refused to entertain a plea seeking restriction on the Amarnath Yatra due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The apex court had said the decision to permit yatris and impose conditions on the yatra falls within the domain of the Executive.
A statement put out by the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) gave details of its meeting with the administration, chaired by Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu, who is also head of the board.
“The government made reasoned observations supported by facts which suggested that it would not be advisable to conduct Shri Amarnathji Yatra 2020, and it would be advisable to cancel it this year in larger public interest. This would enable the health, civil and police administrations to focus on the immediate challenges facing them rather than diverting resources, manpower and attention to the conduct of the Shri Amarnathji Yatra,” the SASB stated.
“Based upon the circumstances, the board decided with heavy heart that it is not advisable to hold and conduct this year’s Shri Amarnathji Yatra and expressed its regret to announce the cancellation of Yatra 2020,” the statement added.
A senior government official told ThePrint: “The decision has been taken in view of the rising coronavirus cases in J&K as well as the rest of India.”
Until 20 July, J&K had reported 14,650 Covid-19 cases, of which 6,122 are active. The total number of deaths as on 20 July stood at 254. The spike in Covid cases prompted local authorities to issue fresh lockdown measures last week.
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Last month, the J&K government had decided to curtail the 45-day-long Amarnath Yatra, which usually commences in the first week of July, to just two weeks. There were also discussions to allow only a limited number of pilgrims, and that too through chopper services.
However, there was a difference of opinion between the SASB and the government, due to which a final decision was pending.
On 22 April, the J&K government had announced that the yatra had been cancelled after meeting with the SASB board, citing Covid fears However, moments later, another government statement had said the SASB expressed apprehension and asked for an appropriate decision after a future review.
“It has been finally decided that the yatra will not take place, but we will ensure that people can pay obeisance through digital means,” said a second senior J&K government official.
The SASB statement also made mention of virtual darshan.
“The board is aware of and respects the sentiments of millions of devotees and to keep the religious sentiments alive, the board shall continue the live telecast/virtual darshan of the morning and evening aarti. Further, the traditional rituals shall be carried out as per past practice. Also, the Chhadi Mubarak shall be facilitated by the government,” it said.
Officers of the local police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), who spoke to ThePrint on the condition of anonymity, said the government decision had not been communicated to them yet, but discussions on the cancellation had been going on.
“We haven’t received an official communication yet but we are told that the yatra might be cancelled,” a senior CRPF official said.
Another senior officer in the security establishment said there were also apprehensions with regards to the security situation in J&K, as the yatra would have been the first to take place after the abrogation of Article 370.
Last year, before the move, yatris and tourists were asked to immediately leave J&K by the then-state’s government, which cited militant threats as the main reason. It only later emerged that the yatra had been cancelled in view of the major decision taken by the Modi government.
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