Rajat Sharma

Covid threat: Should UP stop Kanwar Yatra?

akb fullThe Supreme Court on Wednesday took suo motu cognizance of a newspaper report on the UP government’s decision to allow Kanwar Yatra, which has been prohibited by the Uttarakhand government due to fears of pandemic. The apex court issued notices to Centre, UP and Uttarakhand governments seeking their responses by Friday. The bench of Justice Rohinton Nariman and Justice B. R. Gavai said, “we are a little disturbed given today’s headline in the newspaper about the Kanwar Yatra which is likely to be held from July 25.”

Justice Nariman told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, “we read something disturbing in the newspaper today that the state of UP has chosen to continue with the Kanwar Yatra, while the state of Uttarakhand, with its hindsight of experience, has said there will be no Yatra. Citizens of India are completely perplexed and do not know what is going on. And all this amid Prime Minister, when asked about a third wave of Covid striking the nation, saying ‘we cannot compromise one bit’.”

The fact to note is that none of the governments from the Centre, UP and Uttarakhand had not filed any petitions before the apex court, which suo motu took cognizance of the newspaper report. Yet, ministers from UP said on Wednesday that the state government has allowed the Yatra after assessing all risks and making all precautionary arrangements.

The Prime Minister had expressed concern over growing number of tourists at hill stations and crowding of city markets, and taking a cue from his statement, the Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami imposed prohibition on Kanwar Yatra in the state. Most of the yatris go to Haridwar to collect the holy Ganga water. However the UP government has decided to allow the yatra, subject to precautions, from July 25. Now that the Supreme Court has intervened, both the state governments and the Centre will have to clarify their respective stand.

The Kanwar Yatra issue was taken up because the PM had expressed worries about a potential third wave of pandemic. He had called for strict regulations to ensure there was no crowding in order to prevent the third wave. Modi spoke about crowds at hill stations and city markets. While the Uttarakhand CM took the cue from his remarks and prohibited Kanwar Yatra, the UP government has allowed it. The state government claims that Covid cases have declined very fast and vaccination is going at a fast pace.

I agree that the UP government has succeeded in controlling the second wave of pandemic to a large extent. I do also agree that Kanwar Yatra will be taken out under strict Covid protocol, but where is the guarantee that the Coronavirus will not spread if thousands of ‘kanwad yatris’ congregate at various points, during their march to Haridwar?

Yatris will come from several neighbouring states to collect Ganga water from Haridwar, and it will be difficult for authorities to control the crowds. Early this year, congregation of thousands of devotees at the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar will soon followed by a huge wave of pandemic in UP, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, MP and other states. The state authorities were criticized for allowing the mela to take place. What is the need to give another handle to critics to denounce the government?

I can say with conviction that if we practise self-control and strict Covid regulation this time, we can witness a mega Kanwar Yatra next year, when the pandemic threat will ease.

The pandemic is not only a challenge for UP or Uttarakhand, it is a global challenge, and countries like Indonesia and Russia are facing troubling times. In UK, the third wave now is at its peak with daily new case count at 54,000. Since more than 50 per cent of people in Britain have taken Covid vaccines, most of them are getting themselves treated at homes, instead of rushing to hospitals in critical condition. That is why Prime Minister Modi has stressed the need for every Indian to take Covid vaccine, but do we have enough stocks at the moment to launch a mammoth nationwide vaccination drive?

Due to drop in supply of Covid vaccines, vaccination drive is slowing down throughout India since July 3. From June 21 to 27, four crore doses were administered, but from July 5 to 11, only 2.30 crore doses were administered. Hundreds of people are returning from vaccination centres empty handed due to shortage of vaccines. We need to vaccinate at least 80 lakh people daily to ensure that people get both the doses. Only 13.5 crore doses will be available during the month of July, that comes to an average of 45 lakhs per day.

Manufacturers of Covishield and Covaxin have not boosted their production till now. Sputnik V vaccines will be manufactured in India. The plan is to manufacture 30 crore doses a year, but the first batch will arrive only in September.

Till now, 38 crore Indians have been administered doses, which may be a big figure globally, but compared to our 137 crore population, it is not even one-third. Let us hope the supply of vaccine doses will improve so that the people of India can stave off the third wave of pandemic successfully.

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